Oberhof, Germany – Petter Northug (NOR) held on to the lead in the 2010 Tour de Ski, edging Maxim Vylegzhanin (RUS) in a photo finish.
Northug won yesterday’s prolugue by .8 seconds. With sprint bonus seconds added, he began today’s 15km classic pursuit with a six second lead on Sweden’s Marcus Hellner.
Northug set a fast pace out of the start, but with 60 skiers starting within 40 seconds, gaps quickly closed, and a large pack formed – at three kilometers in no more than 2 seconds separated any two consecutive skiers in the top 60.
The chasers rapidly closed over the first kilometers, and swallowed up Northug just before the three kilometer mark. The Norwegian quickly dropped into the pack, and Alexander Legkov (RUS) and Axel Teichmann (GER) took over the lead, continuing to push the pace.
But Matti Heikkinen (FIN) wasn’t content to let the race play out in this fashion, and soon after put on a strong burst and opened a gap on the field. No one gave chase, and Heikkinen continued to pull away. At 7.5 kilometers he had built a lead of 14.2 seconds. The result was a high-pace race – no one in the chase group made the move to track down the hard charginf Finn, but nor were they going to let him get too far ahead.
Teichmann, Legkov, and 2008 Tour winner Lukas Bauer (CZE) kept the speed high, and Heikkinen within striking distance.
As the race progressed, the pack shuffled somewhat, but the favorites held steady toward the front. After his fast start, Northug settled in and was content to ride just off the leaders in the group. Heikkinen was unable to make further progress, and his lead began to dwindle. His 10 second margin at the 10.5km mark, was to be short lived – 3 k later, the pack had caught him, and it was anyone’s race.
Vylegzhanin took over the top spot from Heikkinen, and led with just 100 meters to go. Northug was back in 5th, nearly 8 seconds down. But when he is on, it seems no lead is safe. Northug staged his trademark late charge, overtaking Vylegzhaninin the last meters, and claiming victory in a photo finish. Heikkinen impressively did not fade after being caught, and held on to third, just ahead of Bauer, and the German pair of Tobias Angerer and Teichmann.
Conditions were challenging with soft snow and difficult kick. Racers spent significant time herring boning outside of the track, and no one appeared to have great skis.
After the race, Northug explained his race strategy. “I tried to open easy on the first lap. I knew that there was a big group chasing. Once I was caught I tried to conserve energy for the last loop. Heikkinen was very strong today, but I knew there would be attacks from the group.”
The final results form today’s pursuit also represent the overall Tour standings. The top-30 are all within 40 seconds of the lead, and with back-to-back sprints, things could change dramatically over the next few days.
Canada had a strong day with Devon Kershaw skiing up to 10th place, after starting the day in 37th. Kershaw moved up early and spent a good portion of the race toward the front of the pack. He is currently 10.9 seconds in back of Northug. His teammate Ivan Babikov also moved into the top-30, skiing up to 23rd from 50th. Alex Harvey slipped back somewhat, but is still a solid 27th.
Andy Newell maintained his position in 48th for the US.
ANothe Finn, Sami Jauhojaervi had the fastes time of the day, edging out Jens Filbrich (GER) by 1.5 seconds. Jauhojaervi finished 7th, and Filbrich 8th, both men starting in the 60’s. Vylegzhanin posted the third fastest time.
– Defneding Tour Champion, Dario Cologna (SUI) spent most of the race toward the front, but fell with 2km to go, and finished 12th. He is still very much in the hunt.
– Emil Joensson (SWE), traditionally a sprinter is in 11th overall, and could be a surprise challenger in the overall.
– Germany place 3 skiers in the top-10 and 6 in the top-30.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.