Aspen native the Maine attraction
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
RUMFORD, Maine – Noah Hoffman knew he could not let this race come down to a sprint.
“If I was going to win, it would be by a significant amount. I’m not going to win a sprint to the finish very often against a national-caliber field,” the Aspen native said of Friday’s 30K classic at the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships in Rumford, Maine.
“I needed to make a statement out here to assure myself of the victory.”
The 21-year-old U.S. Ski Team member did just that at snow-starved Black Mountain: Hoffman executed his pre-race plan to near perfection, settling in at the start before mounting a late surge to overwhelm a field of 85. He secured his first national title with a time of 1 hour, 26 minutes, 49.3 seconds – 53.6 seconds ahead of Montana State University’s David Norris.
Eric Packer (1:28:06), Lars Flora (1:28:12.3) and Torin Koos (1:28:12.4) rounded out the top five.
“I’ve had opportunities in championship races, but never got it done for one reason or another. I’m really happy to get this monkey off my back,” Hoffman said. “To be back home in the U.S. at nationals and have some pressure on me, I’m happy to get it done when I needed to.
“I’ve been in Europe and gotten all these race starts, and it’s one of those things where people look at me and think, ‘Is he going to prove he is worthy of being given those starts?’ I knew I was capable of doing this. I just had to execute. That’s something I didn’t do (Thursday).”
Hoffman set the pace for three of four laps in Thursday’s 15K skate but, by his own admission, fell apart down the stretch en route to a fourth-place finish. Durango’s Tad Elliott was the beneficiary, picking up the win.
“I simply went out too hard and faded,” Hoffman said. “That was really disappointing. I felt like I was the strongest out there. … I felt like my energy was good, but I just did not get it done. That made it all the more important for me to execute really well today. I knew I just had to go out there and be patient and not make the same mistake.”
Hoffman settled in near the front for the first 20 kilometers of Friday’s classic, intent on making the first six of 10 laps “as easy and relaxing as possible.”
When Hamilton made a move on Lap 5, Hoffman gave chase and eventually caught up to his friend – as did a host of others.
With three laps to go, Hoffman decided it was time to push the pace.
“I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to go ski a 10K time trial and ski as fast as I can,'” he recalled. “I didn’t think anybody here could go as fast as I could. … but there’s always a fear factor of getting caught and having the whole pack chase you. It’s a feeling unlike any other.”
Ultimately, the pack could not keep pace. On the second-to-last lap, Hoffman learned that he had amassed a 29-second cushion. About two kilometers from the finish, that advantage had ballooned to 44 seconds.
While Packer, Flora and Koos battled it out for third, fourth and fifth, Hoffman wrapped up a victory long before crossing the finish line.
After an early season replete with a string of what he deemed lackluster performances, Hoffman said Friday’s effort came at the perfect time.
“It’s not very often that things unfold exactly how you envisioned them. I think the last time was the state championships in cross country during my senior year of high school,” he added. “This is a really good step in the right direction, and I’m happy to be where I am. … I have some good opportunities to race in World Cups all the way through March and go to the U23 World Championships in Turkey at the end of February. I go back to Europe with some confidence and a feeling of, ‘All right, I deserve to be there.’
“It’s nice to win a national title. Hopefully it’s the first of many.”
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Prior to starting his trek across U.S., Larkins had never run more than a marathon and had never been to Colorado