Val di Fiemme, Italy – 22-year old Dario Cologna (SUI) won the third annua FIS Tour de Ski, skiing away form the field in the grueling Final Climb. Cologna, who had never stood on the World Cup podium prior to this season, and had just 34 Word Cup starts under his belt, finished 30th in last year’s Tour. This season was different. Entering the 7 event, 10 day test, the young Swiss was considered a favorite. Extremely well-rounded, Cologna can challenge for the victory in sprints and distance race, and excels at both techniques. This versatility plays well to the Tour format and Cologna consistently placed near the top in nearly every event, though he did not win a single stage. He began the 11km freestyle Final Climb, 34 seconds ahead of German Axel Teichmann. Teichmann already had won three stages, and is a formidable distance skier. Eldar Roenning (NOR), Vasilli Rotchev (RUS), and Petter Northug (NOR) formed an intimidating chase pack, and with 400 meters of climbing in the last 2.5km, there was plenty of room for the standings to change. But Cologna started strong, putting time on Teichmann at every intermediate point on the initial rolling portion of the course. Skiing strong and controlled, Cologna extended his lead to a full minute by the 6.7 kilometer mark, and it became clear, that barring disaster, Cologna would win the race. ”I felt very good today, I had a tough day yesterday, but today I could control the race from the 1st position,” said Cologna. He stayed smooth on the brutal climb, and continued to pull away, pausing within sight of the finish line to take a Swiss flag. “There were a lot of people from my hometown in Switzerland who cheered me up the hill,” continued the victor. “This has been a fantastic week and I am very happy. I will enjoy this evening with the whole team; we will have a small party. Now it is important for me to take a break and recover. I will not go to Vancouver. The main goal for me so far in my athlete career will be the Olympics next year; I will fight for an Olympic medal.” With Cologna in control at the front, a battle for the rest of the podium spots was underway. Northug and Rotchev, starting 4 seconds apart, quickly caught Roenning 14 seconds ahead to form a formidable chase pack. The Norweigans worked together to push the pace, with Roenning leading for a significant length. They slowly made up ground on Teichmann, who appeared to be strugglig. Roenning was clearly working for the benefit of his teammate Northug, a strong skater, and relinquished the lead and quickly dropped back as the trio made its way up the climb. Teichmann continued his methodical skiing – his style is so relaxed that the viewer can be tricked into thinking he is not exerting himself – and maintained a gap of just over 10 seconds. And then, with just over half a kilometer left, Northug stepped out from behind Rotchev and put on an amazing burst of speed, attacking with ferocity. Rotchev was immediately left behind as Northug quickly reeled in Teichmann. The two battled, accelerating up the final stretch, though it is hard to call it a true sprint to the finish given the terrain. Northug, amazingly enough, had yet another burst in him, powering away from Teichmann in the final 30 meters to take second place overall. “I started 4 seconds behind Rotchev and I tried to get in contact with him,” said Northug after the race. “Up the hill Rotchev was very strong so I followed him. I did not expect a 2nd place this morning, it was a tough race and I am happy that I finished so high. It was good for me that I won the sprint in Nove Mesto to get 60 bonus seconds. I think Cologna and I will fight many times from now on.” Teichmann was pleased with his performance despite slipping to third place, saying ,”This has been a fantastic Tour de Ski, the best so far, great atmosphere, great audience and great races. I had a great Tour de Ski start in Oberhof, and I am very satisfied with the result of the Tour. Tonight I will have a nice evening with the rest of the team here in Val di Fiemme. Then I will try to recover well at home and prepare for the next highlight the World Championships.” Rotchev was not able to hold off a hard-charging Giorgio DiCenta (ITA), who thrilled the home crowd with an excellent performance. The veteran Italian, who was contemplating a reduction in his racing prior to last year’s Tour de Ski, showed he still has it at age 36. While he was unable to match his 3rd place of last year, he wasn’t far off, posting the 3rd fastest split on the day and skiing up to 4th from 14th. Rotchev looked relieved as he collapsed across the line in 5th place. Frenchman Jean Marc Gaillard, historically a sprinter, completed a fine Tour performance, finishing 6th. The stage was won by Canadian Ivan Babikov, who appeared to be just hanging on after illness struck and he finished 48th in yesterday’s Mass Start. Clearly recovered, he edged out Tom Reichelt (GER) by 1.5 seconds to claim his first ever World Cup victory. His teammate Devon Kershaw, who also suffered thorugh an illness-plagued race yesterday, dropping from 7th to 22nd in the overall standings, showed amazing fortitude, improving one place to finish the Tour in 21st. Kershaw was forced to drop out of the first two Tours due to illness. Read more about Babikov’s victory. “I’m done and to finish is a big step forward for me,” said Kershaw. “It is obviously disappointing to get sick and that put me back in the standings, but I had some great results and collected a bunch of World Cup points so it was important for me to finish. Ivan was the man today and I’m very happy for him.” The FIS broke out times for the climb portion of the final event. DiCenta posted the fastest final 2.5 kilometers, skiing the hill in 18:15. Babikov’s climb split was the 4th fastest. It is hard to comprehend how challenging this portion of the race was until you actually see it. It is a rare to witness the best skiers in the world single sticking in a World Cup event. No sprint seconds were awarded in the Final Climb. Tor Arne Hetland needed only to finish to claim the Sprint Cup. He did so despite illness. “My main goal this year was to win the sprint. I was sick this morning and my only goal was to climb up Alpe Cermis and finish the race so I would get the Tour Sprint. I will now recover and get healthy for the next World Cup and for the World Championships.” Of Note: – DiCenta posted the biggest improvement, moving up 10 places in the Final Climb – Nikolay Chebotko (KAZ) who skied a strong tour overall, slipped the farthest, 12 places from 7th to 19th. – Sami Jauhojaervi (FIN) finished 10th, missing out a higher placing after his team missed the wax in the 4th stage. Jauhojaervi finished 40th in that 15km classic. – Canadian George Grey dropped out of the Tour due to illness prior to yesterday’s Mass Start – Northug’s final charge is even more impressive, given the fact that no other athlete showed much of a kick across the line. – Defending Champion Lukas Bauer (CZE) finished 11th overall. He placed in the top-10 in every distance event, but needed exceptional performances in those races to overcome his poor sprinting. – 7 different nations were represented in the top-10, with Norway, Italy and Russia claiming two spots each. Watch the Final Climb on-demand at Universal Sports (video is now posted) Watch all other Tour de Ski events on Universal Sports View excellent still photos in the Universal Sports Final Climb Photo Gallery View the course profile for the final stage Men’s Tour de Ski Final Standings Men’s Tour de Ski Final Climb Stage Results
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.