In the loaded field that is men’s World Cup sprint racing, advancing to the finals with any consistency is no mean feat, making Emil Joensson’s (SWE) back-to-back sprint victories that much more impressive.
Joensson used a slick move on the second lap of the two loop Davos sprint course to move into the lead, and his breathtaking finishing speed to seal the deal in the final.
Alexei Petukhov (RUS) held off Dario Cologna (SUI), rounding out the podium.
Every week the sprint field seems to get deeper, and today, with the likes of John Kristian Dahl (NOR) (1st and 7th in two previous sprints this year) and Oystein Pettersen (NOR) (3rd in both 2011 sprint starts) on the outside looking in for the heats, it has never been harder to crack the top-six.
The winner of the 2010 Sprint Cup, Joensson was the only man to win consecutive sprints last year, taking four in a row, if you give him a pass on his DNS in Rybinsk, Russia.
This season he is clearly firing on all cylinders, showing both speed and endurance to follow his victory in Dusseldorf a week ago with one in Davos.
“It was fun to ski today,” Joensson said after the race. “I felt strong and the crowd was great.”
The new Davos sprint course, measured at 1.4km, featured an unusual two-loop format. With a tight corner out of the stadium, and into the big climb, positioning early on was crucial. And with another hard corner into the stadium, and a short fast, homestretch, there wasn’t much time to make up ground at the end.
In the final, in addition to Petukhov and Cologna, Joensson matched up against, Italians Fulvio Scola and Federico Pellegrino and Russian Nikolay Morilov.
Scola captured his first World Cup podium in Dusseldrof, while today, Pellegrino turned in the fasted qualifying time by over a second.
Joensson got off the line in hurry, as is his wont, but lost position as the race left the stadium. In the course of twenty meters, he dropped from second to last in the heat.
Petukhov drove a fast pace from the start, and kept the pressure on up the first hill. To all appearances, he was trying to blow the race apart.
Relaxed at the back, Joensson bided his time on the descent, before casually slipping by Morilov and Pellegrino on the way into the stadium.
Next to go was Scola, as Joensson powered by on the outside of the flat. Petukhov continued to lead, looking over his shoulder to locate Cologna and Joensson as they headed out for the second loop.
Joensson slotted in third, just behind Cologna, was in danger of being passed by the Italians, when he cut hard to the inside, slipping by Cologna, and when Petukhov gave him a few inches on the inside of the turn, the Swede took it, and charged to the front, gaining a lead he would not relinquish.
Scola followed Joensson thorough the hole, briefly moving into second, but Petukhov and Cologna took it back on the big climb, and the podium was set.
Throughout the day, Joensson never seem fazed, even when he was buried toward the back of the heat.
In the semis, after Petukhov made a brilliant move through the stadium to climb from last to first, Joensson found himself in 5th. Dropping into the stadium for the final time, he was still in fourth, but somehow found room to squeeze by Cologna on the last corner before eating up Morilov and Petukhov for a photo finish with the latter.
In each of his heats, Joensson demonstrated a level of acceleration in the final 50 meters that makes it easy to dub him the fastest man on cross-country skis at this point in time.
Cologna, who missed out on the podium in Saturday’s distance race, finally got his first World Cup top-3 in front of the home fans.
His performance allowed him to move into the overall World Cup lead, ahead of Alexander Legkov (RUS), who did not race the sprint.
The 20-year-old Pellegrino was the surprise of the day, starting with his top qualification time, and ending with his finals appearance.
His 6th place finish was by far his best, and came in just his fourth World Cup start. A bronze medalist at the 2010 World Junior Championships, Pellegrino is strongest in freestyle sprints, and should have a good chance of representing Italy at the World Championships.
Petter Northug (NOR) qualified in 16th, but was not competitive in the quarterfinals, and placed 28th on the day.
The heats featured some fresh faces, including Bernhard Tritscher (AUT) who now has back-to-back top-30’s this season after starting only one World Cup race prior.
His teammate Harald Wurm made his first appearance in the heats this season, while French biathlete Alexis Boeuf cracked the top-20 in his first cross-country World Cup. The 24-year-old does have two World Cup podium finishes in biathlon.
Russian sprinter Anton Gafarov also cracked the top-30 for the first time this season, and home team skier Joeri Kindschi just missed a career-best by one place with his 21st.
World Cup action continues next weekend in La Clusaz, France with a distance relay and a 15/30km freestyle mass start.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.