On his way to the line for what he thought would be a second-place finish in Friday’s men’s 10k classic mass start, Andy Newell (USST) came across a surprising sight: Canadian skier Ivan Babikov skiing backwards in a parallel lane.
Babikov had missed the sign where the finish split off from the lap lane, and was backtracking. In the process, Newell cruised by to take the victory, with Lars Flora (APU) and Torin Koos (USST) right on his heels.
“I count that as a win by default, I guess,” Newell said.
Babikov cut across some v-boards on his way back to the finish lane, and initially, the race’s technical delegate, Jack Jeffery, said that he would be disqualified.
But that decision ultimately lay with the jury, which deemed Babikov to have suffered enough already. Since he gained no advantage from his detour, they let Babikov hold on to his fifth-place finish. And with the bonus seconds he collected along the way, the Canadian still sits in third in the SuperTour Finals overall, just over 15 seconds behind Newell.
The Canadian had some choice words for the race organizers afterwards, complaining that there should have been someone at the intersection to direct him. The finish, however, was clearly marked with signs—and that’s not unusual, according to U.S. Ski Team coach Matt Whitcomb.
“They wouldn’t necessarily have a course marshal there at a World Cup,” Whitcomb said. “It’s the skier’s responsibility to know which way to go.”
The snafu obscured what was otherwise an exciting race from the gun.
With $250 and a 15-second bonus on the line for the first person to the 1-kilometer mark, the field was strung out from the gun.
Garrott Kuzzy (USST) just held off a charging Simi Hamilton (SVSEF) and Newell for the cash—and promptly went backwards.
“It’s Spring Series—it’s all about having fun, and I wanted to put on a good show for the crowd and maybe bring home a couple of bucks,” he said. “I didn’t expect those guys to turn it on as much as they did.”
The three sprinters had put a gap on the field, but as soon as they crossed the line, the distance skiers took over. From then on, it was all Babikov.
By the four kilometer mark—the next time the skiers came through the stadium—the Canadian was alone. He said that he’d been feeling sick earlier this week, but showed little sign of that Friday.
Babikov skied the rest of the race by himself, eating up the two bonus sprints at the top of the course to take thirty seconds off his total time. He was well clear of the pack until the episode at the finish.
Behind, Newell said that his goal was to take as many of the mid-race sprints as possible—without blowing himself up. He made the most of his opportunities, snagging bonuses in all four and finishing with thirty seconds worth of reductions in total.
“It was a fun race,” he said. “I’ve never done anything like that, with so many primes [mid-race sprints].”
Newell skied most of the race in a pack with Koos, Flora, and Brent McMurtry, another Canadian, who paid a visit to the hurt locker each time the group approached one up the sprints.
“It was pretty bizarre,” he said. “I didn’t have much snap, and guys would…open up a hole climbing up to the top of the hill, and then it slowed back down and regrouped—each time kind of the same.”
On the last lap, though, Newell put in a hard effort to keep Babikov from blowing things apart, and it appeared to work—the deficit didn’t grow much during the second half of the race.
While Newell, Flora, and Koos were the first three across the line, in that order, the time bonuses had a big impact on the overall standings.
After the adjustments, Newell is still first, and will ski in the yellow leader’s bib tomorrow. But Flora wasn’t a factor in any of the sprints, so instead of being in second, just 0.6 seconds behind Newell, he’s all the way back in fourth, more than thirty seconds down.
Flora said he had fun with the new format and said that the mid-race bonuses made things interesting. But he added that he felt the mini-tour is tilted towards the sprinters.
“Either today or Sunday would have been nice to see a longer distance race,” he said. “I think it’s important to have stuff that kind of mimics World Cup skiing–7.5 k on Sunday and 10 k today, I don’t really see that.”
With twenty bonus seconds of his own, Koos climbs to second, with Babikov sitting in third for tomorrow’s classic sprint. The Canadian also will have the polka-dot bib as the hill-climbing leader.
Babikov’s mistake cost him the $250 winner’s check, and could have cost him much more, as the prize for the overall title of the mini-tour is $1,500.
But just about everyone here said that they were glad to see Babikov wasn’t disqualified, as his presence here elevates the level of competition, and—just as importantly—keeps the points penalty low.
“It’s always a bummer when stuff like that happens,” Newell said. “But I guess you’ve got to be on your toes, too.”
SuperTour Finals Men’s Overall Standings:
1. Andy Newell (USST): 25:58.2
2. Torin Koos (USST), +11.6
3. Ivan Babikov (Canadian Ski Team), +17.3
4. Lars Flora (APU), +30.6
5. Brent McMurtry (Canadian Ski Team), +32.5
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.