Rogla, Slovenia – On a cold, snowy day, Petter Northug (NOR) won the World Cup classic sprint on a long challenging course at altitude, adding to his overall World Cup lead.
Andy Newell (USA) won the qualification round by two seconds, with Northug nearly nine seconds back.
But with heat times pushing the four minute mark, distance skiers fared quite well.
“It was a pretty long sprint, so those guys [distance skiers] were getting stronger and stronger as the heats went on. They were pushing the pace in the last heat,” said USST coach Justin Wadsworth.
Newell and Russian Nikita Kriukov were the only skiers in the final who have not scored distance World Cup points. Second place finisher, Tobias Angerer (GER) has traditionally had his best results in longer formats – today marked his best World Cup sprint finish and his second podium.
“I am very happy about my podium today,” said Angerer. “It is not only important for me, but for the whole team. We have to build up our self confidence. It was a tough race.”
Jesper Modin (SWE) claimed the final podium spot, and his first ever World Cup podium. The 21-year-old Swede has been in the top-11 in all three sprints this season, and was 22nd in the 15km classic in Kuusamo.
Modin was understandably pleased. “It is my first World Cup podium and I’m really satisfied! It was not easy conditions but I we delivered a great battle.”
Kriukov took 4th and defending World Cup Champion Dario Cologna (SUI) was 5th. Cologna qualified 3rd, and has had his best results this season in the sprint, as he comes back from an autumn leg injury.
It was a tough day on the course – long, hilly, and high altitude, and the weather didn’t help.
“It was one of those days that you could never get your hands warm. And the wind was just blowing snow sideways, said Newell. “During the heats there were like 2 inches of wind blown snow in some of the tracks…. It was crazy.”
The weather was not optimal for qualifying and created some controversy. Despite winning both the men’s and women’s races, the Norwegian coaches were displeased with the organizing committee.
Sprint Cup leader John Kristian Dahl (NOR), did not qualify for the heats, and Eldar Roenning was eliminated early. Dahle entered the day second in the overall World Cup race, so his 31st place finish had to hurt.
“On Friday we suggested the start list for the prologue be adjusted because of the weather forecast, so as to get the best conditions for the top skiers.” said Norway’s Team Manager Åge Skinstad. “Dahl did not have optimal conditions and was knocked out of the prologue. ”
It would not have happened if he had had a better start, ” added sprint coach Ulf Morten Aune. “According to the rules, an organizer must make sure that the best should be allowed to go under optimal conditions. This is the worst I have ever experienced, ” said Aune to Norwegian Television.
The Norwegian coaches were also displeased with the tracks in the heats. Apparently only two tracks were usable in the last several hundred meters.
“Only two tracks were usable. It was of no use to change tracks. Terribly done by the organizer, and when you can not do such a simple task, I am not sure whether they should be allowed to hold World Cup races,” concluded Skinstad.
But winner Northug had no complaints at the press conference. “Weather conditions were difficult with snow falling and strong wind. But in general it was a great race and Rogla is a good World Cup venue.”
Reigning World Cup sprint Champion, Ola Vigen Hattestad (NOR) struggled again, finishing 21st. He was 16th lat weekend, and has been fighting respiratory issues. Prior to the race he saw the course as favoring his teammate Northug.
“It is long and tough, and it favors Petter. It is slightly upward at the finish, the type of homestretch that Petter likes.”
Kris Freeman had an excellent day for the US with his best-ever World Cup sprint result. He finished 32nd, .66 seconds out of the heats.
“It was the kind of day that if he had qualified, it would have gone really well,” said Wadsworth. “In training, he is often pretty far back in qualifying, but I think he is undefeated in practice heats against Newell and Koos. Once he gets in there, he can go pretty good. We were excited to see him so close.”
Torin Koos struggled a 46th place finish. He raced sick in Davos, and just missed the heats. He missed a few days of training following that race, but bounced back and was healthy for today.
But according to Wadsworth, it didn’t go according to plan. “After the race he said he may have been trying too hard, not staying relaxed and dynamic on the long course. With the altitude and the long course, you have to be relaxed. I think Torin was trying to ski too fast.
“But I still think he is in pretty good shape right now – better than his results are showing.”
Lars Flora was a solid 45th, his best European sprint result since 2003.
Alex Harvey, the lone Canadian was 35th, 1.4 seconds out of the heats.
Despite the rough day for Dahl and Hattestad, Norway still holds the top three spots in the overall World Cup standings and the Sprint Cup – Northug, Dahl and Hattestad for overall, and Dahl, Northug, Hattestad in Sprint.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.