Elbows, crashes, spills and thrills – that’s an average World Cup freestyle Team Sprint event in Dusseldorf, Germany, and the action on Sunday was no different.
Sweden’s top pairing of Jesper Modin and Teodor Peterson emerged from close-quarters racing to take the top step of the podium, narrowly edging out Russia I, Nikita Kruikov and Alexey Petukhov. After taking gold and bronze in the sprint Saturday, Ola Vigen Hattestad and Paal Golberg of Norway I had to settle for the bronze medal on Sunday.
From the gun of the first men’s semi-final, it was clear that there were too many teams and not enough snow to go around. Federico Pellegrino of Italy I broke his pole almost instantly in the chaos, as 14 teams fought for space on the narrow course.
With the teams in front skiing controlled and at a slow pace, Mt. Dusseldorf became a bottle-neck, as the men jostled for position up the only hill. At the third exchange, Johann Kjoelstad of Norway II broke a pole in a collision with the Swiss, dropping one of the favorites to the back of the field.
As the laps ticked by, first the Russians, then Finland II increased the pace, finally forcing the field apart. On the second last lap, all the buzz was about Canada’s Drew Goldsack, who attacked hard over the top of Mt. Dusseldorf, jumping into third behind the Swedes. Goldsack then made a decisive move around the tight final corner to pull the Canadians into second behind the Kruikov of Russia I.
With the announcer getting agitated over the state of the two German teams (“Wo ist Wenzl, Wo ist Heun?”) as the group headed out on the final lap, Wenzl found something for the home-town Germans to cheer about, moving up the field past Canadian Len Valjas into second.
But Swiss skier Eligius Tamborino attacked hard, opening a gap back to Wenzl as well as the Russian Petukhov.
With the Swiss free and clear of the traffic, Wenzl came hard into the finish, Petukhov tight on his heels. The German skier was making lots of movement, not choosing a lane until the last moment, and made contact with the Russian, who fell. Wenzl crossed the line second, while the fading Valjas made some quick movements to avoid the fallen Petukhov, and barely held off Erik Brandsdal of Norway II in a photo finish to bring the Canadians to third.
The second semi-final featured what many considered to be the top two pairs of the day, as Norway I (Golberg/Hattestad) and Sweden I (Modin/Peterson) faced off.
Both Modin and Golberg led out very slowly, and all 14 teams were tightly packed.
While there were plenty of elbows thrown, poles stepped on, and skis clipped, there was no major action until just before the third exchange, when Hattestad tripped over his Scandinavian rival Peterson’s pole in the exchange zone, falling before he tagged Golberg. It appeared that the top top Norwegian team was going to be in trouble, but with the pace still slow, Golberg had no problem making contact with the pack.
By the final lap, the pace had finally jumped, with the two Swedish teams up front skiing strong but controlling the race, until Finland I (Matthias Strandvall and Martti Jylhae) broke through, followed closely by Germany II (Tim Tscharnke and Sebastien Eisenlauer). Coming around the final corner, Austria I (Harald Wurm/Bernhard Tritscher) jumped into the mix as well.
Peterson managed to secure the win for Sweden I, while Jyhlae edged out Tritcher for second place. Hattestad managed to finish fourth, 0.8 seconds back of the Swedes.
However, the most exciting part of the heat came when Kazahk Denis Volotka tripped up on the run down to the finish and caused a pile-up, claiming no less than four victims, including the French, Russia II, and the Czechs.
Just minutes before the start of the final, the jury announced that Germany I had been disqualified due to Wenzl’s contact with Petukhov, and the Russia I was granted a spot in the final. With the Germans disqualified, the Canadians moved up to an automatic qualifying position, and Norway II, Finland II, and Sweden II all received places in the final.
The Russians having taken the German’s place, and the memories of the recent pile-up as well as the aggressive skiing displayed last year in the final, the men appeared quite cautious as they headed out on their first lap of the final.
The pace could definitely be called slow and careful, as teams tried to find any extra little bit of space. The slow speed of the race resulted in lots of elbow-bumping, but nothing more major for the first four laps, until Sweden I (Modin) jumped to the front on his final loop around the course, snapping the pack out of its level-one pace.
Norway I (Golberg) was the only one who was able to shadow Modin, and the two charged up Mt. Dusseldorf together, the Norwegian taking control over the top. The two built a sizeable lead, splitting the pack apart with their pace into the exchange.
Almost immediately, it became clear that their respective anchors, Hattestad and Peterson were not going to try and ski away on the fast two-lap course, and the pack closed up right away.
Petukhov was the first to attack, coming from the very back of the group all the way to the front, pulling Canadian Valjas with him. The bearded Russian then paused briefly before pressing the attack again, leaving the Swedes and Norwegians struggling to respond. Only Peterson was able to hang on as they headed for the finish line.
With Petukhov running out of steam, Petersen managed to pass him and hit the line first to grab the gold for the Swedes. Despite his massive effort, Petukhov settled for silver, 0.2 behind, while Hattestad couldn’t find the same closing speed that brought him to victory the previous day, ending up third 0.7 back.
Finland I finished 4th, 0.9 seconds behind, while Canada held off Austria I for 5th place, +4.0 and +4.4 seconds back of the Swedes respectively.
It may seem surprising because the big Swede has had so many sprint final appearances, but the victory on Sunday was the first of Jesper Modin’s career.
“It was a great race,” Modin said in a post-race interview.
“Team sprint is always a bit challenging with so many racers but it was fun here with all the spectators that cheered for us.”
For Norwegian Paal Golberg, the bronze medal was his second in two days, but he seemed disappointed when FasterSkier caught up with him following the race.
“I just tried to give everything on that last lap, and it turned out okay,” he said.
Golberg also mentioned that the slow pace during the final was deliberate, as he was saving himself for the last lap.
“I just didn’t use as much power on the first couple of laps,” he said.
“But the legs were still stiff on the last lap.”
Dusseldorf is well-known for rough and tumble racing, and Golberg said that the heavy traffic played a factor in the race.
“It was difficult to position myself in the field with so many people,” said Golberg.
His sentiments were echoed by quite a few people, including German Tim Tscharnke, who failed to advance from his semi-final.
“There was a little bit too much traffic for the loop,” said Tscharnke, who was part of the German pairing who won a silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics Games in Vancouver.
“In Dusseldorf, it is more about show than cross-country skiing.”