Whistler, British Columbia – Emil Joensson (SWE) clearly likes to race in Canada. The Swedish sprint specialist won his second ever World Cup event. His other victory came in Canmore last year. Joensson held off a hard-charging Ola Vigen Hattestad (NOR) at the line, in an A-Final that featured one of many crashes on the day. Hattestad had won all three World Cup sprints thus far this season, and skipped Norweigan National Championships to contest this event.
Joensson, known for his high-tempo style on the climbs, won the qualifying round by 2.32 seconds and avoided trouble in the heats, skiing to victory in each round.
“It is wonderful to ski here in Canada, I had my first victory here in Canada last year and now I am again the winner. It is a great place for me, the atmosphere is great. I love it here.“
Hattestad, skiing relaxed and confident, often sitting back in the pack through the first part of the loop, was the favorite entering the day. He entered the stadium on Joensson’s tails, closely followed by Ivan Ivanov (RUS) and eventual third-place finisher, Josef Wenzl of Germany. The four coasted down the backstretch and the final hairpin corner, before dropping the hammer on the final stretch.
“After three victories in a row, I was now second today – that is great four podium places in four sprint World Cup races,” said Hattestad. “The course is not the easiest one, especially the last curve which is difficult to ski in a classical race. I will leave today to go home and prepare for the next sprint races.”
Wenzl claimed his first podium of the season, and second of his career. He showed excellent stamina and finishing speed, coming back from a deficit in several of his heats. Ivanov actually crossed in third, but was disqualified for skating. The Jury has the ability to hand out different levels of punishment for technique and other infractions. In this case, Ivanov was disqualified from the entire event.
There were many crashes throughout the day, including several on a sharp, fast corner at the far point of the course. This corner claimed Olympic Champion Bjoern Lind (SWE) in the B-Final and Andy Newell (USA) in the semifinals. Lind showed impressive motivation, sneaking back up on Nikolay Morilov (RUS) who had slipped out of contention and was cruising to the line. Morilov reacted and held off the grinning Swede to maintain 10th place.
The A-Final crash occured on a fast, but straight downhill, and claimed Nikolay Kriukov (RUS) and Renato Passini (ITA). The crash appeared to be the fault of the Russian and Passini had strong words for him at the finsh. Hattestad was actually behind the two at the time of the crash, but calmly avoided the chaos and closed right back on Joennson.
Kriukov outsprinted Passini at the line to take 4th.
The North Americans entered the day with high expectations, and with the US advancing 5 to the heats, and the Canadians 3, things started off well. Unfortunately it was all downhill from there. Both teams appeared to have good speed early in the heats, but consistently faded on the long course. Chris Cook (USA) matched Joensson for the first kilometer of his Quarterfinal, but was unable to maintain the pace, dropping from the top two back to 5th on the last big hill. Colin Rodgers (USA), also in the heat, hung on to the pack for the same distance, before eventually running out of gas. Cook ended the day in 21st, and Rodgers, scoring his first ever World Cup points, finished 27th.
This first quarterfinal set the tone for the afternoon. In heat 2, David Nighbor (CAN) started fast and looked strong, but as with the Americans before him, he was skied down, and finished well off the pace. Nighbor ended the day in 24th.
Torin Koos (USA) also took it out fast in his quarterfinal, leading early and looking strong. He dropped back on the last climb, but remained in contention entering the stadium. Once again, however, the kick was not enough and he was last in the heat. At least he got to race – Garrott Kuzzy false started twice, and was disqualified from the heat. Kuzzy was assigned the final spot of qualifiers – in this case, 29th (due to Ivanov’s disqualification). Koos finished 23rd.
Devon Kershaw, the top Canadian entry, also in the third quarterfinal held the pace early, and entered the stadium in the top two. He lost out in the sprint to Pasini and Wenzl, but the fast pace and strong finished allowed him to advance as a Lucky Loser.
Sean Crooks (CAN) the third Canadian in the heats, put up a strong fight, finishing third in his quarterfinal. He held on early, before dropping back entering the stadium. But a strong final push brought him back on the leaders and gave him a solid 15th place on the day.
Andy Newell skied an excellent quarterfinal and looked in good form, winning the heat and advancing to the semis.
Out of the eight North American Qualifiers, only Newell and Kersahw, the top two, made it to the semifinals. Kershaw went out fast in his semifinal, but as with many before him, he faded and finished 5th in his heat. Newell started the second semi conservatively, sitting in 5th through the first half of the loop, not a bad position considering the number of come from behind performances on the day. But another crash on the big corner left Newell touring the last half kilometer.
In the B-Final, Newell and Kershaw battled throughout, with the American holding the lead. Entering the final straight, Newell appeared to be pulling away, but Italian Giorgio DiCenta, who had been sitting on the top two for most of the race, showed impressive finishing power, and edged Newell with a lunge. DiCenta, the defending Olympic Champion in the 50km, has never been a sprinter. The longer format introduced this year has given distance skiers a chance, and DiCenta, took advantage, posting his career best sprint finish – 6th.
The hope of a North American on the podium was not fulfilled. Newell took home a still respectable 7th and Kershaw 8th. Kershaw, coming off the grueling Tour De Ski was not overly disappointed with his result, saying, “You have to be happy with being in the top-10, but my schedule has been extremely difficult over the last two months with the Tour de Ski, and it is disappointing when your body can’t respond the way it normally does.” He added that many of the sprinters today did not participate in the nine-day Tour de Ski earlier this month which puts a demand on distance skiing. “Whether I was eighth or 48th, this week is all about prep for the Olympics and getting comfortable with this environment while racing against the best skiers in the world.”
“Unfortunately I did go down, which is frustrating to have another crash under my belt for the season. But, the good news is I am feeling really fit right now. It will come together one of these days,” Newell said. “I felt really good in the B final, so I feel like if I were to have been in the A final it would have been a good day to get a podium.”
According to U.S. Cross Country Coach Chris Grover, Newell’s crash was a combination of a tricky corner and bad luck.
“He got tangled up with a Russian on the hardest corner of the course where there were quite a few falls today. I think he feels like he took too big of a risk and cut the corner too quick,” Grover said. “I’d say he’s had more than his share of bad luck this year in terms of crashing. Last year he went through the whole season without a crash. The positive takeaway for him is that he looked very fit and he skied really well.”
Hattestad maintained his sprint-cup lead, now 113 points over Tor Arne Hetland.
Racing continues tomorrow with a 30km pursuit.