Kris had no idea what to expect from the first race. He got home after Nationals and set-about getting healthy. He’s felt better every single day since Nationals, and his confidence has come up. But it’s come up from some pretty rocky territory, and the only intensity test he had was a skate effort in which he beat his brother. Not exactly basis for expectation at a World Cup level.
In hindsight Kris’s performance in the pursuit appears to be on target, and right about what he had reason to expect from a healthy body with a month of sub-optimal preparation and illness preceding. That’s hindsight - both Kris and I will admit that we harbored hopes for a lightning strike - a really outstanding performance. While it was a disappointment that he didn’t knock it out of the park, neither one of us has been able to find any seriously discouraging news in his performance.
It’s usually pretty easy to see how Kris is skiing during a race. Shortly after the start of the pursuit I thought he looked as though he was comfortably keeping pace with the lead pack, but was lacking any sort of snap. When he’s skiing well he’ll usually look like he’s clipping his stride short on the climbs when he’s skiing in the pack. This time he looked like he was just skiing along. He was a bit slow to pull the trigger on his kick, and when it came it was strong, but not powerful.
After the early going I figure that Kris would be able to hang in there, but that he’d struggle to hang in the skate, and might pop off in the late going. He can get away with something less than snappy sensations when he’s striding, but needs to be pretty sharp to skate well. As it turned out, he came off the group almost immediately as the skate started. Interestingly, Anders Soedergren also struggled in the early going of the skate portion. Kris was able to latch onto George Gray and Ivan Babikov (who had gotten popped in the classic) as they skied back on in the first lap of the skate, and by the start of the second of four laps he was tacked back onto the back of the main group of 22. That’s where he stayed until the race started for earnest during the last lap. He was the first guy to come off the main group, and the last guy to finish. 38 second short of the winner, but a good minute ahead of the next group.
Kris’s assessment was that he had nothing to give at the top end. He suffered mightily at times, but not to any great effect. He was forced to shut down the effort when he threatened to go anaerobic. That he was able to get back onto the group after coming off early is an encouraging sign from my point of view. All last year we felt that Kris’s base capacity was good enough to put him in the top-twenty of a World Cup field. Tuesday’s performance seems to underscore the fact that his base fitness has not eroded in the past six weeks to the point that he’s unable to ski at a good enough pace to hang onto the pack in a mass start event. That goes a long way toward rebuilding some confidence.
Yesterday I skied with Kris for the last half hour of his hour and a half session. He looked like a different specimen altogether. Just skiing along easy he had all the snap he was missing the day before in the race. He was even able to imitate the way he was skiing the day before, and it was spot-on. He could feel the difference as clearly as I could see it. His heart rates were running insanely low - was barely hanging onto him while he was skiing at 115 beats per minute. Geez - and I thought I was getting fit!
We don’t know much more about what to expect tomorrow than we did prior to Tuesday, but the signs have improved. I’ve picked a number - a finish place that I think is an accurate (if somewhat optimistic) reflection of his improved sensations since Tuesday. It’s not as good as his fifth place in Kuusamo, but it’s better than anything else he’s done recently. That’s all I’m going to say for now.