Chaos and cold apparently worked well for Kris Freeman on Saturday as the 31-year-old U.S. Ski Team veteran tore around the 2.5 k loop in the 15 k freestyle mass start in Rybinsk, Russia, to make the points for the second time in two weekends of World Cup races.
Freeman finished 28th, about 6 seconds out of the top 10 and 3.2 seconds from 20th. In a phone interview, Freeman said he was in sixth or seventh with 2 1/2 k remaining, but ran out of energy and finished 17.6 seconds behind winner Devon Kershaw of Canada (36:47.5).
“It was one of the more insane races I’ve ever done,” Freeman said after nabbing his second-best individual World Cup result this season. He was 22nd in the 15 k classic in Otepää, Estonia, on Jan. 22.
According to Freeman, Saturday’s skate course was narrow with several turns, two hills per lap and plenty of flats.
“Basically it was just 60 guys trying to squeeze around a two-wide lane for 15 kilometers and a lot of contact out there,” he said.
Freeman made the most of it and skied four solid laps before dropping behind in the fifth.
“I wouldn’t change anything except that I would have more in the tank for the last hill,” he said.
“[It’s a] good sign for Kris to be able to stick with that pack for most of the race,” U.S. head coach Chris Grover said. “He felt like he had a good 14 kilometers of racing, but just a bad last kilometer.”
Freeman said it was a sign that his less-than-satisfying first half of the season was on the upswing.
“The entire first half of the season I knew I was not in good form because whenever I tried to accelerate I would slow down,” Freeman said. “When I call on my body to do something and it can do it, it’s pretty fun, and I wasn’t having any fun in the first half of the year.”
He felt particularly good on Saturday despite sub-zero temperatures in the morning that threatened to delay or cancel the races. Freeman said it was one of the coldest races he had ever been in.
Adding to the fun was seeing his teammates do so well, he said. USST rookie Tad Elliott was vying for a top-10 place with about a kilometer to go before he went down in a crash with Slovakia’s Martin Bajcicak, whom Elliott said skied into him. Just behind of Freeman at the time, Elliott finished 39th (+50.5).
“I wanted to keep the first half chill then really kill it on the second half. It was going amazing,” Elliott wrote in an email. “Eh, another day tomorrow.”
Grover noted how well Elliott was skiing until that point.
“That was a bummer for Tad because he was skiing out there with a lot of energy,” he said.
Sylvan Ellefson rounded out the American men’s field, finishing 43rd (+1:14.1) for his best World Cup result in two starts. He was recently 53rd in the Moscow freestyle sprints. In an email, the 25-year-old wrote that he was pleased with his result. It helped that he skied with Freeman and Elliott for a while after the mass start.
“My plan today was to feel out how a WC race unfolds,” Ellefson wrote. “Sitting in the pack was a good call for me. If I were to do it again, I would probably try to move up a little sooner to get a good spot.”
In his first World Cup distance race, he had some pre-race jitters, even after he shook out some of the nerves Thursday in Moscow, he wrote. His legs were also fatigued, and the cold didn’t help.
“I am not really sure how to put today in words,” Ellefson wrote. “I still feel like I need just a little bit more time over here before some bigger results come, but honestly I was pretty happy with today for how I am feeling … It was honestly one of the craziest, ‘scrappy’ races I have ever been in.”
According to Grover, all three men will race again tomorrow in the 30 k skiathlon.
Men’s 15 k freestyle mass start results