It is a wrap.
The 2017/2018 World Cup season concluded Sunday in Falun, Sweden with the men’s 15-kilometer freestyle pursuit. The World Cup Finals featured a three-race mini tour with a skate sprint, 15 k class mass start and Sunday’s pursuit.
Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov, a spry 21 year old, began the pursuit with a 38-second lead over second starter, Johannes Høsflot Klæbo of Norway. Emboldened with confidence after winning his first-career World Cup on Saturday, Bolshunov set off on another sunny Sweden day in cruise control. His initial efforts looked smooth and powerful yet lacked the apparent stress of being chased by the likes of Norwegians Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Klæbo, Swiss skier Dario Cologna, and Swede Calle Halfvarsson.
In fact, for a little more than the first kilometer, his closest chase group resembled a nonchalant pack, as if they’d already agreed to let Bolshunov go. With Halfvarsson looking comfortable in front, and Bolshunov’s lead expanding, Sundby came around a little over three minutes into the race and began the hard work of actually preventing the second chase group, which included Canada’s Alex Harvey, from latching on. (Harvey started 18th, 1:16 minutes behind Bolshunov.)
The story up front, Bolshunov’s insurmountable lead, was dramaless. The emergent Russian’s time gaps spoke of hard bursts of speed and a settling chase group’s concern with a second and third place. Bolshunov led by 52.3 seconds at 5.2 k and 1:23.6 minutes at 11.25 k.
Bolshunov enjoyed a solo ski into the finish to win the day in 35:03.3 minutes for his second World Cup win and his first mini-tour victory. Along with his win, Bolshunov ends the season fifth overall in the World Cup standings.
“After trying all season for a win and getting it yesterday, I had a lot of confidence today and I felt strong,” Bolshunov told the International Ski Federation (FIS), according to a press release. “It’s great to win like this at the end of the season. It leaves me with positive feelings heading into the training season.”
The story behind Bolshunov unfolded with more complexity. The 5.2 k checkpoint was the last mark for a seven-skier chase group to stay away from skiers looking to link up from behind. As much as Swedes Halfvarsson and Oskar Svensson, Cologna, Sundby, Italians Francesco De Fabiani and Federico Pellegrino, and Klæbo (who looked gassed) tried in earnest to stay away, a near-constant throttling pace from Harvey brought the lead chase group within sight.
By 7.5 k, the first and second chase groups had merged, ballooning to a sixteen-skier pack. With half the race to go and Bolshunov uncatchable, several racers would test themselves, and the group, as they attempted to split the chasing posse. Sundby gave it a go. Cologna gave a try. Norway’s Hans Christer Holund looked fresh and strong upping the pace. But none could separate themselves or splinter the pack.
Harvey was omnipresent — smooth on the climbs, unnerved by any attacks. On the last grind up the infamous Mördarbakken, Harvey pushed over the top to lead a six-skier group that included Cologna and Sundby.
Two minutes out, Cologna gave a burst of hop-skate in a failed break away attempt. Cologna’s effort, however, did stymie the followers enough to allow he and Harvey to accelerate over the top. It came down to the finishing straight to settle the 15 k pursuit score.
Harvey bested the others to place second (+47.1) and skied the fastest time of day in 34:34.3 minutes. Cologna followed just behind in third (+47.5), and Sundby placed fourth (+48.7).
Sunday’s result matches Harvey’s best 2017/2018 result and was his fourth podium of the season. He placed third in the sixth stage of the Tour de Ski (TdS), third overall in the TdS, and was second in the 15 k freestyle mass start in Seefeld, Austria.
“I like these end-of-season tours,” Harvey told FIS. “On the podium now two seasons in a row at World Cup Finals. They are hard though and I am tired. It took some effort to get up to the leaders but I still felt strong and knew I needed to go for it coming into the final kilometer.”
With the conclusion of the season, Harvey ended up fourth in the World Cup standings with 1179 points. The Canadian was 82 points behind Sundby in third overall, after Sundby amassed 1261 points.
Although Sunday’s Falun finale was a fade for Klæbo — he placed 25th in the pursuit (+1:45.8) — the season belonged to the 21-year-old Norwegian. He had already clinched his second-consecutive Sprint World Cup Crystal Globe several weeks ago. In Falun on Sunday, Klæbo earned his first Overall World Cup title after winning 11 individual World Cup races this season. He is the sixth Norwegian to win the overall Crystal Globe. He also becomes the youngest overall winner; Sweden’s Gunde Svan was 22 when he won the 1983/1984 season overall.
Cologna placed second in the Overall World Cup with 1290 points and won the Distance World Cup with 698 points (41 points over Sundby in second) and appeared satisfied after the race.
“I think it’s fun to win races,” Cologna said in a translated interview with Swiss broadcaster SRF. “Those are very nice emotions, which I was allowed to experience again this winter. Now I’m surely a bit tired and it’s natural to have a little break, a little holiday.”
It has been a revival year for Cologna: he won the TdS and a gold medal in the Olympic 15 k skate along with several other hallmark victories. On Sunday he was awarded the Distance Crystal Globe, his fourth Distance World Cup title — a new record. (Sundby has won three distance globes.)
“You could say it has been perfect with an Olympic victory, the Tour de Ski and now the small crystal globe,” Cologne reflected to SRF. “Also the win at Holmenkollen [50 k] was a very important and beautiful success. So after two years that have not been so easy to come back from and [when] the big successes were missing and then a couple of races I had to miss myself that was really… If someone had told me that before this season I would instantly have taken/accepted that. And until the end, I was in the fight for the Overall World Cup even if it had already been pretty much decided. But if someone had told me in December that it would be open until the end I wouldn’t have believed it. So it was a great season.
Yet the 32-year-old skier, despite solidifying his already storied legacy, told SRF he has no clear intention of retiring.
“The motivation is still there,” Cologna added. “I’ll have to see, next year is Seefeld and that’s almost a World Championship at home for us. That’s three hours from my home. So for that surely the motivation is there to be ready and fight for the medals.”
In the Distance World Cup, Norway’s Holund claimed third with 599 points, just 5 points ahead of Harvey in fourth. France’s Maurice Manificat had been third in the distance standings heading into Sunday, but finished the pursuit in 26th (+2:11.9) and dropped to fifth in the final rankings behind Holund (who moved up from fourth) and Harvey (who moved up from fifth).
Kershaw in the Points Again; Bjornsen with 22nd-Fastest Time
In the pursuit itself, Devon Kershaw was the next-best Canadian outside of Harvey’s podium as he finished in 28th place (+2:21.9).
“I felt pretty good again,” Kershaw said. “I’m not quite strong enough at the start there, so I wasn’t quite strong enough to get back to the group, which is too bad, because they were going slow for a while. But, no, I am satisfied. I mean, another race in the points, so it’s not a bad way to end the season. I was consistent.”
Kershaw still has yet to commit to another World Cup season, but he concludes the year with five consecutive top-30 finishes in distance races. Kershaw also noted he had been a consistent top-30 classic skier.
“I think every classic race except one that I competed in, distance, I was in the points,” Kershaw, 35, said. “I feel proud of that. And since the Olympic 50 k, I’ve been in the top 30 every race I did, so, that’s five or six races now, and it’s just consistent. But again, just lacking that last little bit. But the highlight I think was Alex coming second today from bib 18 so that was phenomenal.”
Also for Canada and in his final career World Cup start, Graeme Killick placed 56th (+4:33). Julian Locke did not start.
For the Americans, Erik Bjornsen moved up from 51st to place 38th (+3:10.4) and skied the 22nd-fastest time of day. Simi Hamilton was 49th (+4:07.8), Scott Patterson 58th (+4:41.5), Patrick Caldwell 59th (+4:41.6), Kevin Bolger 60th (+4:43.5), and David Norris 64th (+5:09.8).
“After yesterday, I was not hoping for much in the final. It was over for results for the Tour,” Bjornsen told FasterSkier on Sunday. “But I went out there it is sunny out it is a good day, so I was just trying to finish off the season with a hard push knowing that the result wasn’t going to be what I was hoping for. But still I just saw the time of day, and 22nd on time of day is a good one. I will see more points for the end of the season.”
Those points bumped Bjornsen into 38th in Distance World Cup list.
“I think it was a step in the right direction,” Bjornsen added. “I still need a few more steps like that before I can fight for podiums.
Bjornsen has made gains this year. And given a moment on Sunday to reflect on his progress, the 26-year-old U.S. Ski Team member recalled several notable examples of his World Cup progression.
“Finishing in the top 30 in most of the races, the majority of them, that was great,” Bjornsen said of his 2017/2018 season. “It makes it feel like you are more in the fight and it is a lot more fun to racing in the top 30. The top 10, I was really excited about that in Seefeld. And qualifying for, I think, five heats this year — all in all pretty happy with it. Still, it has always been my goal to stand on the podium some day. I still think I have a few more steps to get there if I can keep on improving like this last year, maybe there is still a chance.”
The PyeongChang Olympics were a ‘wow’ moment for Patterson. During Saturday’s mass start, Patterson was initially caught in an early race crash and then lost and retrieved a ski. Not the race the upstart skier had hoped for, but not spirit-breaking.
“Better than yesterday — got my skis on today,” Patterson joked after Sunday’s pursuit.
The mishaps from yesterday and Patterson’s ability to put them in context underscore his strong finish to his first full-time World Cup campaign. (Patterson did not contest the TdS as he returned stateside to compete in U.S. nationals.)
“I improved through the season,” Patterson, 26, said of his improved results starting in PyeongChang, where he placed 21st or better in three individual races, including 11th in the 50 k freestyle. “Obviously, Period 1 I didn’t score any points. I was a bit disappointed with that, but I could’ve. I came close a couple times, but I think I regrouped pretty well through nationals. Got sick there, but kind of cleared something out that I had from Period 1, a bit of bronchitis.
“Going into the Olympics, I didn’t really know how I was going to do,” he continued. “I had … first points of the season right before that. So, I think I was on a nice upswing. I had a great Olympics. I mean, could’ve asked for a medal, but I did a lot better than I was expecting, really. And then Holmenkollen was great, too. I feel like right now I’m kind of in 50 k shape instead of 15, but overall I think it was a great season, and got some things to work on for next year, and look forward to coming back and solidly being in the points every race I can.”
— Gabby Naranja, Harald Zimmer, Ian Tovell, Andrea Potyondy-Smith, and Alex Kochon contributed