Canadian National Ski TeamGeneralRacingWorld CupToblach Sprint Weekend: Bonus Quotes

FasterSkier FasterSkierJanuary 17, 2017
The men's freestyle team sprint podium on Sunday, Jan. 15 in Toblach, Italy, with Canada's Alex Harvey and Len Valjas (c), Sweden's Oskar Svensson and Karl-Johan Westberg in second (l) and Italy's Federico Pellegrino and Dietmar Noeckler in third (r). (Photo: Fischer/Nordic Focus)
The men’s freestyle team sprint podium on Sunday, Jan. 15 in Toblach, Italy, with Canada’s Alex Harvey and Len Valjas (c) in first, Sweden’s Oskar Svensson and Karl-Johan Westberg in second (l), and Italy’s Federico Pellegrino and Dietmar Noeckler in third (r). (Photo: Fischer/Nordic Focus)

And you thought the weekend after the Tour de Ski would be boring. For fans of North American World Cup cross-country skiers, it was anything but, with Simi Hamilton coming excruciatingly close to a win in the men’s freestyle sprint on Saturday, Jan. 14, and placing second for his first podium of the season, followed by Canada’s first team-sprint victory since 2011 for Len Valjas’s first World Cup win. There was a lot of excitement surrounding two days of racing in Toblach, Italy, and plenty that didn’t make it into the race reports. See below.

***

Saturday’s 1.3 k freestyle sprint

(Race report)

On qualifying fifth:

The men's freestyle sprint podium at Saturday's World Cup in Toblach, Italy, with American Simi Hamilton (l) in second, Norway's Sindre Bjørnestad Skar (c) in first and Norway's Johannes Høsflot Klæbo (r) in third. (Photo: Fischer/NordicFocus)
The men’s freestyle sprint podium at Saturday’s World Cup in Toblach, Italy, with American Simi Hamilton (l) in second, Norway’s Sindre Bjørnestad Skar (c) in first and Norway’s Johannes Høsflot Klæbo (r) in third. (Photo: Fischer/NordicFocus)

“I think that my qualification speed has maybe dropped off just a little bit in the last few years with doing a little more threshold work all the time and focusing a little bit more on my overall distance fitness versus just my top qualification speed, but at the same time I knew I had great skis going into the qualifier and I knew I was 100-percent healthy and the conditions were really good for me. It was definitely a little bit slower out there today than it was last year with the new snow that came in yesterday, and it was a slightly longer course than it was last year, but I knew that if I just put together a good qualification, then I would probably end up towards the top there. So I was psyched to qualify fifth and only 0.8 [seconds] out. I think that was a reflection of kind of how I am feeling right now with my fitness.”

— Simi Hamilton

On having all five U.S. athletes qualify:

“We weren’t surprised by all of them qualifying. Sophie [Caldwell] and Ida [Sargent] have been very consistent qualifiers, and Kikkan [Randall] also qualified in the last skate sprint that she did in the Tour, so I think that was within reason. Also, the field the week after the Tour de Ski is slightly smaller, because so many people, like Jessie [Diggins], Sadie [Bjornsen], [Sweden’s] Stina Nilsson, and such are resting, so it makes for a slightly easier field. I think there were only 46 women who started, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise. It was really great to see them all move through the quarterfinals. I think all three of them skied great, and especially Ida and Sophie, just outright making great moves and pushing themselves through, and then Kikkan being a lucky loser. It was great to see them all move through, and unfortunately [Caldwell and Randall] got tangled up in the semifinal…”

— U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover

On the U.S. semifinal tangle:

“According to Kikkan, as you could see in the race, the draft was such a big thing coming down that hill. Kikkan thought she had too much speed so she tried to go to the inside of Sophie, instead of running into the back of her, and somehow after that, they got tangled; that was really unfortunate. You hate to see when two people from the same team actually manage to take each other out. These guys are usually really good about watching out for each other, so I was a little surprise that that happened.”

— Grover

“It’s a bummer to have fallen in the two races that I’ve made the semis this year, but I’m feeling good and know that my time will come. It was a great day for the U.S. and seeing Simi’s brilliant final and second place erased any sour taste about falling today.”

— Sophie Caldwell

On lessons learned:

“In my quarter[final], I was a little too focused on trying to be in the top three for the first half of the heat, and something I kind of figured out almost by mistake in that quarterfinal was that I could ski off the bridge climb just extremely hard and get a really good slingshot going into that final climb and pick up a few places right there. I think when I was doing that, it was setting me up really well for the finish. … You see a lot of guys coming through that were getting a little slower start and then are running 4-5-6 the first half of the sprint, and then they make a big move at the end and position themselves for a really good finish, so I kind of figured that out on.”

— Hamilton

On a tailored plan:

“I have realized that the very last climb definitely suits me well. It’s kind of gradual and if I come into that climb with really good speed after the bridge downhill, after having picked up a couple of spots from the slingshot after that downhill, definitely makes me ski kind of confidently up that climb. The nature of that course is, you want to be in a really good spot coming down that long downhill the second tim, coming into the finish. So in the final, I just focused on basically skiing the first half, the first two climbs, all the way up to the building climb just really efficiently and try to conserve as much energy. I knew that if I put a move on coming off that bridge hill and skied that last climb really well, then I would have a really good chance of being top three coming over that last climb. So that’s what I did and I felt confident in my plan going into the final.”

— Hamilton

On riding confidence:

“I think I am really confident in knowing exactly which part of the course I can ski the best and being able to kind of capitalize on that knowledge and use those spots to my advantage and just know that I can get around some people in those clutch spots, for me, is a really big thing.  At the same time, I think there’s just the whole mental side of it in knowing that you know you can, knowing that you can ski really well and in a specific place on multiple occasions. I think that’s just as big as knowing that your skis are really good, knowing that you’re really healthy, knowing that you’re fit, just knowing that you kind of figured a course out and that you really enjoy skiing it, really enjoy racing it, that it is a good thing for you, I think that is really important.”

— Hamilton

On getting back those good-ol’ race sensations:

“I had such a solid summer and fall of training that I actually expected myself to be right in the mix when the season started. But when the racing started, I began to realize that this comeback was going to take some time. I didn’t expect the patience and time it would take to get the racing gears back after taking a full year away from that kind of effort. Each race I do I am feeling a little closer to my normal sprint form. So if I can just stay patient and healthy, I think this season will progress nicely.”

— Kikkan Randall

On Andy Newell’s season-best 13th:

“He’s had such a rough start to the year, coming over and getting a pretty serious elbow infection to start the World Cup season, and then getting sick right after that through Lillehammer, and then he stuck to his plan and went home after Davos. Instead of staying on to race the Tour, he took a break and spent time with his fiancé [Stratton Mountain School Elite teammate Erika Flowers] over the break, so I was really excited to see how he skied today. For him and Simi to qualify fifth and sixth, they were moving incredibly fast in qualification. Simi was under a second from first, Andy was maybe just over a second from first in qualification, so they were flying. I thought Andy skied with really good energy, good tactical moves. In the quarterfinal, he just missed by a few hundredths or tenths [of a second] going through as the lucky loser, so really good stuff for Andy.”

— Grover

***

Sunday’s 6 x 1.3 k freestyle team sprint

(Race report)

On fine-tuning the team sprint:

Canada's Len Valjas en route to his first World Cup victory in the men's freestyle team sprint on Sunday, Jan. 15, in Toblach, Italy. He teamed up with Alex Harvey (not shown) (Photo: Fischer/NordicFocus)
Canada’s Len Valjas (followed by American Andy Newell in bib 15) en route to Valjas’s first World Cup victory in the men’s freestyle team sprint on Sunday, Jan. 15, in Toblach, Italy. He teamed up with Alex Harvey (not shown). (Photo: Fischer/NordicFocus)

“I’ve never raced with Len in the team sprint, and it’s the only one before [World Championships], and we knew we would be together at Worlds, so we wanted to do it to practice the exchange, and get a feel for it, because it’s a pretty unique race. It’s different from anything else, and it’s been a while since I’ve done a team sprint, so for all those reasons we really wanted to go and do the team sprint. Yesterday [in the individual sprint] I treated it more like a race prep, since I’ve done barely anything since the Tour, no intensity, no nothing, no pre race intervals, so I didn’t know what to expect, so I was pleasantly surprised with the feeling yesterday. It gave me a lot of confidence for today.”

— Alex Harvey

On winning:

“You look on paper, we were ranked No. 3. They take either your best distance points or your best sprint points, so they took my distance points and Lenny’s sprint points, and our total was like 36 FIS points, and that was the third lowest, so we were pretty well ranked, we had just never done it before. We liked our team on paper before, and like I said yesterday, we both felt good, and we both felt like we had more to give … I’d be lying if I said we expected to win, but the goal was to be top 5, and from there, the podium is within reach, for sure.”

— Harvey

On being 6-foot-6:

“This course had good parts for me, for sure, the one skate hill and maybe the flat out of the exchange, I felt good. My height does help for the more gradual climbs, but as soon as we got to that big, building climb, like, the actual steepest, I found it’s hard for me to ski as wide as I want to because I only go to my left side…”

— Len Valjas 

On his team-sprint teammate:

“I think [Andy Newell] is skiing really well right now and I think both of us will be feeling really good by World Champs. Hopefully with some really good training coming up and some more good race opportunities, so I am really looking forward to having a good one with him in Lahti. I have heard the rumors that they are going to go back to the old classic sprint course in Lahti for the team sprint, which is pretty cool, and it’s definitely a bit different from the skate sprint course that they have now. It has essentially one huge climb with a really steep kicker at the top and some technical quarters coming back into the stadium, so I think that fares well for us. We are both good on our skis and good on the downhill and cornering, so we could put together a good race in Lahti in few weeks.”

— Hamilton

On slow doping control:

“I am a huge proponent of them doing a lot more testing and being consistent with that and so I was really happy to see that. I was in the anti-doping room with about eight or nine other athletes, so that was really cool to see that they are taking good initiative on that. It did frustrate me a little bit that they didn’t have a couple of spin bikes in there or any food. It was kind of like a really cold basement room, which was a bummer. I thought it was going to be a really quick urine sample, kind of in and out and be done, and they only had two people processing everyone’s test, so even though I pretty much had to pee right after the race yesterday, I ended up just sitting in that room for about 1 1/2 hours just waiting for someone to deal and process the test with me, and then I had to do blood sample after that and that requires sitting for 2 hours still after the race finished before they can take your blood. So fortunately, I was able to come to the hotel and just lounge here while I was still in that two-hour window, but they didn’t end up showing up here until about three hours after the race. When it was all said and done I didn’t really get any kind of cool down and just went straight from giving my blood to dinner, to a quick massage, to bed, right to a team meeting then bed, so it was kind of not-an-ideal afternoon yesterday, and I think that was kind of resulted not feeling great during the semifinal this morning.”

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