La Clusaz, France – Ivan Babikov (CAN) fresh of the plane from North America skied to an impressive 8th place finish in the World Cup 30km Freestyle in La Clusaz, France. Petter Northug (NOR) won the race in an exciting sprint.
Babikov, who just a week ago won both SuperTour races in West Yellowstone, Montana, showed no ill effects from the international travel. Arriving in Europe on Thursday, the Russian-turned-Canadian citizen posted the second best World Cup result of his career, and his top result in a European World Cup (Babikov placed 4th in the 15km freestyle in Canmore in 2005).
Babikov skied with the lead pack the entire race, leading at 9.8km. He ultimately finished 10.2 seconds behind winner Petter Northug of Norway, outsprinting Matti Heikkinen (FIN).
Northug, the anchor for the Norweigan relay team, won his third-ever individual World Cup event in a sprint to the line with Switzerland's Dario Cologna. After skipping last week's World Cup events in Kuusamo, Finland, Northug demonstrated he is in top form this year. At the World Cup opener in Gaellivare, he brought the Norweigan relay team back from a 15 second deficit in the final leg to win in a sprint, and was third in the 15km.
“It was a tough race due to the snowing weather conditions,” said Northug. “I felt tired in the first two laps but it went better and better. Cologna attacked at the final uphill and I was able to follow him. I know my sprint qualities are good and I caught him.”
For Cologna, this was his first appearance on the World Cup podium. The 22-year old's previous best of 4th came at the World Cup finals in Bormio last season.
“It was great today. It surprised me a bit that I made my first podium place in a free technique Mass start race, but I’m really happy about it!” the young Swiss told reporters.
Alexander Legkov (RUS) edged out veteran Giorgio DiCenta (ITA) in a photo finish to claim the final podium spot.
Devon Kershaw (CAN) finished in the World Cup points, ending the day in 25th place. Kershaw, who was an impressive 5th last weekend in Kuusamo in the 15km, battled at the front of the pack early in the race, but was unable to maintain his position in the top 10, finishing 30 seconds in back of Northug.
The lone American to race, Kris Freeman, finished 43rd, +56.2 seconds. Freeman stayed with the main pack, but was toward the back at each intermediate checkpoint. Freeman's coach Zach Caldwell was not expecting the top American distance skier to compete at the front, instead hoping a strong 29km. After consecutive top-30 finishes to the start the season, it is unlikely that Freeman is satisfied to be outside of the points.
Racing continues tomorrow with a 4x10km relay. The Canadians are scheduled to field a team, the Americans are not.
First podium for Dario Cologna (SUI) (Photo: Fischer Skis)