FIS Cross-Country World Cup (Toblach, Italy): Freestyle sprints
Simi Hamilton is back on the World Cup podium and was three-hundredths of a second away from the win on Saturday in the men’s 1.3-kilometer freestyle sprint in Toblach, Italy. The American qualified fifth and went on to win his quarterfinal then advance as a lucky loser in third out of him semifinal. In the men’s final, Hamilton waited until the last hill to strike and used his conserved energy in the two-lap race to outlast the likes of Italy’s Federico Pellegrino and Norway’s Johannes Høsflot Klæbo at the finish. Hamilton put it all on the line in a photo finish with Norway’s Sindre Bjørnestad Skar, with Skar taking his first individual World Cup victory in 2:47.91. Hamilton placed second for his first podium of the season and fourth of his career. It was also Hamilton’s first time in the final this season.
Klæbo was the second Norwegian on the podium in third, 0.66 seconds behind Skar, Pellegrino placed fourth (+1.27), Hediger was fifth (+1.84), and Norway’s Håvard Solås Taugbøl (who won the qualifier to start the day in 2:47.38) took sixth (+3.77).
“I just had a good feeling that I was a little bit before [Hamilton],” Skar said in a post-race interview with FIS of his immediate finish-line celebration before confirming that he won. “It was very, very tight.”
Skar, who turns 25 on Jan. 22, qualified fourth and won his quarterfinal and finished second in his semifinal, 0.05 seconds ahead of Hamilton.
Also for the U.S., Andy Newell qualified for the heats in sixth and took third in his quarterfinal for 13th overall. Canada’s Alex Harvey qualified eighth and finished fourth in his quarterfinal for 17th overall, and the second Canadian racing this weekend, Len Valjas, qualified 23rd and took fourth in his quarterfinal for 20th.
In the women’s race, Russia’s 30-year-old Natalia Matveeva notched the 12th individual podium of her career (all in sprints) and first victory since 2007. She challenged Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla on the last climb and overtook her in the finishing stretch of Saturday’s 1.3 k skate sprint final for the win in 3:04.13. Matveeva qualified fourth to start the day, then placed second in both her quarterfinal and semifinal en route to the victory. Falla won the qualifier in 3:10.89, and continued to dominate her quarterfinal and semifinal before ending up second on the day, just 0.08 seconds out of first.
“I’ve waited a lot of time to be [here],” Matveeva told FIS afterward. “I’m very happy and the Russian team is very happy. Thank you very much my service team. Good job today.”
Sweden’s Hanna Falk reached the podium in third (+2:41), Germany’s Sandra Ringwald placed fourth (+3.46), Sweden’s Ida Ingemarsdotter was fifth (+5.88), and Slovenia’s Vesna Fabjan sixth (+19.39).
Americans Kikkan Randall and Sophie Caldwell tangled in the first semifinal and ended up 10th and 11th, respectively, at the end of the day. Also for the U.S. Ski Team, Ida Sargent qualified for the heats in 16th (behind Caldwell in 15th while Randall qualified 27th), and reached the semifinals as well, placing sixth in the second semifinal after skiing in third into the finishing stretch. Sargent ended up 12th for her best result in over a year.
IBU World Cup (Ruhpolding, Germany): Women’s 7.5 k sprint
Finland’s Kaisa Mäkäräinen posts a 22-second win for her first victory of the season and first time shooting without a miss in an individual race since the Ruhpolding sprint almost exactly a year ago. Dunklee leads North Americans in 33rd and qualifies for the pursuit, along with Canada’s Rosanna Crawford (55th), Megan Tandy (56th) and Julia Ransom (60th).
Ski Classics Kaiser Maximilian Lauf (Seefeld, Austria): 60 k classic
[UPDATED] Imagine knee-deep snow drifts over the course of 60 k. That’s what faced racers in Saturday’s Kaiser Maximilian Lauf, the fourth stop in the 2016/2017 Ski Classics series, in Seefeld, Austria.
Team Santander’s Kateřina Smutná and Andreas Nygaard fared best in the conditions, racing to the women’s and men’s victories in 3:43:48.7 and 3:21:44.5, respectively.
Smutna won the women’s race by 10.8 seconds over Astrid Øyre Slind (Team United Bakeries), and Britta Johansson Norgren (Lager 157 Ski Team) finished more than three minutes later in third place (+3:35).
“It was the right decision to go with kick today,” Smutná said after, according to a Ski Classics press release. “It was hard for us to be in the lead and open the tracks for men. We waited for them to catch up and do the work on our behalf. I noticed it was tough for Britta because she was double poling. So, Astrid and I decided to work together in the final section of the course, and it worked perfectly.”
The men’s race was much closer with Nygaard holding off his Team Santander teammate Tord Asle Gjerdalen by 0.6 seconds. Stian Hoelgaard (Team Leaseplan) placed third, another 0.6 seconds back.
“It was a tough race because there was so much snow on the course,” Nygaard said, according to the press release. “At some point, we were knee-deep in soft snow. The pace was slow, but you get tired after a while because you have to work hard when it’s snowing like this. I just kept telling myself that I need to keep up with the guys and win the race in the end. This is something that I didn’t expect to happen when the season started. Let’s see how long I can keep the yellow [leaders] bib.”
The overall Ski Classics series leader, Nygaard is also the sprint leader as well. On the women’s side, Johansson Norgren possesses both the overall and sprint bibs as well.
FasterSkier Editor-at-Large Chelsea Little placed 17th.