Otepaa, Estonia – Norweigan Ola-Vigen Hattestad continues to dominate the men’s World Cup sprint competitions, winning the 1.4km classic event as Norway controlled the A-Final.
Hattestad has now won four of five World Cup sprint events this season and finished second to Swede Emil Joensson last week in Whistler. Hattestad rarely qualifies at the top, but shows remarkable patience and finishing speed in the heats. Yesterday he qualified all the way back in 25th place due to bad skis, 4.78 second behind the fastest man, Joensson, who is known for his qualifying speed.
“I had really bad skis for qualifying,” said Hattestad. “So before the quarterfinal I had to test another set of skis. The old skis I choose worked brilliantly. My tactics were to try to stay in the front of the skiers because there was lot of fresh snow on the track. My waxing was successful, so I really enjoyed my final race. I hope to continue my season in this winning note.”
Hattestad took an early lead in the A-Final, and although Tor Arne Hetland charged back on the finsih straight, Hattestad had another gear and skied to a clear victory.
Norway turned in an impressive showing, taking the top 5 spots, and placing nine skiers in the top 30. Usual suspects Oystein Pettersen, Boerre Naess, Tor Arne Hetland, and Eldar Roenning finished second through fifth respectively.
Mats Larsson (SWE) rounded out the A-Final in 6th, and Joensson ended the day in 8th, edged out by Russian Nikita Kriukov in the B-Final. Sweden, while not quite as impressive as Norway, placed five skiers in the top 30, faring particularly well in the qualifying round, placing 1, 3, 5, 11, and 12.
Said third-place finisher Naess “Today’s race was the best race of the season for me. Until Christmas I was not good, so it was very important for to reach the final today. Now my shape is going uphill. I’m not selected for the World Championships team yet, so I must show my best qualities in Rybinsk as well. Hopefully I’m able to gain a place in pairs sprint team in Liberec.”
The US started three skiers, qualifying two for the heats. Andy Newell led the team in qualifying, placing 17th, +3.52, on a long challenging course the US Head Coach Pete Vordenberg compares to Whistler. Torin Koos qualified in 23rd, and Chris Cook finished 45th.
Both Newell and Koos were eliminated in the quarterfinals, with Koos moving up to 20th and Newell down to 24th.
This was Koos’ top finish of the season, bettering his 23rd of last weekend in Whistler. And while that field featured a strong Italian contingent, yesterday’s race was much deeper, with the Norweigans and Finns out in force. Hopefully this is a sign that Koos is on track to regain the top form of two years ago when he finished third in this same event.
Newell, often one of the top qualifiers, was uncharacteristically slow in qualifying, though waxing did not appear to be straightforward, and a number of top skiers (Hattestad included) qualified further back than expected. Unfortunately Newell was unable to move up in the heats.
“We had good skis, we had good qualifying, but where we’re at right now, we’re not strong enough to podium on this kind of course,” Vordenberg said.
The course in Estonia he said was similar to Vancouver, with a long, hard finish.
“It’s really important for us to fix where we’re at. We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Vordenberg said. “We’re right in there until the last 30 seconds of the race.”
Current World Cup leader and Tour de Ski victor Dario Cologna, finished back in 43rd and German Josef Wenzl, 15th in the classic sprint in Whistler, was 58th.
Former UAF skier Vahur Teppan finished 53rd.
Racing continues next weekend in Ryinsk, Russia, with a 10/15km freestyle mass start, a freestyle individual sprint, and 15/30km pursuit. All the US sprinters are scheduled to contest the sprint event, and some may race the pursuit as well. Regarding the course in Rybinsk, Vordenberg said “The finish is shorter and faster and we’ve had two podiums there in the past. We’re going in with high hopes.”
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.