Johannes Høsflot Klæbo is making a name for himself. The 21-year-old Norwegian broke a record on Sunday, after taking the men’s 15-kilometer classic pursuit title in Toblach, Italy and tallying his seventh World Cup win this season, the most victories ever recorded by a male skier before the new year. In previous seasons, Norwegians Petter Northug and Martin Johnsrud Sundby had topped out at six.
With the win, Klæbo remained the Overall World Cup leader with 752 points, 324 more than France’s Maurice Manificat in second.
“I’m happy to back on the podium,” said Klæbo, who has won every race he’s entered except Saturday’s 15 k skate, according to an International Ski Federation (FIS) press release. He started Sunday’s 15 k classic pursuit in 10th, 36 seconds out of first.
“My plan was to go out hard from the beginning to close the gap. It worked very well,” he said. “When I was together with the group I was confident I could ski for a podium. I wanted to decide the race little bit before the stadium.”
For the first 3.5 k of Sunday’s pursuit, the top four from Saturday’s race led the way, with Manificat, Norway’s Simen Hegstad Krüger, Great Britain’s Andrew Musgrave, and Canada’s Alex Harvey.
Striding in limbo just over six seconds behind them was Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov.
“I was waiting to see if I am able to close the gap on the leaders or if the group behind me catches me,” Ustiugov said, according to FIS.
For Ustiugov, who started the pursuit in fifth, it was the latter.
Klæbo started 22 seconds behind the Russian and caught him, pulling Ustiugov into contact with the leaders before the climb back to the stadium on the first of three laps.
With Klæbo at the back and Manificat in the front, the six leaders started Lap 2, trailed by Norway’s Hans Christer Holund and Finland’s Matti Heikkinen six seconds back. A second chase pack of four — Switzerland’s Dario Cologna, Sundby, Russia’s Alexander Bessmertnykh, and Kazakhstan’s Alexey Poltoranin — followed 20 seconds later.
“I was working hard with Dario [Cologna] and Alexander [Bessmertnykh]. Dario did a great job in the first two laps.” Poltoranin said, according to FIS.
For the first half of Lap 2, Ustiugov and Musgrave exchanged leads, while Klæbo remained in the rear. Harvey stuck to the middle.
“I had really fast skis,” Harvey told FasterSkier on the phone after. “It was kind of sugary snow on the steep climbs, so I was struggling a bit on the steeper sections … but I had really fast skis, just a little slick.”
Midway through Lap 2, Klæbo began his move toward the front of the lead group. By the time the top six passed by the stadium for their third and final lap, Klæbo was positioned third, Ustiugov first and Manificat second. Harvey sat comfortably in sixth.
“On the last lap, Ustiguov and Klæbo attacked and I was feeling great, but I had to feather it a bit on the climb,” Harvey said, explaining that he lost the most time on the course’s steeper sections.
With less than 3 k to go, Ustiguov and Klæbo began to gap the rest of the field. Meanwhile, Poltoranin made his way to the front of the chase group.
“I was far faster on the last two uphills,” Poltoranin said. “I still have some work to do to be able to beat Sergey and Johannes, but I am getting there.”
Klæbo and Ustiguov remained unmatched for the final kilometer and, with arms outstretched, Klæbo crossed first in a time of 33:31.1 minutes. Ustiugov finished 1.9 seconds later in second place.
“Johannes seems he is never tired. He played with us like with small kids,” Ustiugov said, according to FIS. “He was in impressive shape again.”
Rounding out the podium in third was Poltoranin, 4.5 seconds out of first.
“I’m so happy. It has been two years since I was on the podium last time,” the 30-year-old Poltoranin said.
In fourth was Bessmertnykh (+9.7), followed by Heikkinen in fifth (+9.8) Manificat in sixth (+10.7), Holund in seventh (+11.1) and Cologna in eighth (+11.8).
After crashing in the final 500 meters of the race, Harvey finished ninth (+16.3).
“I was sitting in fifth and Heikkinen was sitting in fourth, and … I was coming around him and his pole tip just hit the front of my ski tip and I just did a straight-up face plant,” Harvey said. “So I ended up last in my group. That was a bit frustrating, but the rest was a good day.”
Rounding out the top 10 was Saturday’s 15 k winner, Krüger, who finished 24 seconds after Klæbo. Sundby, who had placed 20th in the 15 k individual start, raced up to 11th (+34.4) on Sunday, and Musgrave (who was third in the 15 k skate) finished 12th (+54.3).
Leading the U.S. in 26th (+1:43.1) after starting 29th, was Erik Bjornsen. In five distance races this season, Bjornsen has scored World Cup points, placing within the top 30 in each race.
New to the U.S. Ski Team’s B-team this year, Scott Patterson finished 39th (+2:37.2) after starting 42nd, and Paddy Caldwell placed 44th (+2:57.7) after starting 52nd. Noah Hoffman finished 49th (+3:01.7) after starting 40th.
For Canada, Devon Kershaw placed 33rd (+2:02.8), up five spots from starting 38th, Graeme Killick was 50th (+3:42.0), Russell Kennedy 66th (+5:05.8), and Knute Johnsgaard 76th (+6:20.8) after starting 82nd.
Racers will take a break from competitions until the Tour de Ski, which kicks off in Lenzerheide, Switzerland on Dec. 30.
“I started a bit of a training block for the Tour just this week, and kind of continuing next week, so two weeks of a bit more volume, then do a little, do a little break after that, and then I have a few days of normal training to feel good before the tour,” Harvey said. “So I’m excited to see what a bit of a training and then a break does to me, because it will be the first time I have a little break like that since our last camp in October.
“Other than the Olympics is the Tour de Ski, that’s important for me,” Harvey continued. “So hoping to see if I can bring my level up a little bit with that bit of a break after the hard training, to feel a bit more fresh and a little more snappy.”
— Harald Zimmer, Ian Tovell and Andrea Potyondy-Smith contributed