There was a Norwegian surprise result on the last day of the World Cup Final, and the 2011 World Cup season. No, Petter Northug did not suffer an epic collapse and lose his 1:28 lead in the mini-tour.
Northug was never challenged – the unexpected came in the race for second, where 20-year-old Finn Haagen Krogh (NOR) took down the likes of Dario Cologna (SUI) and Daniel Rickardsson (SWE) – rising from seventh place in the 15km freestyle handicap start.
Krogh, a World Junior bronze medalist in 2010, outsprinted overall World Cup Champion Cologna, edging the veteran Swiss skier by just three tenths of a second.
The young Norwegian posted the fastest time of the day by 23.2 seconds over Maurice Manificat (FRA).
Emil Joensson (SWE) and teammate Rickardsson, starting second and third respectively, nine seconds apart, quickly teamed up, holding position through five kilometers.
But a chase pack had formed up behind. Krough and Manificat teamed up and tracked down Cologna and Italian Giorgio DiCenta. With Manificat driving the pace, by 7.8 kilometers they had caught the Swedes, and Joensson, not the strongest distance skater, quickly fell off the back.
Krogh, Manificat, Cologna, DiCenta and Rickardsson headed out on the final five-kilometer lap together. Manificat and Rickardsson couldn’t manage the pace and began to fade with three k to go.
The three remaining battled into the stadium. DiCenta was done and never a sprinter, would not challenge in the homestretch. The fight came down to Krogh and Cologna, with the Norwegian getting the edge with a lunge at the line.
Canadian Alex Harvey led all North American finishers, placing 11th in the overall. He closed hard on Joensson at the end, but the Swedish sprint champion held Harvey off.
Ivan Babikov, with the 10th fastest time of the day, climbed from 20th to 16th. His teammate, Devon Kershaw, held his 27th spot, but did not have a good race by his usual standards, placing 36th on the day.
The two North American continental cup leaders, Lars Flora (USA) and Graham Nishikawa (CAN) both skied well. Nishikawa was 27th on the day and Flora 30th in the 44 skier field.
Flora’s time was just .6 seconds slower than Kris Freeman’s. Freeman, like Kershaw, held his spot in the handicap start – 24th, good enough to ensure his position in the distance red group.
Kershaw ends the season ranked eighth in the overall World Cup standings. Harvey took 10th and Freeman 27th.