Ola Vigen Hattestad (NOR) won an exciting and tight race ahead of teammate Johan Kjoelstad and Italian Renato Pasini in 1.7 kilometer freestyle sprint in Davos. The home favorite Dario Cologna (SUI) finished fourth with Dusan Kozisek (CZE) in fifth and Bjoern Lind (SWE) sixth.
This was Hattestad's, first victory in a freestyle sprint World Cup. He has three classic sprint wins under his belt. Hattestad quaified in 11th position, 4.46 seconds ahead of Cologna. The Swiss duo of Cologna and the relatively unknown Eligius Tambornino thrilled the home corwd by taking the top two spots in qualification. Tambornino made it to the B-Final and finished 10th on the day. This was the 22-year old Swiss' top World Cup finish in six career starts.
The victor was pleased with his result after winning his second consecutive World Cup sprint race. â€œI’m very happy today. It was my second victory in a row this season — I am really in a good shape. I hope for some more good results this season and that I can defend my Sprint World Cup title.”
For his teammate Kjoelstad it was his sixth podium finish, while the defending World Champion in the Team Sprint, Renato Pasini celebrated the second podium place of his long career.
Said Kjoelstad after the race â€œGreat race today! I am satisfied — my goal was to reach the final and than to get on the podium. My qualification was not so good (27th) but I was getting better and better after each heat. I feel strong this year but we have a tough internal fight for the starting places in the World Cup — the Norwegians are so strong!”
The veteran Passini liked the longer format course, saying â€œI was an amazing competition. The new course is hard and for some sprinters maybe a bit too long, but for the older guys like me it was perfect. I am now in good shape and I hope I can continue in this way towards the World Championships in Liberec.”
Overall it was a disappointing day for North American skiers, with only two qualifiers and no one advancing beyond the first round.
American Andy Newell started the day in strong fashion, qualifying third, 1.61 seconds behind Cologna, and a over a second ahead of fourth. But Newell crashed in his quarterfinal and was unable to advance.
“It was very, very disappointing. Both Kikkan and Andy were in such good positions,” Head Cross Country Sprint Coach Chris Grover said.
Newell, who finished 11th in the season-opening freestyle sprint in Kuusamo, Finland, was positioned perfectly in second place at the top of the final hill in his quarterfinal lap. All he had to do, Grover said, was zip down around a corner to the finish line.
“It was just heartbreaking, he basically had it locked up. He was at a point in the race where no one could overtake him, but his skis just came out from underneath him around the sharp corner before the finish,” Grover said.
Torin Koos and Chris Cook, the two other American starters failed to qualify for the heats, with Koos in 41st and Cook in 59th. Koos was 8.15 seconds off the lead and 1.6 seconds out of the top 30. Cook was 11.17 seconds off the lead and 4.5 seconds out of the heats.
Canada suffered a similar fate, with Sean Crooks posting a strong qualifying round, ranking 13th. But as with Newell, he couldn't advance in the heats and finished 21st. On a positive note, this result did match Crooks' top World Cup finish
Phil Widmer was the next best Canadian in 37th, just over a second out of 30th. George Grey, coming off a 16th in Saturday's 15km was 43rd, Devon Kershaw, always a threat in sprint and distance was an uncharacteristic 47th, and Stefan Kuhn 73rd.
Ivan Babikov made a rare sprint start and demonstrated why, finishing 94th out of 98 skiers, +21.89.
Many of the athletes commented on the length of the course – 1.7km for men and 1.4km for women. With qualifying times starting at 3:17, there was significant increase in difficulty. And while there is usually high turnover at the top of the World Cup results sheet, many notable skiers failed to qualify, or even come close. It is possible that the course change had an impact.
US coach Grover said this season a new rule is in effect which allows sprint races to be up to 1.8K long.
“The rule was designed for classic sprints because a lot of strong skiers were simply double poling through the races. Lengthening the courses forces the athletes to use kick wax and actually use classic technique,” he said.
The rule change, he said, will mix up the athletes seen in the top 30 this season.
Cologna now leads the overall World Cup with 208 points, scoring points in every event so far this year. Hattestad is second with 200. His only points have come in his two sprint victories. Johan Olsson, the winner on Saturday is in third.
The top positions in the sprint ranking are occupied by Norwegians: Hattestad on top (200 points), second place Kjoelstad (109 points), third place John Kristian Dahl (96 points).
Racing continues next weekend in Dusseldorf, Germany with a freestyle individual sprint and a team sprint.
– Top skiers who did not qualify, Tord Asle Gjerdalen (NOR), Email Joensson (SWE), Kershaw, Eldar Roenning (NOR), Boerre Naess (NOR), Roddy Darragon (FRA).
– 7 nations were represented in the top 12.
– Alexei Petukhov (RUS) qualified fourth and finished 9th, his first World Cup top 10.
– Ales Razym (CZE) also had his top World Cup finish – 11th.
Pasini (Photo: Fischer Skis)