Despite cold rain pelting down on the city, Dusseldorf, Germany, was hopping Saturday afternoon.
And rightly so, as even without Swedish sprint star Emil Joensson taking part, the best of the World Cup sprinters were on hand to tackle the rocket-fast course.
The venue consisted of roughly 1900 meters of snow with an icy glaze on top. While the women did just one lap, the men were primed to race two loops of the narrow band of snow along the Rhine River, and the close quarters combined with a lack of hills to separate the men from the boys virtually guaranteed contact.
However, Norwegian Ola Vigen Hattestad rose above the elbows and broken ski poles to grab the top step of the podium in a final.
Alexei Petukhov (RUS) crossed the line second, while Hattestad’s team mate and surprise top qualifier on the day, Paal Golberg picked up the bronze medal.
Anssi Pentsinen (FIN), Teodor Petersen (SWE) winner of the classic sprint last weekend in Kuusamo, and Federico Pellegrino (ITA) rounded out the extremely competitive final.
After Petersen broke his pole shortly after the start, dropping him to the back, most of the first lap was spend jockeying for position, and Pellegrino figured prominently.
However,entering the second lap, Petukhov headed to the front of the group, hitting the pace hard. By the time the Russian topped Mt. Dusseldorf, he had built a small lead. However, even small leads were proving difficult to close on such a fast day, and Petukohov looked in control.
But as he rounded the final bend and headed for the finish line, both Hattestad and Golberg appeared to find an extra gear. The two Norwegians closed the gap around the corner, and it turned into a three-way drag for the finish line.
Hattestad passed the Russian clearly by the line for the win, but Petukhov narrowly managed to withstand a strong late lunge by Golberg. The 21 year old Norwegian picked up the second bronze medal of his World Cup career Saturday, it coming in just his 10th start at the highest level.
But for the sprint specialist Hattestad, who fell in Kuusamo ruining his chances, the victory was sweet.
“It was just fantastic,” he said in an interview with FasterSkier.
“My skis were really amazing, and I really enjoyed the ski today.”
Of the lead that Petukhov built on the final lap, Hattestad described it as a strategy to avoid the rough and tumble nature of sprint racing.
“I gave him one meter because I was scared he would cut that last curve,” the Norwegian said.
“I felt strong the whole way, so it was just my tactic give him one meter.”
For Hattestad, the goal all day was to stay out of traffic in order to give himself the best chance at moving on.
“This year I was trying to be in front as much as possible, and so there are less things that could happen,” he explained.
While the Norwegians pulled off two medals, it is the Swiss men who were turning heads on the course. After Eligius Tamborino qualified second, he cruised to victory in his quarter final. He was joined by team mates Joeri Kindschi and Martin Jaeger also advanced through to the semi finals.
All three ended up in the second semi-final, and it seemed like a good bet one would make it through to the final. However, Jaeger broke his poll right out of the start gate, Kindschi couldn’t pace, and Tamborino never hit the stride that earned him his second qualification spot.
Just two North Americans qualified on the day – Andy Newell in 14th, followed closely by Devon Kershaw in 15th. Both were eliminated in the quarter-finals.
Newell tangled with a Norwegian, and broke his pole before finding himself on the wrong end of a lunge, finishing third. Kershaw also lost out in a tight three-way battle for one spot, finishing fourth in his heat.
You can read more about Newell’s and Kershaw’s races, as well as the rest of the North American men here.