Could Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov be the first cross-country skier to perform a seven-stage sweep? He’s certainly well on his way, after collecting his fourth Tour de Ski win in a row on Wednesday in the men’s 15-kilometer freestyle pursuit in Oberstdorf, Germany.
Ustiugov’s four-stage streak alone is unprecedented. Until this year, no other nordic skier in the International Ski Federation (FIS) has been able to complete such a feat during the Tour.
Not even Norway’s defending overall World Cup leader, Martin Johnsrud Sundby can keep up with — or catch — the Russian.
“I was watching for Martin to catch me,” Ustiugov said after Wednesday’s pursuit, according to a FIS press release. “But when he did not come I decided to go for it. I gave everything I had today.”
Sundby certainly gave it a shot. Starting 30 seconds back in bib 2, the Norwegian steadily put time on Ustiugov through the first 10 k. In fact, with 5 k to go, he was within 16 seconds of the pursuit race leader.
“At the beginning of the race I felt very good,” Sundby said, according to FIS. “But then something happened and I lost some seconds on Sergey. I did not ski my best today.”
For the last third of the race, Sundby struggled to maintain the seconds he had just gained. Unchallenged, Ustiugov crossed first in a time of 37:58.5 minutes, maintaining his Tour de Ski (TdS) leader’s bib and securing his fourth-consecutive win.
Settling for second place, crossing 37.2 seconds later, was Sundby. He now trails Ustiugov by 42.2 seconds in the overall standings (losing a total of 12.5 seconds in the pursuit) heading into Stage 5 of the Tour: the 10 k freestyle in Toblach, Italy.
Harvey’s ‘Play for the Podium’ Keeps Him in 3rd Overall
For Canada’s Alex Harvey, it was not so much a matter of whether Switzerland’s Dario Cologna could catch him, but what action he’d take when he did.
The Swiss skier was slated to start 17 seconds behind Harvey, and judging by the way Cologna raced the freestyle portion of Tuesday’s Stage 3 skiathlon, Harvey had a hunch that company would soon be calling.
After all, passing the Canadian would not only give Cologna his second stage podium in a row, but more treasured time in the final three stages on Ustiugov and Sundby.
Seventeen seconds would only slow the Swiss skier for so long.
“I had a few different plans in my head,” Harvey reflected on the phone about his race strategy for when Cologna caught him. “I knew that if he made up seconds on me … it would be hard [on] him. So I was expecting him to not pass right away, and that’s what happened.”
By 2.5 k, Harvey’s red-and-white suit was in steady sight for Cologna, less than ten seconds ahead. Within another two kilometers, Cologna had caught Harvey and, as Harvey predicted, drafted for much of their first lap together (Lap 3 of six).
However, as the two approached the course’s major climb, Cologna went for the pass and Harvey had no choice but to hold on.
“On the hill he was really putting the hurt on me,” Harvey said. “I was trying to do my best to stay with him and kind of at the same time, play for the podium, too.”
Harvey’s first ‘play for the podium’ meant staying behind Cologna through the flats of the fourth lap, where the wind made for more work. In a second podium play, Harvey pulled to the front at the start of Lap 5, before returning the lead back to Cologna by the course’s major climb.
“I noticed that I was faster on the climb, but [Harvey] had the faster ski,” Cologna said during a televised interview, according to a Swiss-German translation. “Maybe he could have helped a bit more on the flats, but that’s the way it is.”
Not wanting to risk an untimely attack, Harvey continued to draft into the final small hill before the stadium. There, the Canadian surged, with Cologna straining to match Harvey’s ski speed through the last lefthand turn. Fifty meters, twenty, ten. It appeared Harvey had him and with eighth-tenths of a second to spare, the Canadian took the final podium spot in third, 1:08.8 behind Ustiugov, while Cologna crossed fourth (+1:09.6).
Heading into the final three stages of the Tour, Harvey holds onto third overall, 1:18.8 behind Ustiugov and 36.6 seconds behind Sundby. With Cologna 5.8 seconds behind Harvey in fourth overall (+1:24.6), the Canadian wants to put as much time as he can on the Swiss skier before the final climb.
“I’m going try to go for the primes, for sure, in Val di Fiemme,” Harvey said of the Tour’s penultimate stage, the men’s 15 k classic. “Dario is probably the favorite for Toblach, but we’ll see.”
The second Canadian on Wednesday was Devon Kershaw in 21st (+4:20.2). Unable to find his race “rhythm”, he described his day as just “OK.”
“I just couldn’t get going as well as the day before so a little bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to stay with some of the Russians,” Kershaw said on the phone. “But before the Tour, I had my eye on three races: Val Mustair, the pursuit and then the 15 k classic in Val de Fiemme. So to come away with another top 30 today, that was definitely a little bit of a bonus.”
Kershaw is currently 4:35.2 minutes back in the Tour standings in 21st.
The first American across the line on Wednesday was Noah Hoffman in 37th (+6:49.0). After crashing out of the start, the U.S. Ski Team member worked to quickly recover.
“The guy in front of me pulled on the start board … and lifted it up when he lifted his poles,” Hoffman explained on the phone. “My skis went under it, and it caused me to face plant, and the board went flying. … It lost me some places at the start, but I got up quickly.”
He started in bib 37 and ended up in that position, referring to his race as a bit of a “slow grind.” Hoffman added that he is still “looking forward to three more stages” of racing, starting with Friday’s 10 k skate in Toblach. He is currently 7:04 back in 37th overall.
Following Hoffman, the second American was Erik Bjornsen in 46th (+8:39.0), after starting 50th. With the 27th fastest time of the day, Bjornsen saw the result as an improvement in his overall Tour performance. Heading into the final three stages, he ranks 46th overall (+8:54.0).
“I ended up finishing 27th on time of day (Not sure if FIS has updated the results, they did have 29th but in fact I was 27th and supposably they were going to fix that.)” Bjornsen wrote in an email. “It hasn’t been a great start to the Tour so far but I was satisfied to finally put one together today.”
Canada’s Graeme Killick started 46th and picked off three places for 43rd (+8:01.4), which puts him 8:16.4 back overall. Canadian Lenny Valjas did not start, withdrawing from the Tour “to save his energy for upcoming sprint races on the World Cup and World Championships,” according to a Cross Country Canada press release.
–– Jake Ellis, Aleks Tangen, Alex Kochon, and Harald Zimmer contributed