After Petr Sedov’s domination of the junior 20k pursuit here yesterday, it seemed unlikely that anyone would be able to outdo that performance in the 30k U-23 version today.
Enter Paul Constantin Pepene of Romania.
As a dense, 30-skier group made its way up the course’s big climb on its sixth of eight laps, Pepene put in a huge acceleration—the biggest that second-place Ole Marius Bach said he had ever seen.
Using a quirky skate technique–-which he said was ingrained by learning to ski on Romania’s poorly-groomed trails—Pepene was able to fend off a furiously-chasing pack led by Andreas Katz (GER) and Tad Elliot.
He built up a big lead over the next two laps, crossing the finish line 25 seconds in front of Ole Marius Bach (NOR) and Katz despite a lengthy victory celebration—and he looked like he could have skated another eight laps.
Elliot found himself in the mix after a relatively slow and tactical start to the race. A professional mountain biker during the off season, Elliot prefers skating, so he was happy to see a brief snow squall slowing down the leaders during the classic leg–he actually came into the stadium for the transition leading the race.
For the first two 3.75k skate loops, Elliot sat at the front, and was in good position to respond when Pepene made his move. He went with Katz and a few others to try to close the gap, but the Romanian was too strong, and the effort proved to be too much for Elliot to absorb, as he faded to 21st.
Noah Hoffman also looked to be on course for a strong day, skiing at the front during the third of four classic laps. He said the didn’t wasn’t trying to push the pace, but that with such a touchy pack behind him—Hoffman said the classic leg was like “bumper cars” with everyone jockeying for position—he didn’t want to give up his place at the front. He said he wasn’t sure what happened during the skate leg, or where he lost contact with the lead group, but he was well behind by the middle of the first skate lap.
Two Canadians, Frederic Touchette and Graeme Killick, rounded out a strong day for their country by finishing sixth and seventh, following Brittany Webster’s eighth place in the women’s race. Killick said that he made the lead chase group that formed behind Pepene, but that he was slowed by cramps over the last two laps. Touchette edged him in a sprint at the line.
Both of the other Canadian starters made the top-20—Kevin Sandau and Len Valjas were 13th and 16th, respectively.
Peter Kling and Reese Hanneman of the U.S. battled hard to stay ahead of Pepene on their seventh of eight laps. It appeared that they had succeeded, as they still had a 30-second gap on him coming through the stadium to head out on their final loop, but officials pulled the racers anyway.
Pepene’s win was the second Romanian podium in as many days. He said that his country had been helped by a recent infusion of money into their ski federation ahead of the European Youth Olympics that will be held their in 2013, and that there that there’s a strong group of juniors in the
“I believe the world will hear of us,” Pepene said in the press conference, still wrapped in the Romanian flag he’d donned at the finish.
Like Sedov, Pepene is headed to Whistler to compete in the 2010 Winter Olympics, where he said his goal is a top-30.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.