In a men’s field missing several top guns, including Tour de Ski winner Dario Cologna (SUI) and runner-up Petter Northug (NOR), the men’s skate sprint Saturday in Liberec, Czech Republic was awash with new faces.
But at the end of the day, it was a very familiar one standing atop the podium.
Ola Vigen Hattestad (NOR) crushed the men’s final by a full second, but if you just looked at the results sheet, it wouldn’t tell the full story.
At the midway point in the final, it was young Italian Federico Pellegrino, who was in control, and with 400 meters left to go, he made a charge. The field was stretched, with veteran Jesper Modin (SWE) popped off the back, and looking gassed, while only Hattestad was truly able to respond.
Hattestad waited until the Italian had ran out of steam, and then turned on the jets, leaving Pellegrino unable to respond. While Hattestad has an impressive 19 World Cup podiums to his credit, including ten wins, Pellegrino’s second place was the more impressive accomplishment. The Italian has only five World Cup starts in his career, and Saturday was his first podium.
The third man on the podium, Dusan Kozisek (CZE) was also on the podium for the first time in his career. Kozisek, a true home town boy from Liberec, skied well all day, and improved on his previous personal best this season of 14th.
The hard, icy, and fast conditions were dangerous – there were several broken poles on the day, and the slick downhills resulted in a few spills.
The North American contingent was led by Andy Newell, who qualified 11th, and then drew a tough quarter-final with top qualifier Robin Bryntesson (SWE), and Hattestad.
Newell got tangled up early on, putting him in a bit of a whole, but he battled back, getting into a good position nearing the final straight. As the tightly bunched pack approached the finish line, Josef Wenzl (GER) put on a massive burst of speed, blowing by several skiers, including Newell, who ended up finishing third.
Crossing the line third ended the day for Newell, as his time was not fast enough to advance him as a ‘lucky loser’. As a result, he finished 13th.
“He feels like he doesn’t quite have the form right now,” said United States Ski Team (USST) Head Coach Chris Grover. “He just didn’t have the finishing speed.”
As there are no other American male skiers on the World Cup at the moment, Newell now heads back to the US to try to recapture his form, and will not be back in Europe until the World Cup in Drammen, Norway, just before World Championships.
The only Canadian male on the circuit is Len Valjas, who failed to qualify, finishing 42nd.