Canmore, Alberta – Italian Pietro Piller Cottrer wouldn’t mind moving his family to Canmore. “I just need to teach them English and we can come,” he said following his 2nd place finish in today’s 15km individual start freestyle. According to Piller Cottrer, Canmore is very similar to his home in the Italian Dolomites. “I have always raced very well here, and have now finished 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th in Canmore.”
Piller Cottrer joined teammate Giorgio DiCenta on the podium. DiCenta won his first ever World Cup race after nearly 200 starts. “I now feel like a complete athlete,” DiCenta told the media, explaining that he has now won at the Olympics, World Championships, and now the World Cup.
The men’s race was extremely close with Piller Cottrer leading at every time check in the first 10km. “After watching the women’s race, Giorgio and I decided to start slowly. We just finished two hard weeks of training in Italy, and didn’t know what to expect.”
But the Italians had very fast skis, and both men were posting very fast times.
Despite the fact that the Canmore course is known as one of the toughest on the World Cup, the top finishers, with one exception, were all at the top of the standings early in the race, perhaps an indication that most skiers started conservatively.
Favorites Dario Cologna (SUI), Marcus Hellner (SWE), Johan Olsson (SWE) and Sergei Shiriaev (RUS), along with the Italians, were clustered within ten seconds of the lead over the first 5 kilometers. But as the race progressed, each time check showed another skier unable to keep pace.
Shiriaev was the first to go, fading slowly at first, and then completely falling apart. In the second 5km loop, he lost 20 seconds to the leaders, before dropping a full minute over the last 5k, slipping to 26th overall. While his fade was the most impressive, he was not alone in failing to match the Italian duo.
Piller Cottrer managed to extend his lead to 7.4 seconds over DiCenta at the 10km mark, but his teammate began to slowly reel him in. As the minutes passed the stadium announcer became more and more excited. Over the next 2k, DiCenta not only erased the gap, he pulled ahead by two seconds. Piller Cottrer stopped the bleeding and was still just over one second back with 2.3 kilometers to go. Piller Cottrer, starting at bib 68 finished first, remaining in the finish corral, good naturedly accepting the teasing of the announcer. “Pietro is nervous now!” famed World Cup announcer Kjell Erik Kristiansen shouted over the PA, while Piller Cottrer grinned and shook his head.
DiCenta, in bib 72 was soon spotted on the final long gradual approach. As he charged to the line, it became clear he would have enough to claim the victory. He slid across the line 5.1 seconds faster than his teammate. The two men embraced as they were swarmed by jubilant coaches and service staff.
Said Piller Cottrer after the race “I am very pleased with my result, and am very happy for Giorgio. I know how much he wanted this first victory.”
The Italians were not worried that they were peaking too early. “We were not expecting to be in very good shape right now – our goal was the top-10 – this was a surprise” said Piller Cottrer, adding “someone had to win…”
The Race for Third
The top two spots may have been decided, and only a handful of skiers on the course, but the race was not over. Toni Livers (SUI) had been hanging in the top-5 all race. He held the lead until Piller Cottrer came in and was sitting in 3rd with only teammate Cologna still a threat on course. As with the race for the win, it wasn’t clear until the final 100 meters what would happen. Cologna used a strong last lap, and a consistent race, to squeeze ahead of Livers by just 3.1 seconds, his best result ever in the 15km freestyle.
“It is a good sign for me to be on the podium in this race,” he said. “It shows I am in very good form.” Like the Italians his plan was to start slowly, but again, like the Italians, he had fast skis and fast splits from the start.
Livers just missed out on his 2nd career World Cup podium and posted his best result since winning this same event in Davos in 2007. All four of his 4 top-10 World Cup finishes have been in the 15km skate.
His position was not as secure as expected. While the crowd anxiously awaited Cologna, Axel Teichmann (GER) hammered across the line, stunning Kjell Erik in the announcers booth as he moved into 4th. After Cologna bumped Livers, Teichmann was still solidly in the top-5.
And why is this so impressive for an athlete who is a regular at the top of the results sheet?
Teichmann had fallen off the radar as a potential factor in the race by the halfway mark. He always starts very slowly, and following that pattern was in 26th nearly 30 seconds back at 5km. But over the course of the next loop he did not move up much – at 10km he was 17th, 41 seconds down on Piller Cottrer. With 2.3 kilometers to go, he was still a full 20 seconds behind Livers in 10th. When all was said and done, he stood gasping at the finish, just 7.4 seconds out of 4th.
The German head coach Jochan Behle was very pleased with Teichmann’s race. “It is 10 days before the Olympics, and this was his 1st race since the Tour de Ski, so it was important to have these races here and get in the rhythm.” He added that the result was fine, but not the goal for the day.
Behle also noted that Teichmann prefers gradual terrain to the steep climbs of Canmore. The Whistler Olympic courses are well suited to his strengths.
Italy – Four in the Top-13
Italy had the best day of any nation, placing four in the top-13, no doubt due in part to the the “rockets” (in the words of Piller Cottrer) that the service staff prepared for the skiers.
Thomas Moriggl finished 9th and Valerio Checchi 13th. Chechhi reaped the benefits of Piller Cottrer’s strong performance, catching a ride for 3.5km after being caught by his teammate.
Babikov 10th, Freeman 20th
Ivan Babikov (CAN) led the North American with a solid 10th place finish. Babikov, an excellent climber, favors the challenges of the brutal Canmore course. His teammate, Devon Kershaw, predicted a podium finish for him today. It wasn’t to be but he still turned in one of his best results so far this season.
“My legs felt a little bit heavy today, but I am exactly where I want to be one week away from the Olympics,” said Babikov. “We have been doing a lot of training so I am a little tired, but we will be ready for the Games and I’m looking forward to it.”
Kris Freeman led the US in 20th place. The 15km is by far his strongest race, and will be his best chance for a medal at the Olympics.
USST Coah Matt Whitcomb was not overly concerned with Freeman’s performance. “Kris didn’t have anything when he tried to put the hammer down today. But the good news is that he didn’t die on the last lap. He skied a consistent race.”
Freeman was disappointed in his race, but short of a podium, little will please the fiercely competitive American star. He finished the day 1:09 behind winner Piller Cottrer.
George Grey also had a solid race. Grey has been rounding into form in recent weeks, and took 17th today. A good result, and likely good for a top-30 in a full World Cup field – the A-team Norwegians and French were both absent.
Matt Liebsch finished just inside the points, taking 29th, good for 34.22 FIS points – easily his best performance, and an important result for his future.
Junior Cracks the top-10
Petr Sedov, the Russian force of nature who won 20km pursuit at World Juniors, showed he is a legitimate threat on the World Cup, placing an impressive 8th in his pre-Olympic warm-up. Sedov, who has excellent technique according to US coach Matt Whitcomb, skied a smart race, starting conservatively and accelerating in the 2nd loop. Just 19, he will compete for Russia in Vancouver.
Another Beautiful Day
The weather was perfect, with sunny skies and temperatures rising into the 30’s. Given the success of the Italians and Swiss service teams, there was clearly room to gain an advantage with the wax, but overall it was not challenging in that respect.
Racing continues tomorrow with a classic sprint. Check back later for a complete preview as well as additional reports on today’s races.
Nat Herz contributed reporting.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.