LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland — After a sprint qualifier which Erik Bjornsen called “really bad” and Noah Hoffman wrote off almost completely as something to “get ready” for the rest of the Tour de Ski, the U.S. Ski Team pair was thrilled to each notch top-30 finishes in the 30-kilometer classic mass start on Saturday.
“As far as this goes, it’s a good race for me, a step in the right direction for the season, and there’s six more stages to go in this Tour and I’m psyched,” Hoffman said after finishing 23rd, 2:22.4 behind winner Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway. “You know, we’re both going to move up and finish this thing in the top 30.”
It was Hoffman’s best result of the season; he had finished 25th in the World Cup 30 k skiathlon in Lillehammer, Norway, in December. After starting the mass start near the back in bib 77, Hoffman worked his way through the field and was into the top 30 by the halfway point.
“I just need to go out and not be frantic, and not try to make up all the positions in the first few kilometers,” he explained. “I think I did a good job of that.”
Even more than having strong races, the duo was proud to come one step closer to earning another quota spot for World Cup distance races next season. At the moment, the U.S. team only can start three men, plus the Continental Cup leader.
With Bjornsen finishing in 30th place and getting his first World Cup points of the season, the U.S. now only needs one more man to score a point in a distance race to get up to four starting spots.
“I’m super psyched for Bjornsen,” Hoffman said. “We need one more person to score points for next year, and I’m confident that we can do it.[Alaska Pacific University’s] Scott Patterson’s coming over, or [Andy] Newell or Simi [Hamilton] is gonna get it done.”
In this 30 k, Hamilton finished 69th (+7:47.5) and Newell 76th (+9:10.8).
But not every distance race is as grueling as a 30 k classic in the mixed rain and snow.
The bad weather, which left some athletes slipping, sticking and falling, didn’t hinder Bjornsen and Hoffman, however.
“I think there was just some variable conditions out there, so some spots I had some of the better skis out of the group I was skiing with, and other spots, you had to work it,” he explained. “We definitely had skis in the mix today, so it was good.”
And once he began getting splits that he could move into the top 30, Bjornsen found the extra gears needed to pick up his pace.
“That top 30 means a lot to all of us, so I started going for it,” Bjornsen said. “I was able to get it in the last half kilometer.”
Hoffman is now ranked 25th in the Tour de Ski and will start Sunday’s 10 k freestyle pursuit 4:33.5 behind Sundby, while Bjornsen is ranked 33rd and will start 5:31.4 back.
— Gerry Furseth contributed reporting.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.