FIS Cross-Country World Cup Finals (Quebec City): 10/15 k classic mass starts
During Saturday’s 15-kilometer classic mass start at World Cup Finals, Canada’s Alex Harvey was in it until the end. But so were Norway’s Johannes Høsflot Klæbo and Niklas Dyrhaug, and Russia’s Alexander Bessmertnykh, to name a few.
Sitting in second with a few hundred meters to go, Harvey was primed to make his move on Dyrhaug, who was leading at the time. But then came 20-year-old Klæbo, the season-long Sprint World Cup champion, who proved to have more left in the tank than anyone else and passed them both to lead into the finishing straight.
Klæbo took the victory — his first in a World Cup distance race — on a bluebird day under a beating sun in 35:23.7 minutes, 0.6 seconds ahead of Dyrhaug. Bessmertnykh followed another 0.2 seconds back in third (+0.8) just ahead of Harvey in fourth (+1.2).
Norway’s Sjur Røthe took fifth (+1.7), Switzerland’s Dario Cologna placed sixth (+1.9), and Norway’s Pål Golberg was seventh (+2.5), half a second ahead of another Norwegian Didrik Tønseth in eighth (+3.0). The top nine were within 3.7 seconds of first, with Russia’s Andrey Larkov in ninth.
Devon Kershaw was the second Canadian in the points on Saturday in 28th (+1:08.4), after breaking a pole and working his way back up from outside the top 60.
Erik Bjornsen led the U.S. men in 31st (+1:16.8), about a second ahead of Canada’s Graeme Killick in 32nd (+1:17.7).
Also for the U.S., Matt Gelso finished 37th, Andy Newell 45th, Scott Patterson 46th, Noah Hoffman 48th, Ben Lustgarten 49th, David Norris 50th, Simi Hamilton 54th, Paddy Caldwell 59th, Jack Hegman 62nd, Cole Morgan 64th, and Brian Gregg 69th.
For Canada, Bob Thompson finished 55th, Knute Johnsgaard 57th, Len Valjas 61st, Russell Kennedy 63rd, Evan Palmer-Charrette 65th, Andy Shields 66th, Jess Cockney 67th, Brian McKeever 68th, Joey Foster 70th, Gareth Williams 72nd, Ricardo Izquierdo-Bernier 74th, and Julien Locke 75th.
In the women’s 10 k classic mass start earlier in the day, Norway’s Marit Bjørgen racked up her seventh victory of the season after leading a pack of two other Norwegians and Finland’s Krista Pärmäkoski and holding them off to the finish.
Bjørgen put a few meters into the foursome as she entered the finishing stretch and held her lead across the line in 24:23.6 minutes. Norway’s Heidi Weng finished 0.6 seconds back in second to lock up the Distance World Cup title, in addition to the Overall World Cup title she secured on Friday.
Pärmäkoski finished 2.9 seconds after Bjørgen in third, and Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Østberg missed the podium in fourth (+7.8).
Behind them, Germany’s Nicole Fessel outlasted a large chase pack to place fifth (+18.6), just ahead of Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla in sixth (+19.9) and Anna Haag in seventh (+19.1).
Sadie Bjornsen of the U.S. Ski Team led the North American women in 15th (+29.9) after skiing at the back of that chase pack in the final stretches of the race. Also for the U.S., Jessie Diggins placed 27th (+1:06.9) and Sophie Caldwell 38th (+1:56.0).
Canada was led by Emily Nishikawa in 37th (+1:51.7). Behind her, Cendrine Browne finished 41st (+2:28.2), Dahria Beatty was 53rd, Annika Richardson 54th, Katherine Stewart-Jones 56th, Frederique Vezina 59th, Annika Hicks 60th, Sophie Carrier-Laforte 61st, Andrea Dupont 62nd, Katherine Weaver 63rd, Alannah MacLean 64th, Sadie White 66th, Lisle Compton 67th, Mia Serratore 68th, and Laura Leclair 69th.
For the U.S. Caitlin Patterson finished 44th, Liz Guiney 45th, Kaitlynn Miller 47th, Chelsea Holmes 48th, Rosie Brennan 50th, Julia Kern 52nd, Erika Flowers 55th, Becca Rorabaugh 57th, and Jennie Bender 58th.
One day left in the 2016/2017 World Cup season remains, with the women’s and men’s 10/15 k freestyle pursuits on Sunday in Quebec City.
IBU World Cup (Oslo, Norway): Women’s and men’s pursuits
Less than 24 hours after winning her first IBU World Cup on Friday in the women’s 7.5 k sprint, Finland’s Mari Laukkanen immediately capitalized on her ideal position with a start-to-finish victory in Saturday’s 10 k pursuit that was never in doubt, cleaning the first three shooting stages before incurring one penalty in her final standing shooting (0+0+0+1) to cross the line in a time of 29:33.3 minutes.
In addition to experiencing the most successful weekend of her biathlon career by far, it was an emotional day for the 29-year-old Finn due to a personal reason. Laukkanen spread her arms like wings skiing down the homestretch with a commanding lead, pointing repeatedly to the sky and a black ribbon she wore around her right upper arm, before kneeling in the snow in the finish for a few seconds. With those gestures, she reportedly wanted to commemorate her shooting coach Asko Nuutinen, who passed away Friday after suffering a heart attack during the World Cup in Kontiolahti, Finland, a week ago. He was 60 years old.
“It’s been a really emotional day for me. We have heard really really sad news that last night we lost our longtime shooting coach,” Laukkanen told reporters with a trembling voice in the press conference. “After this it was more or less only about working for him. Working as he has asked me to do for years and years. So I wasn’t thinking about losing or winning today, I was only thinking about him. And I feel really big pleasure that I was able to come to the finish like this, that I can own the victory for him.”
“I knew it will be difficult after the first victory in my career took me so long,” she added. “And to do it again immediately with good shooting. But as I said I didn’t think about winning or losing today, just doing my work.”
Finishing 26.5 seconds after her, the Czech Republic’s Gabriela Koukalová reached the finish, moving up from her fourth place starting position with a clean shooting performance (0+0+0+0).
“I wanted to miss all targets yesterday because I was so tired I didn’t even want to race,” Koukalová confided in the press conference. “It’s difficult to concentrate, three World Cups after the main goal of the season [the World Championships] is too much. Last year it was many times easier… I tried to catch her, but about one kilometer before the finish I saw her far away so I was happy I didn’t have to fight with anyone and was just enjoying the last meters.”
Despite four penalties (1+1+0+2), France’s Justine Braisaz defended the third place on the podium against a three-person chase group on the last loop (+1:01.4), falling back only one position after having finished the sprint in second.
“I did not expect such a good place today during the race,” Braisaz commented in the press conference. “Because in the last shooting I completely [failed]. I really wanted to have a clean shooting today, and I did not succeed. So I am happy and surprised, too.”
Her teammate Anais Bescond who had started the pursuit in third place fell back to 22nd position (+2:53.5) with seven penalties.
Slovenia’s Teja Gregorin finished fourth with one penalty (+1:08.2), Austria’s Lisa Theresa Hauser shot clean as the only athlete aside from Koukalova on her way to move up from 22nd to fifth place (+1:12.5), while Norway’s Marte Olsbu finished sixth like in the sprint despite three penalties (+1:15.9).
Unlike in Friday’s sprint race where Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier had still given up a seemingly commanding lead in the sprint World Cup discipline standings to Koukalova, she held onto her lead in the pursuit standings on Saturday, moving up from the 31st starting position to ninth place with a penalty in each of her standing shootings (0+0+1+1, +1:53.8). A 22nd place would have been sufficient to win the “small crystal globe” award in the pursuit. Laukkanen’s teammate Kaisa Mäkäräinen finished 8th with two penalties in the standing stages (+1:51.2), and thereby claimed the third place in the World Cup pursuit ranking.
“I knew that I didn’t need to have a perfect race today, just a good one, but that’s always easier said than done,” Dahlmeier told broadcaster ARD after the race. “I am incredibly happy that it worked out and that I could secure myself another small globe… It’s a bit of a weird feeling, standing at the start gate in the middle of the field and the clock ticks and ticks as one athlete after another skis out on the course. And you can only observe how far they have gone and have to wait and be patient, and not make a false start. But then the snow burns, then the chase begins!”
US Biathlon’s Susan Dunklee experienced an uncharacteristically problematic day on the shooting range and fell back to 37th place (+4:00.2), after starting seventh and less than a minute behind Laukkanen. Dunklee had three misses between two prone stages and seven more in her standing shootings (2+1+4+3) therefore having to ski more than an additional kilometer in the penalty lap.
“It is a testament to her fighting spirit that she notched the fourth-fastest ski time — one of her best ranks of the season — and never gave up despite suffering a biathlon blowout on the range,” teammate Clare Egan said of Dunklee, according to a US Biathlon press release. “Bad races happen to the best and Susan is no exception, but not everyone fights through till the end no matter what.”
Egan herself started the pursuit in 34th position and initally was able to make up ground, but then fell back slightly to 41st place (+4:13.9) with four penalties (0+2+0+2).
“I am satisfied with my race even though the result was not what I was hoping for, and that’s how I would summarize my entire season as well,” Egan said after the final race of her season. “I’ve made a good step forward but my competitors also work hard all summer and we seem to improve at a similar rate.”
Canada Biathlon’s Julia Ransom moved up to 47th place (+5:04.8) with three penalties (1+0+1+1), after starting in 52nd position.
[UPDATED] Later on Saturday in the last men’s 12.5 k pursuit of the season, the three best athletes of the season fought throughout the race exchanging in the lead, before they stood next to each other on the range for the final shooting to decide the winner.
Russia’s Anton Shipulin managed to shoot clean with his elaborate rifle stock in the design of a red dragon, proudly waving to the cameras as he left the arena while his two competitors had to ski into the penalty lap. France’s Martin Fourcade – who had already secured himself the overall World Cup Total Score title as well as the award for the pursuit discipline – was left to duke it out against Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Bø, the winner of Friday’s sprint.
On the last big climb before the Holmenkollen arena, Fourcade accelerated with a series of explosive jump-skate steps to decisively gap Bø. He even got fairly close to Shipulin on the finish stretch, who had slowed down a bit to grab a Russian flag before skiing over the line in a time of 32:11.9 minutes with one penalty (0+0+1+0), 5.7 seconds ahead of Fourcade who had incurred two penalties (1+0+0+1). While Fourcade shook hands with Shipulin, Bø came into the finish in third place, 21.6 seconds back and also with two penalties (1+0+0+1).
“It was a crazy race, but I am happy that I managed to finish first,” Shipulin said in the press conference through a translator. “Tough conditions on the shooting range, I had to really work to concentrate on my shooting. On the last loop I was all alone until I saw Martin chasing me, then I got a little bit scared but I managed to [keep him behind].”
It was Shipulin’s second win of the season, for which he credited his recently improved shooting performance.
“It was a really exciting competition with Johannes and Anton,” Fourcade agreed with his rival. “I expected to fight with them for the victory on the last loop, but then Anton was simply stronger in the last shooting. My strategy was to be focused on my technique and skills and not on the results, like I did too often in the past few weeks focusing on records and not the victory.”
Asked about his blazing attack on the final climb, Fourcade added: “Of course I train for that, but I think a lot of athletes do. I talked to Johannes, it was my revenge for the  World Champs where he did exactly the same to me on the last uphill. But I know how it is, it can be different already tomorrow.”
“I am happy with a new podium of course,” Bø said in the press conference. “I was not at my best in the skiing today. But I still managed to shoot 18 out of 20. As Martin said it was [annoying] that we did not shoot zero [misses] and could not fight with Anton in the finish, but it was quite interesting and fun to stand there in the last shooting … I expected Martin’s attack the second he did it, but I had no energy to fight with him. That was quite strong.”
Sweden’s Fredrik Lindström placed fourth with no penalties (+44.7), and was the only man in the field who managed to shoot clean in all four stages.
“For the podium, I was never really close“, Lindström told the IBU in a post-race interview. “But it was a great day anyway. Four times zero [misses], and especially in the standing stages that makes you climb a lot in the standings. Super happy with my performance.”
US Biathlon’s Lowell Bailey, who had to start closer to the back of the field in 44th position, almost two minutes behind the leaders based on his sprint result, managed to move up 21 spots in the race despite three penalties (2+0+1+0).
“I’m happy with the race, considering it started out pretty rough with the first two misses,” Bailey told US Biathlon after placing 23rd (+2:23.3). “I just read the wind wrong and didn’t correct enough. After that, I tried to keep my head in the race and make the best of it. I was happy with my skiing and glad to clean the last stage; this brought me up nine spots and I was able to gain another in the last loop. Now, it’s just one race to go. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Shooting quickly, Bailey recorded the ninth-ranked range time of the day and the ninth-fastest last loop.
His teammate Sean Doherty started 35th but fell back after having to ski six times through the penalty lap (1+3+1+1) to finish 46th (+4:05.6).
For Sunday’s mass starts as the final races of the 2016/2017 IBU World Cup season, the only qualified North American starters will be Dunklee (currently in 10th position in the World Cup Total Score standings) and Bailey (currently in eighth).
The women’s season award in the mass start discipline once more will be decided between Germany’s Dahlmeier and Czech Republic’s Koukalova, while Germany’s Simon Schempp will try to defend his narrow lead on Fourcade. But during Saturday’s final loop, the French star did consider saving energy for the final competition.
“No,” he simply quipped when asked about this in the press conference. “Of course the mass start is important tomorrow because it will decide about the [mass start] crystal globe. But I think today the pursuit was also really important, and you fight for victory and being one of the best athletes. You can’t be satisfied with only a third place when you can claim a second, and I think all athletes in my position would do the same.”
54 k Birkebeinerrennet (Rena to Lillehammer, Norway): Part of the Ski Classics series
[UPDATED] Not even a snowmobile clipping him and sending him tumbling 20 k before the finish could keep Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby from winning the Birkebeinerrennet on Saturday in Norway. Representing Team United Bakeries, Sundby set a high pace from the start and broke the group down to three by 9 k, with Petter Eliassen of Team LeasePlan and Simen Østensen of Team BN Bank sticking with him until about 30 k in the 54 k marathon.
With about 20 k to go, Sundby collided with a Ski Classics TV production crew snowmobile while trying to double pole in the snowmobile’s tracks. He was OK and went on to win by 48 seconds over Eliassen in second, and smiled about the incident after the finish.
“It came in with tremendous speed and mowed me down,” Sundby told NRK, according to a loose translation.
Ski Classics CEO David Nilsson told NRK he didn’t know exactly how that happened and emphasized that it was unacceptable.
“We always put safety first, but it is a difficult balancing act with the snowmobile at high speed to get TV pictures,” he said, according to a loose translation. “The skiers often ski in the [snowmobile] track and here it happened and somehow the driver missed it.”
While Sundby pulled out the win in 2:20:53.5 hours, Eliassen took second and Østensen followed another 3.5 seconds later for third place.
In the women’s race, Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk (Team Santander) pulled out a 4 minute and 15 second win over Sweden’s Britta Johansson Norgren (Lager 157 Ski Team). Japan’s Masako Ishida (Team United Bakeries) was another 48.6 seconds back in third.
“I’m really happy to win this race,” Kowalczyk said, according to a Ski Classics press release. “Everything went well and the cheering on the course was amazing. I will do the rest of the races in Visma Ski Classics, but this victory was the most important for me. Of course, I want to win again in Årefjällsloppet like I did last year, but to win here in front of this audience means so much to me.”
Tord Asle Gjerdalen, who finished fourth in the men’s race, and Johansson Norgren continue to lead the overall Ski Classics standings with three races to go. The next stop is the Årefjällsloppet in Sweden on March 25.
“It was a great race and we kept a high tempo up all the way,” Sundby said, according to the press release. “I was able to use uphills for my advantage and get a gap. I had good skis, the conditions were perfect, and to win here was one of my goals for the season. I have the Norwegian Championships in two weeks, and I haven’t counted out the option of going to Finland for the Visma Ski Classics finale.”