Two and half months makes for along time on the road, especially when it only marks the halfway point. For U.S. Ski Team members like Andy Newell, who has been competing and traveling in Europe for the past 10 weeks, sometimes it’s important to spend time racing outside of the World Cup.
“There are so many great races in Europe you can do if you get out of the World Cup bubble a little bit,” Newell said Saturday on the phone.
The 32-year-old American, best known for his classic sprinting, opted out of this weekend’s World Cup races in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, and instead competed in Austria, starting with the Dolomiten city sprint in Lienz on Friday night and Saturday’s Dolomitenlauf 42-kilometer classic marathon in Obertilliach.
“That’s one of my goals this year and in the future – to get away from some of the World Cup weekends that maybe aren’t my strength, like [Saturday’s] 15 k skate on the World Cup, that’s definitely not a great event for me. I’m much better at a double-pole race,” Newell explained.
Testing the waters in his first international double-pole marathon, Newell finished second overall in the 42 k classic, just 5.7 seconds out of first and 0.3 seconds ahead of third. The overall win went to Stanislav Rezac of the Czech Republic in a time of 1:42.19, while Italy’s Mauro Brigadoi rounded out the top three.
“The top-10 guys were on no wax,” Newell said. “I knew it would be a good race for me, but more importantly good preparation for the next month of racing.
“I have some big classic sprints [in] Drammen and Stockholm,” he added. “To get in a long distance double-pole race can actually be good double-pole training for some of those sprints.”
U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover wrote in an email that having Newell get two starts (the sprint and marathon) in Lienz, rather than a possible one in Nove Mesto, made more sense for Newell’s long-term training plan.
“It would have been good to have Andy here for a possible classic relay leg, but the Dolomitenlauf weekend offered him two confirmed starts (including a sprint) so it was a better fit,” Grover wrote.
Using the 42 k event as ‘race practice’, Newell entered Saturday’s competition open to anything.
“I tried to go in with big confidence and an open mind, knowing that if I had a good day I could have a shot at winning the race or maybe even being on the podium,” Newell said. “I ended up doing a fair amount of leading actually and it came down to a group of 15 of us. Then it was a group of 10. By the last lap, it was maybe a group of five of us.”
With five skiers in the running for the top-three podium spots, Newell made a move with 4 k to go.
“I put my head down and put in a surge but I wasn’t able to get rid of the two guys that were behind me,” he said.
The top five men — Rezac, Newell, Brigadoi, and two Austrian skiers Martin Sutter and Stefan Sutter –made their way to the final kilometer, where the marathon turned into a marathon sprint.
“The Czech guy that won is a really strong double poler and great marathon skier. He had put his move down with maybe a half k to go and we were kind of strung out, a few meters in between all of us,” Newell said. “He had maybe ten meters before we even got to the stadium and it was a really drawn out sprint finish.”
While Newell captured second, three-tenths of a second ahead of the Italian, Brigadoi ousted the two Austrians for third.
While the sprint finish was perhaps more familiar territory for Newell, the American believes the race left him with a unique racing experience.
“I haven’t done too many of these types of marathons. On a race like [Saturday] you’re lapping people, so you have to weave in and out of slower folks … then there’s a helicopter and a snowmobile with a video camera like three feet away from you the entire time, which takes getting used to,” he said. “It was pretty fun and different.”
With a second-place podium finish and competitive spirit, who knows, the U.S. sprint specialist may make the transition to full-time marathoner yet.
“In the future I would like to make it to some more of the [Visma Ski] Classic races and the really big European marathons,” Newell said. “There’s some great competition and some good points and prize money. That was the goal for coming here, get a fun city sprint in Lienz, but to also race the 42 k classic.”
“Next time I want one of those wreath things!” Newell posted on Instagram after Saturday’s race. “Great experience and hard 42 k of double poling today. Happy with 2nd place in the Dolomitenlauf.”
Though the Dolomitenlauf is a part of the Worldloppet Marathon series, the 42 k classic event is not the designated Worldloppet race. Instead, many of the big-name marathoners suited up for Sunday’s 42 k freestyle competition held in Osttirol’s Drau Valley, Austria.
Racers began the 42 k event — changed on Jan. 5 from 60 k to 42 k — in Lienz and followed a course through various towns and villages located in the valley. Competitors finished back in the city of Lienz.
On the men’s side this year, all three podium spots were commandeered by the French.
French skier Bastien Poirrier won the men’s skate race in 1:32.42.3. Not far behind, French teammates Ivan Boiteux Perillat and Loic Guigonnet duked it out for second.
Boiteux Perillat ultimately beat Guigonnet to the line, a mere 0.2 seconds behind Poirrier. Guigonnet crossed the line in third, 0.5 seconds out of first.
For the women, France once again came out on top. French skier Aurelie Dabudyk raced to first in 1:41.32.3. French teammate Elisa Brocard finished 1:14.1 seconds back in second. Italy’s Antonella Confortola broke the French podium streak, crossing the line in third, 1:16.3 seconds behind Dabudyk.
Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.