Otepää, Estonia – Lukas Buaer (CZE), fresh off his second Tour de Ski title, won the men’s 15km individual start classic in Otepää this morning.
Bauer skied to a 17 second victory over classic distance specialist, and hometown hero, Andrus Veerpalu (EST). Another Estonian, Jaak Mae, finished 3rd, +41.6.
The field was relatively small and weak – with many skiers resting after the Tour and preparing for the Olympics. But that does not diminish Bauer’s dominating performance – it is unusual, even in an individual start, at the World Cup level to see such a significant gap over 3rd place.
“My race today was very successful and I completed a hat trick here,” said Bauer. “It is my third victory in one row and I’m very, very happy. I love this track and also Otepää!”
Veerpalu and Mae have skied a relatively light World Cup schedule in recent years, and this season has been no exception. The Estonians focus on big events like the Olympics and World Championships.
Today marked Veerpalu’s 3rd World Cup start, and by far his best performance. He excels in the 15km classic, and is a threat for an Olympic medal.
“I feel that my shape is improving and today was a great race. On the last lap I gave everything I had to beat Lukas, but today he was unbeatable as he has been in his last competitions,” said Veerpalu following the race.
This was Mae’s sixth World Cup start this season, and his first time in the points. His best result to date was a 39th in Rogla.
The Estonians were followed by two Russians – Sergei Novikov and Alexander Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov improved upon his previous best finish – a 13th in this same race a year ago.
Three Norwegians took places 6,7, and 8. With several Olympic spots on the line, this weekend’s races are critical. Jens Arne Svartedal took 6th, 56 seconds in back of Bauer. Eldar Roenning was 7th, another 4 seconds back, and veteran Odd-Bjorn Hjlemeset 17 seconds behind him. Anders Aukland was 21st, likely ending his Olympic hopes.
Bauer will now focus on the Olympics and the 15km freestyle there.
“My program will be to make a hard preparation until the Olympics and my first start in the Olympics will be the 15 kilometer skate. And as I said on the podium to Jaak and Andrus that it would be great to have same result at the Olympics, but after Torino and Liberec I must be on the top,” Bauer said laughing.
Canada Led by Nishikawa
The Canadian men started five skiers, and were led by Graham Nishikawa in 32nd, just nine seconds out of the points. This is Nishikawa’s first season racing European World Cups. His finish today easily bested his previous best of 66th, but that was in part due to the smaller field. His FIS points of 52 today were significantly higher than the 40 point performance he had in Kuusamo.
Nishikawa started fast and was in 15th place at the 5km mark.
Sean Crooks was 39th, just over three minutes behind Bauer. This was easily Crooks’ best World Cup distance result – he has been in the points in sprinting in the past.
Teammate Brent McMurtry was just 2 seconds behind in 40th. Stefan Kuhn finished 46th.
Racing continues tomorrow with a classic sprint.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.