Toblach, Italy – Peter Northug (NOR) won his third stage of the 2010 Tour de Ski, outsprinting Dario Cologna (SUI) and Marcus Hellner (SWE) in the 35km freestyle pursuit.
For the first time in the four year history of Tour, the event stopped in the Cortina-Toblach region of Italy. Today’s race wound through the valley’s between Cortina and Toblach, climbing up for 16km, before dropping down to the finish. The point-to-point course featured tunnels, suspension bridges and narrow winding canyons through evergreen forests, creating a picturesque setting for the 5th stage of the Tour.
Northug appreciated the course, saying “It was a very special race going from Cortina to Toblach. It was exciting to go through the tunnel, over bridges, and ski the long uphill then down and the last hard 3 kilometers.”
With the withdrawal of overall leader Emil Joensson (SWE) who was 45 seconds up on the field, the top skiers started within just a few seconds.
Hellner started first, closely followed by Simen Oestensen (NOR), Northug, Cologna, and Axel Teichmann (GER). The pack immediately closed and set about holding off the chase group.
The first half of the race, while gaining elevation, featured mainly V2 terrain, climbing gradually to the high point.
The lead pack shared the lead, with Hellner and Cologna doing most of the work. At approximately eight kilometers in , Oestensen fell off the pace, and quickly dropped back to the chase pack. Northug took several pulls, but they were extremely short, and he appeared content, as usual, to sit at the back of the group and wait for the finish.
As the climb progressed, Matti Heikkinen (FIN), Jean Marc Gaillard (FRA) and Devon Kershaw (CAN) set about pulling the leaders in. They stepped it up between 12 and 16 kilometers in, closing the 20 second gap. Kershaw couldn’t maintain the pace, and fell back to the large pack that had formed 40 seconds off the leaders.
Heikkinen and Gaillard continued to push, and ultimately joined the leaders, with Northug immediately dropping behind the two newcomers.
From this point on most of the action occurred in the main chase pack, where fast starters fell off the back and hard-charging climbers moved up. A number of skiers made impressive moves, but none more so than Canada’s Ivan Babikov, who knocked 1:50 off the leaders in the first 12km, moving into the pack.
Kershaw stayed strong in the pack, and at one point, he and Babikov teamed up to set the pace at the front.
As expected the race came down to the final kilometer. With the exception of Oestensen, the top four stayed at the front, joined by Heikkinen and Gaillard. As the race entered the Toblach nordic trails, and hit the first uphills since before the halfway mark, Hellner turned on the jets. He attacked hard on the climbs, and almost instantly broke Teichmann. Heikkinen and Gaillard were the next to go, clearly worn out from the effort of catching the leaders early in the race.
Hellner continued to drive the pace as the three remaining skiers headed toward the stadium. On the last small climb before the final push, Cologna took over and attacked, but was unable to shake Northug and Hellner. The pace dropped slightly as they headed around the 180 degree turn in to the finish stretch. The three accelerated into the final sprint in a dead heat, and as is his wont, Northug had a bit more speed, claiming the victory.
In regards to the overall standings, the victory had little meaning as no bonus seconds were awarded. The 1 second gained is inconsequential, but Northug gains the World Cup points, prize money, and reestablishes himself as the man to beat after a disapointing result in Prague.
“It was a tough race,” said Northug, “tougher than I had expected. The first 20 km was uphill. It was not steep but it was long. On the top I actually felt quite tired. The downhill afterwards was quite demanding as well as I had to work almost the time to maintain the speed.”
Oestensen Down But Not Out
Oestensen had the biggest drop of the day, slipping from 3rd to 32nd.
“It was a very tough race for me today,” he said. “I tried to stay in the first group but I could not make it. In the overall Tour de Ski standing I have lost too much time and my goal now is to go for the Sprint Bib and win the Tour de Ski sprint ranking.”
With Joensson’s withdrawal, Oestensen now leads the Tour sprint ranking. He is just two seconds ahead of Hellner and significant sprint seconds are available in Friday’s mass start.
Babikov Gets it Done
Ivan Babikov turned in a stunning performance, skiing up to 9th place after starting with bib 36. He is now only 35 seconds down on the leaders, and given his climbing ability, is very much a threat to challenge for the podium.
He tweeted following the race “Had one of the best races of my career!” He also thanked Kershaw who helped push the pace of the pack, to Babikov’s advantage.
Kershaw ended up in 17th, toward the back of the large chase pack. He did not lose much time, and is in good position for tomorrow’s 10km classic – a strong event for the Canadian. He is 48 seconds out of the lead, and 12 seconds out of 7th.
Strong Day For Some
Times for the day have yet to be released, but it is likely that Babikov was the fastest. Other top performances included Curdin Perl (SUI) who skied up form 26th to 7th, Tord Asle Gjerdalen (NOR) 25th to 8th, Tom Reichelt (GER) 28th to 10th, Rene Sommerfeldt (GER) 33rd to 12th, and Valerio Checchi (ITA) 30th to 13th.
Sami Jauhojaervi (FIN) dropped even more places than Oestensen. He fell from 9th to 41st, and lost any chance for a top tour finish.
Canada had an excellent day overall. In addition to Baikov’s and Kershaw’s races, Alex Harvey held his position, starting at 23rd and ending up 21st. George Grey closed back on the top 30, bouncing back from several weak results to ski up to 34th from 55th.