BEND, Oregon – It’s hard to imagine Kris Freeman as an underdog in a race that involves cross country skiing and running. But to this city’s residents, that’s exactly what he was on Saturday morning before the start of the 36th annual Pole Pedal Paddle: some Olympian who was trying to unseat the hometown favorite, Andrew Boone.
Boone had won the race – which combines downhill skiing through gates, roughly eight k of nordic skiing, 20 miles of biking, several more of running, a kayak course on the Deschutes River, and finally a half-mile “sprint” to the finish – in 2011 by three minutes over longtime nordic standout Brayton Osgood. With Osgood out of the picture this year, who could be against Boone?
“This is my weekend warrior event now,” Boone said in an interview after the race. “Bend came out to support me.”
But a few people were familiar enough with Freeman’s accomplishments on the U.S. Ski Team, as well as his competitive drive, that they wouldn’t count him out. One of them was Boone.
“There’s no doubt that he came in, he wanted to win, and we all knew that he was going to throw down a good race,” Boone said. “It elevated [the level of the field] for sure. I haven’t seen the times, but I bet I was faster than last year.”
Boone was faster, beating his previous time by about 50 seconds. In the end, Freeman won by 57 seconds in a time of 1:46:00, but it was a tight, tactical race from start to finish. Boone led through the alpine-to-nordic exchange and out onto the Mount Bachelor trails; at that point, Freeman wasn’t even in second.
That didn’t last for long, as Freeman predictably came charging by once he was back on his own equipment; Boone told reporters that it was cool to see such a strong skier flying past him. By the time Freeman reached the next exchange and was helped onto his bike and into his clipless pedals by U.S. Ski Team staff, he had a roughly 30-second lead. Sprinting off onto Century Drive for his net-elevation-loss trip from Bachelor down to the town of Bend, he was chased by shouts that Boone still wasn’t in sight.
But Freeman knew that his gap might not be enough. Of all of the sections of the race, the bike was what worried him the most.
“It’s only my fourth time on a bike this year, so that was hard,” Freeman told FasterSkier. “I’m riding Andy Fecteau’s time trial bike, just once, and going 50 miles an hour for 30 minutes is a little nerve-racking.”
Boone, meanwhile, knew that the biking section might be his only chance to regain the lead – so he attacked as hard as he could.
“I knew he was a good runner, and I haven’t been running well off the bike,” Boone said. “I wanted to get as much of a cushion as I could.”
Freeman was hoping to maintain his lead until the run, but Boone passed him with several miles to go, as the road finally flattened out and headed into town. Adding insult to injury, drafting is illegal in the race, so Freeman was unable to tuck in behind his competitor as he would in a ski race.
“I didn’t really like that,” Freeman said. But even if he had been able to draft, that didn’t change the fact that Freeman was definitely the weaker cyclist. “He looked really comfortable, and I was definitely suffering those last couple miles.”
The U.S. Ski Team athlete faced one other challenge, too. Police directed him the wrong way around a roundabout.
“I had to jump a curb to get back on the road,” Freeman explained. “I lost probably 20 seconds there.”
Freeman was still flying compared to the rest of the field; the pair added to their lead and it was clear that nobody else would be able to touch them (XC Oregon’s Zach Violett finished third in 1:49:39). Freeman crept up on Boone in the first section of the run, then sat on his shoulder for two miles before putting in a small burst to create a gap.
“It went how I hoped it would,” Freeman said of the late stages of the race. “I was able to put ten seconds on Andrew at the end of the run, and then I thought I’d be a stronger paddler, and I was.”
Freeman – who says that he spend roughly four hours in a boat every week in the spring for cross-training – extended his lead in the kayak portion, and the race was essentially decided before he even began the sprint.
“He’s a pretty strong guy,” Boone said.
He was gracious about the loss, and if he felt disappointment, he didn’t let it show.
“I executed the best race I possibly could have today,” Boone said. “My training was definitely not where it should have been this spring, so to race against Kris Freeman and to go back and forth with him, I feel really good about it, and he was the better man today.”
He even praised Freeman for making the race more competitive.
“Last year I had a lead off the bike and just held it, so this time it was fun to have to use tactics,” he said.
Boone is loosely affiliated with XC Oregon, a ski team based here in Bend. Due to his other commitments, he barely ever has time to ski; according to coach JD Downing, just hanging with Freeman for two hours was an accomplishment.
“Being sick for three months, working full time, being a parent, and going to grad school, that’s so amazing,” he gushed. “He has a lot going on, and with that big a load it’s no wonder why he was ill. To do that against – everybody knows how great an athlete Kris is. I’m probably as proud of him as any athlete I’ve ever had in fourteen years.”
As for Freeman? The victory knocks off a longstanding goal that he’s been frustratingly unable to accomplish.
“I’ve always wanted to do this race. I’ve been coming here since I was 17, and I’m always coming here either right before or right after it, and always wanted to do it, and now I have. The last couple days I’ve barely seen my team because I’ve been so preoccupied getting everything organized, so now it’s back to work.”