Stockholm, Sweden – The Norwegian men swept the podium in the first event of the World Cup Final. Johan Kjoelstad led the way, skiing away from teammates John Kristian Dahl and Eldar Roenning on the last hill to claim the victory.
The three Norwegians opened a gap midway through the A-Final, and as they approached the last large climb, it was only a question of which of them would take the top spot. It was Kjoelstad who had the most left, and he was able to open a 5 meter lead.
Said Kjoelstad following the race, ““I was a bit tired in the last days so I was a bit surprised about my good shape. I tried to be behind and then attack in the finals, and that strategy worked.
“It was fun to ski here in Stockholm – the courses were better than in the last years , and now I will continue and hope to finish the World Cup Final ”
Dahl added, “I felt good during the races, especially in the Quarter Final and Semi Final. At the end I had a good fight with my teammates Johan and Eldar – but Johan was faster at the end and had better tactics. I hope I can continue racing strong in Falun as I feel in a good shape.”
Hometown favorite Emil Joensson (SWE) finished 4th. Joensson, who always seems to have a smile at the end of the race, took time to thank the crowd after the finish. Nikita Kriukov (RUS) was 5th, and Kalle Lassila (FIN) 6th.
Lassila led the first half of the A-final, setting a hard pace, and looking strong. But the Norwegians moved up on the long double pole on the backstretch, and Lassila faded.
The course was plenty challenging, and it didn’t appear that any of the men opted to double pole. After a short double pole out of the start, the racers hit a steep hill, then dropped down the only real rest and into a hairpin corner and a long flat double pole. Another turn into the final climb, a long steep uphill to the finish. As the day went on, conditions appeared to slow, and while the course was relatively short, there was almost no rest.
The big surprise was Ola Vigen Hattestad’s inability to advance to the A final for the first time this season. Hattestad won the World Championship sprint in Liberec, and has been first or second in every World Cup sprint he entered. With temperatures rising, it was clear that some skiers were struggling with their wax. For some it was the glide, for others, the kick. In his semifinal, Hattestad struggled on the first hill, slipping several times, and found himself toward the back of the pack. Still in position to make a move, he tangled briefly with American Andy Newell exiting the hairpin corner at the bottom of the course, and lost even more time. He battled hard to regain contact, and moved up to third, but his semi was 5 seconds slower than the other, and the lucky loser was not an option. Hattestad did win the B-Final, and is planning to race the rest of the World Cup final as he tries to maintain his third position in the overall World Cup standings.
Andy Newell led the US in 9th place. Newell qualified in 17th and was paired with teammate Torin Koos in the quarterfinals. The two settled into third and fourth ear;yin the heat, and both were in position to make a move. Newell did just that on the backstretch, skiing up to second, and pulled away on the last climb to advance.
Koos battled to the end, lunging for the line and finishing third in the heat. He did not advance as a lucky loser, but did place 14th on the day.
In the semis, Newell was just off the two leaders entering the hairpin turn. He briefly tangled with Hattestad who was passing on the outside. Neither fell, but lost significant time – Newell more so than Hattestad. He ended up last in the heat, but came back hard in the B-Final, finishing third. Hattestad won that heat, overtaking Italian Fulvio Scola on the last hill.
“It’s good to be back in the top 10,” Newell said. “The past two weeks have been a bit of a struggle to get back into good racing form, so I think I’m getting my feet back under me.”
“Torin and Andy were in the same quarterfinals and he and Andy were racing against each other,” U.S. Cross Country Coach Chris Grover said. “For a while we hoped Torin would be a lucky loser but he got knocked out and ended up 14th for the day, which isn’t bad, but was obviously really close.”
Canadians Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw both qualified for the heats, but their skis appeared to be slow and neither was in position to advance. Harvey spent his entire heat off the back, and Kershaw battled to 5th in his. Kershaw ended in 24th, and Harvey 30th.
Chris Cook was 62nd for the US, and George Grey, Dave Nighbor and Ivan Babikov 68th, 78th and 79th respectively.
In the battle for the overall World Cup title, Dario Cologna got the upper hand on Petter Northug. Both men looked tired, and while Cologna led early in his heat, he faded at the end and finished 16th on the day. Northug struggled from the start, losing ground on the first climb. He fought back, before fading again and finishing 19th. Only 22 points separated the two entering the race.
Racing continues on Friday with a 3.3km freestyle prologue.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.