Oberhof, Germany – Eldar Roenning (NOR) won a hotly contested sprint final in the third stage of the 2010 Tour de Ski. Roenning prevailed through challenging conditions to claim his sixth career World Cup victory, and his first since 2008.
The weather was far from ideal in Oberhof this afternoon, with heavy snow falling and soft tracks. These conditions combined with a long course of 1.6km, made for slow qualification times and an uncommonly spread out field.
Emil Joennson (SWE), a notoriously fast qualifier, set the pace with a time of 3:41.78, a full two seconds ahead of Roenning. Twelve and a half seconds separated the top 30, with Andy Newell (USA) and Devon Kershaw (CAN) moving to the heats in 1th and 24th respectively.
Joensson was clearly in fine form, winning his quarterfinal and semifinal en route to the pole position in the final. Newell also moved on, the benficiary of a fast heat. He finished 4th in his quarterfinal, but both he and 3rd place finisher Dario COlogna (SUI) advanced as Lucky Losers.
Kershaw meanwhile, was 3rd in his quarterfinal, .9 seconds behind Axel Teichmann (GER) in second, and .7 seconds behind Newell for the final Lucky Loser spot.
The course featured one significant downhill with a challenging corner. The course as a whole was deteriorating wuickly, and the downhills were especially bad.
In the first semi,, Simen Ostensen (NOR) crashed hard on the descent. The fall was strange as the entire heat was aligned in a single track, tucking on a straight-away. One minute Ostensen was up, the next he was flat on his back. He lay on the snow for some time before getting up, smashing his remaining pole on a fence, and touring to the line.
Up ahead, the race was tight, with Joensson setting the pace. Defending Tour Champion COlogna was behind Ostensen when he crashed, and lost valuable time going around. He was unable to regain contact and settled for 5th in the heat and 10th on the day.
Joensson crossed first, closely followed by Ivan Alypov (RUS). Teodor Peterson (SWE) and Teichmann took 3rd and 4th, and had to wait to see if their times would be good for a Lucky Loser spot in the finals.
The second semi, featuring Roenning and Petter Northug, was just as tough. Sami Jauhojaervi, the 8th qualifier and coming off a strong performance in yesterday’s pursuit, set the pace early, with the rest of the field falling in line in a single track. Northug moved up on the outside of the climb getting in position for the stretch run. Newell spent most of the heat in 5th, ahead of Kazakh Yevgeniy Koschevoy, who appeared to be struggling with kick more than the others.
Newell stayed in contact however, and slipped in behind Northug for the homestretch. He was able to overtake Jauhojaervi and move into 4th, but was not in position to overtake Northug and advance. Roenning took the victory and both Lucky Losers came from the other heat.
Joensson and Roenning set the pace in the final, with Joensson maintaining the top spot for most of the race. Northug looked somewhat tired, but used a strong double pole ot move up and into contention in the second half of the loop.
A very short steep pitch around a 180 degree turn led into the stadium. Joensson led into the corner, and appeared to have the edge. But Alypov stepped on the Swedes ski, taking him down, and opening a hole for Roenning, who looked was strong down the stretch for the victory.
Alypov celebrated across the line in second, but he was premature as the jury relegated him to last in the heat for overly aggressive skiing. This moved Northug up to second and Teichmann into third.
For a few seconds it looked like the crash would give Northug a victory – and would have added to his already impressive list of finishes, and his Houdini-like ability to pull out a win against all odds. But he didn’t have the extra gear down the stretch. He does hold on to the overall Tour lead however.
In the overall, Northug holds a slim 9.8 second lead over rival Teichmann, with Joensson in third, 20.9 seconds back. Roenning moved up to 4th, but will have trouble holding that position as he is not a strong skater, and the Final CLimb will present a great challenge.
Kershaw slipped to 13th, just under a minute off the lead. Alex Harvey (CAN), who just missed the heats today – .17 seconds out in 32nd, is 29th, and teammate Ivan Babikov, 30th.
Newell climbed to 41st.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.