Andy Newell stands atop the podium flanked by Ben Saxton (left) and Noah Hoffman (right). (U.S. Ski Team - Chris Grover)
WANAKA, New Zealand (Sept. 10, 2016) - The U.S. Cross Country Ski Team had another strong day at the New Zealand National Championships at the Snow Farm near Wanaka Saturday. Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) won for the second day in a row, leading a U.S. sweep in the men’s 15k classic mass start. Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) took the women’s 10k, also heading a full USA podium.
Newell, who won the sprint on Friday, was able to use his skills to best his teammates in a mid-distance race, winning in 38 minutes, 12.2 seconds - an 11 second margin over Ben Saxton (Lakeville, MN). Noah Hoffman (Aspen, CO) was third in 38:25.9.
Digging, meanwhile, won the 10k in 30:58.4 - a seven second margin over Ida Sargent (Orleans, VT). Sophie Caldwell (Putney, VT) was third, 13.8 seconds back.
"The 15k classic was a tactical race,” said Newell. “Hoff is, for sure, our best distance skier. But with a flatter course like this I can push the pace in the double pole sections which plays to my advantage. In the end I was able to get away up the last climb, it's so fun to race a mass start race with your teammates."
It was his second straight victory after winning the opening sprint title.
“Friday’s race was our first sprint style race of the prep period so it's always a little unknown how you might feel skiing as fast as you can,” he said. “For the guys we ended up double poling because of the changing snow conditions and fast finish so it ended up being great preparation for the World Cup. I'm was really happy with how my body felt and happy to have been able to push hard with my teammates.”
"The camp has been going really well!" said Diggins. "I absolutely love New Zealand and the Snow Farm Is the ideal setup for training. The volunteers and organizers here did a great job putting on the FIS races and it was fun to race in a new place! My teammates and I got a lot out of these races as its great practice, getting to deal with race prep and wax testing in a lower stress environment. I hadn't done a race in a long time so it was exciting to get back into it!"
The classic race was mass start so the 3 men (Newell, Saxton, Hoffman) and the 5 women in the lead group (Diggins, Sargent, Caldwell, Ogden, and Stephen) all got to ski together for most of the race.
With the mass start, everyone got to ski together for most of the race,” said Head Coach Chris Grover. “It was a great opportunity for athletes to try to make breaks and for others to reel them in. It was also an opportunity for each athlete to measure their relative technique strengths and weaknesses against the bigger group through different technique features - for example, who is skiing the downhills more aggressively, who is stronger in the double pole, who is stronger in the striding.
The course was relatively flat so it focused on double poling.
“Everyone stayed together until most of the way through the last 3.6 km lap, but Newell and Diggins made decisive moves with just over a kilometer to go, attacking up the biggest climb. Those moves strung out each group pretty quickly. “
The events this week have been well organized and added an important element to the team’s New Zealand camp.
“A big thanks to the Snow Farm and to the organizers of the Australia-New Zealand Continental Cup for some excellent races and tracks,” added Grover.
The U.S. Cross Country Ski Team is integrating the competitions into its on-snow camp. Action will wrap-up Sunday with a 15k men’s and 10k women’s freestyle event. Only Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) and Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) will be competing for the USA.
"The camp so far has been very productive for me," added Newell. "I made it a priority to take some good time off this spring and come into the prep period a little bit more out of shape than normal, so the big goal during this camp was to continue to make gains in fitness and continue to build that base training through lots of distance and technique work. I'm feeling stronger than I have in years so it's a good sign. The races here are a great chance to work on technique in a low stress racing atmosphere and they're also a lot of fun. I've been working a lot on my double pole so the classic sprint and the 15k were good opportunities to test the double pole endurance while racing. It's always a lot of fun to hammer side by side with your teammates in mass start races."