Liberec, Czech Republic – Petter Northug (NOR) won the men’s 50km freestyle mass start, the final event of the 2009 World Championships. Northug moved his way up thorugh the pasck over the last 10 kilometers, positioning himself for the final sprint. He crossed the line .7 seconds ahead of Russian Maxim Vylegezhanin. Tobias Angerer (GER) took the bronze, two seconds behind Northug.
The victory earned Northug his third gold of the Championships. He also won the pursuit and anchored the Norweigan relay team.
“It was a very hard race for me,” said Northug. “I tried to be in top group as tt was difficult to escape. So I ran with them. Now, when the shape is great I hope for a gold medal in each race.”
The big surprise of the day, however, was Vylegezhanin, skiing in his first World Championships. The 26-year old had never stood on a World Cup podium, his previous best result was 6th in the 20km mass start in this season’s Tour de Ski. He finished 24th in the World Championship pursuit earlier in the week.
“I am very happy,” said Vylegezhanin. “I am satisfied with this medal. It is my first medal in the World Championships and I not been on a podium in a World Cup race before. The first races were not very good for me. The key today was the long distance and my great skis.”
Veteran Angerer claimed his third medal of the Championships – he won silver in both the relay and the team sprint, and now has six World Championship medals for his career, including four silvers, but no gold.
Added Northug, “Tobias and Maxim were in the top group during the whole race and Maxim is very good in 50 km races. It was very difficult because Tobias pushed very hard.”
Angerer took advantage of the option to switch skis during the race. “I felt relaxed,” he said. “I believed in myself before today’s 50 km race and that was very important. My first lap was not good to me. My skis were not perfect. But after changing my skis I felt very good, and at the beginning of the last hill I tried to escape, but I did not succeed and the finish sprint was too fast for me. I am very happy about my skiing now!”
The main pack stayed close – at 15km, 43 skiers remained within 20 seconds of the lead. At the halfway point, the pack had barely diminished – 40 skiers remained in contention. In an interesting move, Italian Christian Zorzi broke off the front at 23 kilometers, opening a lead of 12 seconds. He held a lead for four kilometers before being swallowed back up by the pack. Zorzi ultimately finished 12th.
Vincent Vittoz (FRA) attacked at 34km, and NOrthug went with him. The two opened up a 10 second gap, but the pack again closed within two kilometers.
By 30k, skiers began slipping off the back, and with 10 kilometers to go, the pack was down to 26 skiers. As the kilometers sped by, Northug, Angeregm and Vylegezhanin positioned themselves within the top 10 and the opportunity to sprint for a medal.
Canadian Ivan Babikov skied in the main pack for the entire race, finishing 16th, +15.7 seconds. The strong result came despite several crashes and a broken pole.
“I had a tough day today with the crashes and broken pole,” said Babikov, who was first in the Final Climb at the Tour de Ski earlier this year. “It’s tough any time you crash because you use up so much energy, but it makes it even tougher in a race this long. I got passed by so many people and had to ski much harder to get back to the front. It makes it really difficult.”
“It was an up and down World Championships for sure,” concluded Babikov. “The relay was incredible and we were all so happy. I had some tough days, but in the end, I have to be happy with 16th today. It is not too bad of a day.”
James Southam led the US in 39th place. Southam skied well through 30km, staying solidly with the leaders. He began to drop off slowly, and by 45km was clearly done. He dropped 3 minutes to the leaders in the last 5km, ultimately finishing +6:37. Teammate Garrott Kuzzy was 44th, +9:56. Kuzzy dropped off the pace more quickly than Southam, losing contact by 16 kilometers. But he battled to the end, outsprinting Mikhail Gumenyak (UKR) at the finish.
“Our athletes skied as hard and as fast as they could the whole day and that’s all we can ask for,” U.S. Cross Country Head Coach Pete Vordenberg said.
Chris Butler (CAN) was 40th, +8:07.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.