The start of the men's 30 k classic mass start on Sunday, Jan. 29, at the World Cup in Falun, Sweden. (Photo: Fischer/NordicFocus)
The start of the men’s 30 k classic mass start on Sunday, Jan. 29, at the World Cup in Falun, Sweden, with (front, left to right) Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov (4), Finland’s Matti Heikkinen (2), Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby (yellow bib), Canada’s Alex Harvey (3), and Switzerland’s Dario Cologna leading out of the gate. (Photo: Fischer/NordicFocus)

We’re a couple days out from last weekend’s World Cup in Falun, Sweden, with several top racers taking a two-week breather now to prepare for World Championships, but several more are headed to PyeongChang, South Korea, to preview the 2018 Olympic course at this coming weekend’s three-day World Cup, Friday through Sunday. Here is a final wrap of some of the North American comments from Falun that didn’t make it into the race reports.

Saturday’s freestyle sprints

(Women’s report | Men’s report)

On the sprint course:

“I think it is a great sprint course. I think they could maybe do a little reconstruction on the fast righthand downhill corner to bank it a little, because that was getting pretty icy today, but everything else skis really well. It’s a little frustrating because it seemed like most of the racing comes down to the last 45 seconds or minute, and who can get the best draft coming into the stadium. It is such a fast finish there … but that’s part of racing, it’s not going to be a totally fair thing all the time. It just takes some really good positioning for that downhill and then kind of launching your move as you come into that bump, and carrying that momentum through the finish.”

— Simi Hamilton (U.S. Ski Team), 18th overall

“It was a fast sprint today. The perfect event for an athlete like Erik Bjornsen is the team sprint, where you link together multiple very hard efforts. He’s an athlete that can recover and maintain a high pace. But these really short, really fast sprints, that he’s still working on. He needed another minute for his strength to really show, and he only missed by a little over a second.”

— Matt Whitcomb (U.S. Ski Team coach), on Erik Bjornsen, who finished 43rd in the qualifier

On organizing-committee snafus:

“They had a little bit of a grooming mistake where they set a [classic] track in the qualification lane. Normally for qualification [in a skate sprint] you are behind the wand, pole in front of it, and then you skate right out. Today they had a five-meter track. All of the girls double poled out of it. Simi was bib 11, and right before he started we told him, ‘You gotta skate.’ We were watching the ten guys who started before him double pole, and it just didn’t look very fast, so he skated out of the gate, and Emil Iversson behind him did that too. The next handful of guys double poled, and then the rest of the field started to catch on to that, and everybody else skated the qualification after that.”

— Whitcomb

On qualifying:

“I was really psyched with how my qualifier went today. It was funny, because when I finished I wasn’t sure how it went because it didn’t feel like a typical sprint. Even though the time on course is only about 3 minutes, it is a really hard course, with a lot more uphill than we are used to skiing in skate sprints. I knew it would be easy to blow up on this course, so out of the start I focused on big pushes with a lot of glide and on the two big uphills, I didn’t allow myself to hop skate and instead did a hard and fast V1 where I tried not to waste too much energy being springy. I felt like I skied the technical downhills well and had a semi strong finish, but mostly was happy with how I had paced it. I was thrilled to see I had qualified in 3rd.”

— Sophie Caldwell (U.S. Ski Team), on qualifying in 3rd

On finding her sprinting groove:

“Everybody has such a different tactic, like today I saw Kikkan [Randall] go right before me and she was aggressive from the back so I tried that method, and I think that maybe that is the problem I keep falling into. I am trying to do what my teammates are doing and forgetting to use my specific strengths and remembering that everyone is different.”

— Sadie Bjornsen (U.S. Ski Team), 19th overall

On measurable progress:

“It is my first final in about two years, so that was pretty fun to be back in the final. I have been getting progressively better every sprint race this season, so this was just another good step forward. Never having come back from a baby before I don’t really have anything to gauge against or a way to expect it was going to go. I have been just trying to build strength this season, and I like the trajectory I am on, so another month and hopefully I can be ready to contend for that podium.”

— Kikkan Randall (U.S. Ski Team), 5th overall

***

Sunday’s 15/30 k classic mass starts

(Women’s report | Men’s report)

On the conditions:

“It was my least favorite conditions today with the tracks really hard to find kick in and getting really sugary as they broke down, so it was good to have another chance to work on my striding and improve my classic racing! But like yesterday, I was so impressed with our service team and my skis were great!”

— Jessie Diggins (U.S. Ski Team), 10th

“It was challenging conditions today with sugary tracks that were a little beat up from the boys. I actually really enjoy skiing in this kind of condition so I was optimistic about today’s race.”

— Rosie Brennan (U.S. Ski Team), 24th

“I remembered TERRIBLE snow conditions [from 2015 World Championships] and a major climb that was going to entail a lot of herringbone. Fortunately, the snow was much better (Icy at the beginning and then sugary) although still not easy to kick skiing and the steepest part of the climb I was thinking about was changed. The course used much of the terrain from World Champs but the courses were a fair bit different and as such skied very differently.”

— Matt Gelso (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation), 44th

On the course:

“I like skiing here in Falun, I think the courses suit me well. There is a long relatively flat section that comes out of the stadium, and in almost every distance race we lap though it multiple times. I tend to feel stronger in double pole and V2 so I really like this section.”

— Erik Bjornsen (U.S. Ski Team), 35th

On the race format:

“We don’t get to race 15 k very often so it’s hard to know what to expect out there.”

— Brennan

On the weeks to come:

“I am looking forward to some rest and recovery to rebuild for a big and important block of racing to come!”

— Sadie Bjornsen, 21st

On keeping up the momentum while during a two-week break from racing:

“When things are going good you just want to keep racing, so I am looking forward to it, more to be able to really put in a good block of training and doing what I have done in the past before championships. But I really enjoy racing, I love training, and I love most of the things we do in the summer pretty much other than maybe strength workouts, like, it’s not like labor for me or anything, but racing is really why I do all of that. I am never saying, ‘Oh, I need a break. Now it would be nice to not be putting a bib on for three weeks,’ I have never really had that feeling. … I guess it’s the opposite. By World Cup Finals, if things are going well I am just kind of sad to leave the circuit, but it might be different for others. You are never going to find me saying it’s time to stop racing ’cause I actually really, really enjoy everything about it, the adrenaline and everything around racing.”

— Alex Harvey (Canadian World Cup Team), 15th

On the decision to race next weekend in South Korea:

“Liz [Stephen] and I are the only [U.S.] distance skiers going, and we both decided on that last minute, not until after the Tour de Ski, to go. And my decision was based on looking back at the 2012/13 season and the 2013/14 season, both years that I had pretty successful championships, and looking at the schedule between the Tour and the championship in those seasons. I was racing almost every weekend and we were traveling a lot, and I remember it being so much fun. I was just enjoying myself and so psyched to be over here [in Europe], and I was sitting in Val di Fiemme at the end of the Tour de Ski and looking at this year’s schedule, and it was a week off and then two weekends in Sweden and then two more weeks off before Otepää and Worlds, and that’s not exciting and that’s not fun! I don’t want to just sit around in Europe, and I didn’t feel like I needed a bunch of training time at that point. I thought, if anything, I needed to just chill and then race. … Korea sounded like fun. It was a cool opportunity. I handle travel super-well, and it’s fun to race World Cups with weak fields because you do better [laughs]. Not that I don’t believe I can do well in a World Cup with a full field, but you know, next week is a great opportunity.”

— Noah Hoffman (U.S. Ski Team), 37th

On Erik Bjornsen and Hoffman coming within striking distance of World Cup points on Sunday:

“Noah and Erik didn’t end up with the results they are capable of, but each athlete came very close to putting together a good one. Erik spent most of his race fighting up to 23rd or 24th, and was skiing phenomenally, but did so working alone. It came with a price. With 7 k to go, a pack that had been trading leads came charging through. Noah’s race was moving in the right direction in the final 10 k, but a crash in the stadium lost his contact with the points. His energy looked good today, so I think he’ll be strong in Korea.”

— Whitcomb

Thinking ahead to World Cup Finals, on ending the season at home in Quebec City:

“I think motivation at the end of the season is a huge factor because pretty much everybody, at least everybody that is in the top 10 overall, we are kind of all running a bit on fumes, like physically, especially on a championship year where everybody’s going to try to really work up a peak for the end of February. So then by mid-March, everybody will be kind of sliding out their peak. I really think motivation will be one of the most important factors, and the fact that I will be able to be at home will surely help the motivation. If I find myself in the spot that I am close to, like a similar spot that when I am in right now [fourth overall in the World Cup], that could be the difference between third and fourth in the overall. So that is, for sure, I think for me, a good advantage.”

— Harvey

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