In one weekend of racing, Anne Hart has already learned a lot, the types of things you can only learn from careful observation and reflection. And for Hart, a 25-year-old member of the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) Elite Team, the season doesn’t truly begin until Dec. 2.
After racing to 19th in the women’s 10-kilometer freestyle individual start on Sunday in Beitostølen, 2:41.9 minutes behind Norwegian winner Marit Bjørgen, Hart talked about being inspired by numerous speedy Norwegians there — many of which are gunning for a spot on Norway’s World Cup team.
Hart ventured to Norway earlier this month to jumpstart her season before heading back to the U.S. to race the SuperTour opener in West Yellowstone, Montana, Dec. 2-3. In two previous races in Beitostølen on Friday and Saturday, she finished 31st in both the 10 k classic and classic sprint.
On Sunday, she resolved to leave it all out there, just as she’d seen Norwegian World Cup regular Finn Hågen Krogh do.
“Today we were watching the men’s race [before our race], and we watched Finn Hågen Krogh halfway up the hill the last time, the third time. I kid you not, he just stopped, bent over and he went on and finished fifth,” Hart reflected. “He went out hard, he blew up, but he made up so much time at the beginning that he just had to make it in.”
That’s precisely what Hart’s been working on.
“I really just pushed it from the go,” she said of her race. “After watching the [top] women start the classic race [on Friday], and then watching how fast they go in the sprints [on Saturday], there is just no easy pace out there … You just keep on going, and you suffer. But the harder you suffer the faster it is over.”
Hart finished her 10 k, in what she described “beautiful skiing” conditions, in 26:37.1. Bjørgen raced to first for her second distance win of the long weekend in 23:55.2, 12.6 seconds ahead of Ragnhild Haga in second place. Norway once again swept the podium with Heidi Weng in third, 30.1 seconds behind Bjørgen.
“It’s a course that doesn’t have a lot of rest in it … basically I was just trying to V2 as much as I could, because I noticed that’s another thing they do over here,” Hart said. “It’s like riding a bike; it’s easier to go in a lower gear. … I know I am a stronger V2-er, and the longer I can V2 up the hills, I figured the better I would do overall. Then [I] backed off, worked on quick turnover, and then really tried to push the V2-ing.”
For much of the race, her split times hovered between 19th and 20th. But after a strong effort from 7 to 9.8 k, where she clocked the 15th fastest time in 7:58.2, Hart secured 19th, 8.5 seconds behind 18th-place finisher Silje Theodorsen, of the Norwegian National U23 Team, and 12 seconds ahead of 20th, which went to Norway’s Magni Smedås (Lillehammer Ski Club).
That stands as Hart’s best international finish outside of an Alpen Cup last season in Seefeld, Austria, where she notched two top 20’s. Each year, Norway’s season-opening FIS races in Beitostølen attract most of Norway’s top skiers and upcoming talent.
So 19th in Beitostølen is a big deal.
At the time of her post-race interview with FasterSkier, Hart wasn’t sure where she ended up. But she knew she pushed herself to the limit.
“I think last year I suffered from over-pacing, and it’s gonna hurt no matter what you do,” she said. “And I am very much of the mentality, for me anyways, to just go all in, no fear. And the worst thing that happens is you blow up.”
In terms of how her results in Beito will affect her moving forward, she said it was about building confidence with each race and “having faith in my training and my fitness. The worst feeling in the world is when you finish and are like, ‘Damn, I could have gone harder.’ I would much rather literally collapse out on the course.”
Great Britain’s Annika Taylor, who grew up in Truckee, California, and raced at the University of New Hampshire, placed 23rd (+3:09.9). Taylor, 24, finished 29th in the 10 k classic two days earlier
At the front of Sunday’s race, the final time between Bjørgen and runner-up Haga was what made the news. One Norwegian journalist asked Norwegian women’s team coach Roar Hjelmeset if “this was almost like a victory since the gap was so small”. He replied “no” but added that it was “a very good performance” for Haga.
Bjørgen started last in bib 63 and, as she typically does, clocked the fastest times through essentially every checkpoint and put more time into her competition with each passing kilometer. Haga’s time from 4.9 to 6.1 k was actually 2.5 seconds faster, but Bjørgen later told reporters that she expected a strong performance from her 26-year-old teammate.
“The race was acceptable,” she told NRK. “I was prepared for Ragnhild’s approach since she’s better at skating, but I felt like I was somewhat in control.”
Haga was pleased to hold on to second ahead of fellow World Cup Team members Weng (who ended up third) and Ingvild Flugstad Østberg in fourth (+32.3).
“I had hoped to kick harder from the start so that Ingvild wouldn’t catch up to me,” Haga told NRK. “I didn’t tighten up and was able to keep pushing. I couldn’t really do anything about Marit, but I was closer than normal.”
Both Weng and Østberg told NRK how impressed they were with Haga’s performance.
“Ragnhild has shown strength over a lot of years,” Østberg said.
Weng added that she was impressed Haga gave Bjørgen a fight for first place.
“[Haga] does this because she’s been able to train well over the course of long time, and she has done very well leading up to this season,” Hjelmeset explained to a group of reporters.
Krüger: ‘It’s a big deal’
In the men’s race, Norway’s Simen Hegstad Krüger took advantage of the optimal conditions — with temperatures between -6 and -9 degrees Celsius, firm tracks and a clear blue sky — to win the 15 k freestyle by 16.5 seconds in 32:59.6.
He did so after starting in bib 122 of 124 and taking control of the race at 2.1 k. Krüger led from that point on, clocking the fastest splits in every stretch except from 11 to 11.9 k. At the finish, he beat out the likes of fellow Norwegian World Cup Team members Hans Christer Holund in second, Hågen Krogh in fifth (+42.1), Sjur Røthe in sixth (+42.8), and Martin Johnsrud Sundby in seventh (+52.9).
“This is incredibly cool,” Krüger told NRK. “Even if it’s early in the season, it’s not common to win at this level. It’s a big deal when entire Norwegian elite is here.”
Notably, 21-year-old Norwegian Jan Thomas Jenssen, of Hommelvik Il, placed third (+30.7). He’s never raced on the World Cup.
“What should I say? This is amazing,” he told NRK, adding that the experience was “indescribable.”
Great Britain’s Andrew Musgrave raced to fourth place (+37.1) as the only non-Norwegian in the top 24. American Noah Hoffman was next in 25th (+2:09.6), and Andy Newell (U.S. Ski Team) finished 52nd (+2:56.0).
“It was better than the other day, a step in the right direction and I feel pretty good and looking forward to next weekend,” Hoffman, who finished 29th in Friday’s 15 k classic, told FasterSkier on Sunday. “Part of it is just having a race under my belt, but beyond that, I think on these more gradual courses I’m better at skating than I am classic, and the conditions were better for me today.”
While he was able to navigate traffic on the course by picking off several racers, Hoffman was frustrated with his “lapse of concentration” that caused him to clip a V-board on the biggest downhill and fall on his second lap.
“[I] went down really hard, lost my glasses, but at least I didn’t hurt myself,” Hoffman said. “Got a little bit of whiplash, I think I might be sore from it. … I probably lost 10 seconds. It was just silly. It still was a good effort and it doesn’t make too big of a difference.”
Newell started out skiing around 70th and made his way up to 38th mid-race, but lost time over the final three kilometers to finish 52nd. When he spoke with FasterSkier immediately after, he was unsure of how he placed.
“I don’t think my time will be great, but it was a good workout and my body felt good despite being a little tired and sore from yesterday,” said Newell, who placed 16th in Saturday’s classic sprint. “It was a good training race, and these guys are so fast, and since skating is not my best, I just looked for a good feeling in the body. …. I think I have a little more in the tank. I can save that for next weekend.”
The World Cup opens next Friday, Nov. 24 with the three-day Ruka Triple in Kuusamo, Finland.
Of the four Canadian men that raced on Sunday, Scott James Hill of Barrie Cross Country (BXC) led them in 64th (+3:09.8).
“Today was good, a lot better,” said Hill, who placed 84th in Saturday’s sprint and 99th in Friday’s 15 k classic. “The classic race was kind of my first race and time trial of the year so I wasn’t expecting much, but today I felt like I was ready to race.
“I think everything worked out well,” the 23 year old continued. “I was never skiing alone other than maybe the first half lap, so I was always being pushed, which was really good.”
Ryan Jackson (Team Asker) followed in 102nd, Maks Zechel (Team Asker) was 113th, and Joey Foster (BXC) finished 118th.
— Harald Zimmer contributed