Once Petter Northug gets rolling, he’s tough to stop. Just ask Kazakhstan’s Alexey Poltoranin, who fell victim to the Norwegian on Wednesday in the last few hundred meters of the men’s 1.3-kilometer World Cup classic sprint in Drammen, Norway.
You could also ask Switzerland’s Dario Cologna, who sat out the city sprint to rest up for Saturday’s 50 k freestyle mass start at Holmenkollen in Oslo, Norway. But he probably doesn’t have much to say; things might be a little tense with Northug just 23 points behind him for the overall World Cup crown.
And coming off two World Championships titles and a 15 k classic victory last Sunday at the World Cup in Lahti, Finland, Northug’s not about to let up.
“It is very amusing that the body is so good,” the 27-year-old told NRK after winning Wednesday’s sprint final, his 27th World Cup victory and first in Drammen, by 2.15 seconds over Poltoranin. “I guess I can only say that I will be very hard to deal with the future.”
Northug also won the qualifier (by 1.68 seconds over teammate Eldar Rønning) and then his quarterfinal (ahead of teammates Paal Golberg and Northug’s younger brother Tomas, who finished second and third in the heat).
In the semifinal, Northug took second to Poltoranin, but not by much: 0.09 seconds. Poltoranin relied on his classic striding to get him up and over the line first, ahead of Northug and Russia’s Nikita Kruikov, who was just 0.4 seconds back in third.
Northug wasn’t going to let that happen again. Sticking with his choice of freestyle skis – which required double poling the entire one-lap course, with one hill in the middle and another incline at the finish – Northug would have to lean on pure strength in the finishing straight.
In the final, Poltoranin broke away on the main climb, skiing alone on the descent. It wasn’t long until Northug’s glide got the best of the Kazakh, and he came close enough to catch Poltoranin’s draft then switched tracks to overtake him.
With a gradual uphill between them and the finish, Northug and Poltoranin began their double-pole battle. Northug quickly gained, and Poltoranin switched to striding, running as fast as he could to hold on. Using every ounce of his explosiveness, Northug prevailed, cresting the hill and stepping over the line first.
Northug immediately threw his right arm in the air, then turned around to point at Poltoranin. The seventh-fastest qualifier of the day, Poltoranin put his hand up as well, celebrating his silver.
Kriukov placed third, 4.96 seconds behind Northug. Norway’s John Kristian Dahl and Øystein Pettersen achieved season bests in fourth (+6.22) and fifth (+7.74), and Dario Cologna’s younger brother, Gianluca Cologna was sixth (+11.95).
Out of the start, which was delayed by an intentional false start by Dahl (seeking a break after racing Cologna and Pettersen in the second semifinal), Kriukov lead early. Northug sent Poltoranin a message out of the gate, switching to a track in front of him and forcing Kazakhstan’s leading skier to stand up and slow down.
Of the six finalists, the group was evenly divided by equipment choices on a mostly sunny afternoon with temperatures just below freezing. Three went with skate skis, and three went on classic. Like Poltoranin, Kriukov was one of the latter.
“In the quarterfinals and semifinals I skied on skate skis, but I was not as fast as Petter,” he said at a post-race press conference. “I thought it would be better to go on classic skis in the finals.”
Poltoranin had no regrets: the 25-year-old believed he’d be faster on classic skis, and he came close.
“I started very fast, but Petter was very strong,” he said. “I am again second, but I am very happy for it.”
Sunday in Lahti, Poltoranin was the 15 k runner-up by nearly 32 seconds. He’s fourth in the World Cup standings, 199 points behind Northug and 115 behind Kriukov in third. A total of 190 points are up for grabs in Holmenkollen on Saturday, and another 350 will be distributed at next week’s World Cup Finals in Sweden.
According to Northug, his own success is a testament to his training and desire to win the second-biggest prize of the season (after a World Championships gold), the Crystal Globe.
“I’ve been very careful about things after I got home from the World Championships,” Northug told NRK, according to a translation. “I’ve done things properly, focused up and tried to keep the throttle in any way up [until] the World Cup is finished.”
Last season, Northug finished third in the overall World Cup rankings to Cologna and Canadian runner-up Devon Kershaw. The Norwegian won the year before in 2010, ahead of Lukas Bauer of the Czech Republic and Sweden’s Marcus Hellner, after placing second to Cologna in 2009.
“The World Championships was the most important; World Cup comes in second,” Northug said. “But I want to finish the season in style.”
Aside from Northug, Norway put on an all-around good show for its home crowd with a total of seven racers in the top 11. Eirik Brandsdal was seventh, Finn Hågen Krogh placed eighth, Sondre Turvoll Fossli was ninth, and Golberg was 11th. Tomas Northug, 22, took 14th to tie his career-best World Cup result.