Kris was hoping for a top-20 and expecting a top-30. My wording was a but different - I figured I’d be thrilled with a top-20 and satisfied with a top-30. Pete might have come up with yet another way to say the same thing. Kris’s fitness has been stable and improving every since Nationals. He’s slowly put himself back into territory where we have some idea what to expect, and how to respond. It’s been clear that Kris’s base fitness was top-20 worthy, but there sure haven’t been many representative efforts to back up the assertion. So 16th place today with a less than perfect but solid race effort is quite good news.
After the intensity session several days ago my optimism started to bubble-up and make some noises. The biggest factor keeping it in check is that Kris has never had a great first weekend in Europe. This is his best finish “off the boat”, as he put it. If historical results are any indication we can expect better efforts in the weeks to come. Also tempering expectations was the fact that conditions were warming and deteriorating from Kris’s favorite hard, fast tracks into his least favorite red klister mush. Kris has worked hard to be a better slop skier in the past couple of years, but he’s still at his best on hard tracks.
As far as specifics are concerned, Kris paced the race quite conservatively. His intensity session gave him ample evidence that the price for a maximal effort on that course was extremely high with a relatively modest return in time gains. That gave him plenty of confidence in a conservative start. At 0.9K he was 47th, 15 seconds out of the lead. This isn’t an eye-popping start, to be sure. Some day he’ll win one of these thing, and he’ll have a similarly conservative start that puts him closer to 5 seconds off the lead than 15 seconds off the lead. But you can’t reverse-engineer correct pacing - as Devon Kershaw demonstrated today. He was five seconds out at 0.9 and and he lost a minute to Kris from that point to the finish.
So, no criticism from here of Kris’s conservative start. He moved up through the field well, sitting in 22nd after 5K, and 14th after 10K. His second lap was 11th fastest. Then he had the 15th fastest last lap and dropped a couple of places to 16th overall. If he had been able to hold his pace against the competition and skied the 11th fastest last lap he would have been 11th place. He only dropped seven seconds to that pace, but these races are tight when you’re in the thick of the pack. Six of the guys who finished ahead of Kris were either within a couple of seconds of even-splitting the last two laps, or in a couple of cases negative-splitting them. If Kris had skied as fast on his last lap as he did on his second lap then he would have been 10th.
All of this reflects a couple of things. Kris dropped off a little bit on the last lap and he knew it. Also, while it was a good effort, he never showed the speed required for a top-5. He was a very steady 16th place who might have managed top-10 with a more ideal effort on the day. His past history suggests that another week or two on the ground in Europe can give him more than the small boost we’re talking about with regard to pacing, but another gear altogether.
Speaking of another gear - Lukas Bauer won today, going wire to wire. Jaak Mae was impressive in second place, giving away ten seconds in the first lap and only another three the rest of the way. Third place was over a minute back. Kris was 45 seconds out of 5th. It’s hard to know how much the field “gave away” with travel to Canmore and back. But Bauer continues to have unbelievable stability combined with world-beating fitness. His worst distance result is a 13th place in a pursuit race during the tour de ski which he won anyway (he was first to the line, but guys behind him skied faster). He’s basically been no worse than 4th in a distance race all year. Anytime he’s had a time that put him slower than the top-4, it was a tactical pursuit race that still put him at the front of the pack. Amazing.
Reprinted with permission from the Kris Freeman website at http://www.krisfreeman.net/. Copyright © Zach Caldwell and Kris Freeman