Cologna, Kershaw Hold Position, Dyrhaug Scraps for Third

Topher SabotMarch 18, 201216
Dario Cologna (SUI) heads up the Mördarbacken during the men's 15km freestyle pursuit.

All 2012 FIS World Cup Finals coverage is brought to you through the generous support of Fischer Sports USA, proud sponsors of Kikkan Randall, 2012 overall Sprint Cup Champion.

FALUN, Sweden – Sometimes boring is good, and today, at the Lugnet Rikkskidstadion, both Darion Cologna (SUI) and Devon Kershaw (CAN) were happy to avoid any excitement in the 15km freestyle event.

Cologna started the final stage of the World Cup Finals mini-tour, and the last race of the 2012 season, with a 36 second lead on Canadian Lenny Valjas and another 10 seconds on Kershaw.

Despite having wrapped up the overall World Cup title weeks ago, and winning his third consecutive Tour de Ski, Cologna is hardly unbeatable.

He has but together an amazing run of podium finishes in distance races this season, but a number of different men have relegated him to second or third at times.

But Cologna has been in top form of late—so much so that 46 seconds could just as easily be a year.

Devon Kershaw (CAN) pulled his teammate Lenny Valjas early before going it alone on a solo mission.

If anyone had a chance to track down the Swiss star, it was Kershaw, second in the overall rankings this season, and a much-improved skater.

Valjas shocked the ski world with his third place result in the 15km classic on Saturday, but there was little hope he could hang with his teammate when Kershaw inevitably tracked him down, and even less of getting Cologna.

Cologna has not been 46 seconds behind a race winner since the 30k individual in Davos back at the beginning of December, so while World Cup cross-country skiers are fond of saying “anything can happen,” sometimes it really just can’t

While catching Cologna may have been a near impossibility, Kershaw put himself in position to take advantage of an epic blowup or crash, gaining some time here, losing a few seconds there, but never closer than 35 or farther back than 51.

But Kershaw had more pressing concerns than the exact size of the gap up to Cologna.

Out on his own, he said he was “just focused purely and solely on the technique and tried to ski as big as possible—big glide big power.”

By the 2.5k mark, two strong chase packs had formed up, the first led by Martin Johnsrud Sundby (NOR) and consisting of Jean Marc Gaillard (FRA), Evgeniy Belov (RUS), Alex Harvey (CAN), and Rolan Clara (ITA), a formidable a group of skaters to say the least.

The men had all started within 13 seconds of each other, coming together quickly in an effort to reach the podium.

While Kershaw was reeling in Valjas, the chase pack caught Dyrhaug before the end of the first lap, and the Norwegian immediately fell into line, leaving just classic specialist Eldar Roenning between the group and the podium.

Like Valjas, Roenning was expected to drop back through the field, but fought valiantly, though futilely. He too was caught, eaten up by the hard charging chase group on the gradual terrain at the beginning of the 5km loop.

Unlike Dyrhaug, however, Roenning was quickly spit out the back, unable to match the pace of the chasers in the wet and dirty spring snow.

The morning had dawned gray and somewhat dreary in Falun, with evidence of light rain overnight. Temperatures never caught a glimpse of the freezing mark so the course was soft and slushy at daybreak.

As they did for Friday’s prologue, the Jury decided to salt the course, a move that help the situation, but only so much.

One can only fight mother nature so much, and as the day warmed, the track softened in many places despite the salt.

Downhill corners turned to deep corn snow, and salt will not help with puddles and run-off.

The firmest part of the course was Mördarbacken. On the first lap Kershaw and Valjas came through together, the former having closed the ten-second gap quickly.

But on the lesser pitches at the beginning of the second lap, Valjas had to let his teammate go.

Devon Kershaw (CAN) gets splits and encouragement from Canadian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth.

“Len did a good job hanging in there, but knew his limits,” Canadian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth told FasterSkier. “And Devon was skiing well, keeping pace with Dario.”

Valjas held off the chasers until the first pitch of Mördarbacken the second time aroundfinally succumbing as the grade increased.

A good portion of the reported 10,000 fans lined the lengthy hill, forming a walled corridor of noise and color.

The loudest cheers were reserved for the home skiers in white, blue and yellow, but in classic Scandinavian fashion, every skier who made the trek received cacophony of support, replete with flag waving and cowbell ringing.

Clara was now leading the chase pack as it powered by Valjas, and another man had impressively joined the trackers—Petr Sedov (RUS) had bridged up from the second group of hunters, leaving the likes of Marcus Hellner (SWE), Sjur Roethe (NOR) and Maxim Vylegzhanin (RUS) behind.

Meanwhile, up at the front, Cologna went about his business with machine-like efficiency, every stride smooth and powerful devoid of wasted motions.

By this point in the race, it was clear that Kershaw would not get the miracle he needed to take the victory, but was moving through the course with a strength and confidence that signaled bad news for the pack behind.

According to Wadsworth, Kershaw was losing some time on the steeper sections of Mördarbacken, but quickly made that back on the flats over the top into the descent.

“That was part of the strategy,” Wadsworth said. “Just control it and ski steady.”

Despite Wadsworth’s post-race confidence, the chasers did manage to close within just over 20 seconds.

Sundby, who had been pushing the pace hard said “we thought he was getting tired and we could catch up with him,” but unspoken disagreement in the pack was their undoing.

“There is always someone who is not so eager to push the speed and somebody who wants to push the speed,” Sundby explained. “So the dynamics were not too great.”

One of those with no incentive to pull was Harvey.

With his teammate up ahead in second, he wasn’t going to lead the charge.

The plan, Harvey said, was to “just stay in the group and then fight for position there, but not fight for any time ahead.”

“The pack starts to chew time,” Wadsworth said. “It is funny how it works…they just feed of each other and everybody is pushing. So we knew it was going to be dangerous for sure.”

When the group failed to close any further, the pace relaxed somewhat Harvey said, but with Marcus Hellner leading a group behind, there was not much room to back off further.

Martin Sundby (NOR) and Alex Harvey (CAN).

Sundby was disappointed to see the chase fail.

“I went for second place, for sure, but Devon was far too strong ahead of us. He did a great job,” the Norwegian said.

With five kilometers to go now the, the stage was now set for the final act—of the race, the World Cup Finals, and the entire season.

Cologna and Kershaw kept their respective distances and the chasers remained grouped behind until reaching the Mördarbacken for the final time.

With just the single big climb remaining, there was little doubt that someone would attack.

That person was Clara, coming off a strong season in which he earned three of his four career World Cup podiums.

The 30-year-old hit the afterburners halfway up the ascent, and only Belov could respond.

The move was exactly what the crowd had been hoping for. After nearly 14 kilometers of hard racing, the game was truly afoot and the spectators roared their approval.

On most courses, the gap the Italian created would have been enough to secure the final podium spot for one of the two men.

Just the day before, however, Cologna and Roenning held a lead down toward the stadium, only to get overtaken by the chasers on the seemingly endless gradual downhill on the backstretch.

Today played out nearly identically, with the pack of Harvey, Sundby, Dyrhaug and Sedov quickly closing the nearly 10-second gap.

The six skiers rounded the final turn and accelerated toward the last uphill pitch to the finish.

Dyrhaug was confident in his kick and still had his eyes set on the bronze.

The sprint to the line was fast and furious as such affairs are wont to be.

The two men who had risked it all with the break left with nothing to show for their efforts, dropping to the back of the group at the end.

It was none other than Dyrhaug who came through to take third, his first World Cup podium of his career.

“I have been in very good shape for a long time,” said Dyrhaug who finished fourth in both the other two World Cup Finals races in Falun. “I wanted this podium so much.”

Dyrhaug said he wasn’t worried when Belov and Clara broke, counting on the descent to bring them back.

“This was the last chance [for a podium this year], and I am so so so happy,” Dyrhaug said. “I don’t know what to say.”

Cologna celebrates the victory and a great season.

Cologna, pumping his arms in celebration, had crossed the line 40 seconds earlier, wrapping up a stellar season in which he held off a challenge by Petter Northug in the Tour de Ski, and captured his third overall World Cup title.

He said the day was good for him, but the victory did not come easily despite all appearances.

“I kept my pace but it was not easy as I was skiing alone the whole time,” Cologna said.

Harvey came across in 6th, ahead of only Belov and Clara in the group.

“Because I had to start so hard, I had no sprint at the end,” Harvey said. “I was in pain the whole race, just fighting the whole time, so I got passed.”

Kershaw attributed much of his victory to the focus he has put on his skating over the last several years.

“I think today is the biggest testament to the work that I’ve done,” he said. “I can’t believe it, a second in the World Cup Final it is a perfect way to end a season.”

Complete Results

Matt Voisin contributed reporting.

Topher Sabot

Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.

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  • davord

    March 18, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    Sedov skied an unbelievably smart race. Tactically he was pulling a Northug. He let Hellner, Roethe and Vylegzhanin do the work and drag him close to the first chase group, and when he saw Hellner wasn’t quite up to it today, he pounced and slowly but surely gained on the Harvey group and eventually caught them, then he just sat there and drafted. Had he placed himself a bit better in the back stretch, he would have gotten 3rd place, no doubt about it, but the stage win and ‘rookie of the year’ is still impressive. What was the deal with Kershaw and Valjas not knowing which side or which lanes to take on certain parts of the course?? They were going back and forth, seemingly unsure where to go. Were they warned or given a yellow card for that or not? Obviously no ill intent, but it was strange to see this happen, on more than one occasion.

  • Strider2

    March 18, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Kershaw and Valjas were not confused, they were obviously cutting corners to save time. Pretty bizarre, world class athletes should know better. I would be very surprised if they did not receive a verbal or written warning, because it definitely saved them time.
    Never seen Sedov sprint like Northug so I’m not sure that comparison is valid. Dyrhaug, on the other hand, must have taken a tactics class from Northug, in addition to being a better sprinter than the rest.

  • davord

    March 18, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    Strider, it’s not so much sprinting like Northug, it was the way he skied the whole race. He obviously doesn’t have the Northug finishing kick, but he skied tactically very well. He started 12th, got caught by the Hellner trio, drafted behind them for the first couple of k, after resting, he went past them and gradually crept closer to the next group, and did the exact same thing when he caught them. He actually outsprinted Harvey and everybody else but the two Norwegians, earning himself the stage win (time wise) in the process. Like I said in my previous post, it seemed like he didn’t quite place himself in the firing line for the finishing stretch, if he had, I am willing to bet he nabs 3rd. He seemed a bit ticked at the end in not doing so. Dyrhaug is a deserved podium finisher today. It’s his 1st individual podium and he’s steadily improved this year, so credit to him for a great race as well!

    I don’t know why, but seeing the nice gap Lenny had, I thought he had a decent chance at staying in 3rd, but the recent races probably took a toll. What’s scary is that he is literally improving each race he enters. I am sure he’ll be contending in distance races as well in the future.

  • Lars

    March 18, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    Canada is getting a really scary relay team.

    I don`t think Kershaw and Valjas actually broke any rules as far as i saa they never broke the lane barriers, and i think the reason they chose to ski so unorthodoxly was to find the best land based on the quality of the snow.

  • davord

    March 19, 2012 at 6:35 am

    Lars, you are not supposed to be changing lanes like that, unless you are Northug, and you go out of the designated track to pass people and you are only given a warning while the other person(s) get slapped with a 7 minute penalty. “Find the best land based on the quality of the snow.” You are supposed to stay in the designated track, it doesn’t matter what the snow conditions are elsewhere on the course. There is a reason why there are ‘barriers’ out on the course. You just have to deal with the quality of snow, just like everyon else.

  • hymers

    March 19, 2012 at 9:24 am

    wow… north America has a historic year and we have people on here complaining and criticising about the way Canadians skied! Seriously? Can we stop criticizing and just celebrate? There was nothing wrong with the way they skied… and it definitely didn’t make a difference in the results. What a year this has been for Canada and US skiing! I’ve never been so excited about this sport!

  • davord

    March 19, 2012 at 9:53 am

    Hymers, nobody said it made a difference in the results, it was just strange seeing them skiing on one side of the barrier and then where the trails go in opposite directions, right where the coaching area was, they switched to the other side. Again, nobody suggested they gained an advantage, I was just pointing it out, no need to go crazy just because somebody pointed it out. If I said the same thing about a skier NOT from NA, would you have cared? BTW, I am always excited about this sport, whether the N. Americans are skiing fast or not. It’s great there are different names and countries represented at the top of the rankings, especially in the mens division. Hopefully FIS will try to expand the sport to other parts of the globe, because we see there is plenty of talent anywhere you go! Who would have thought a few years ago that a Canadian and a Pole would be at or near the top of WC standings, winning races in the process??

  • Lars

    March 19, 2012 at 10:17 am

    The punishment given to Richardson during tour de ski was just ridiculous. He did not gain any time advantage from the move and shud not have been given more then a warring.
    That said Northug did similar thing and therefor shud have gotten the same punishment.

    As for Kershaw and Valjas my point was that they did not break the lane barriers. Or at least not as i saa. They way i understand it the little green wooden brances are not considered lane borders only the big blue plastic things are. And as far as i could see Kershaw and Valjas did not ski outside does.

    Yeah its great to see other nations compete at the top lvl in xc sking i just hope Polen can produce some more quality racers before Kowlacyke retires or i am afraid for the long term interest in Polen. To bad she dose not train with the other Polish racers and give them an opportunity to learn from her.

  • cork1

    March 19, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Paging John Estle and/or Matt Pauli ….

    As I understand, pine boughs and/or whiskers are not considered barriers; they designated corridors and may be crossed. V-boards are considered “hard” barriers which are not to be crossed.

    There may be a better precision for this, but I think what we’re talking about falls under “360.4.3 … Along straight parts of the course corridors may be marked. …” and the interpretation of the jury is that, if the corridor is straight, you may go on either side of the corridor without penalty. That’s what I assumed Kershaw and Valjas were doing yesterday.

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    March 19, 2012 at 10:45 am

    seems kinda odd, but are the top men getting a lot taller on average, than, say, the 1980’s? It seems that most of the consistent top 15 or so are over 6′. seems same at U.S. Nats too?
    Maybe has somehting to do with additional poling leverage provided when able to use longer poles (less strokes per km)? Boy, the US needs to find the multiple elite juniors that Canada seems to be these days. interesting that their national x-c program is unrelated to their alpine team. With that little russian guy back in action as backup next year, Canada will be unbeatable.

  • Strider2

    March 19, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    Thanks for responding to my comment. I wasn’t aware that athletes are allowed to cross the small pine boughs. It seemed odd because they were crossing over into another part of the course that other people were skiing on. Seems like that would be problematic, especially if they were skiing in the opposite direction.
    LOL I did not mean to sound like a complainer, I was rooting for the Canadians and was super stoked that they did so well. It would have been frustrating if they had been disqualified or something for gaining some time, skiing the way they did.
    Next year will be exciting with lots of young skiers starting to make dents at the top like Sedov, Dyrhaug, Valjas, and Weng. I hope Northug comes back tho, he’s really fun to watch.
    Btw, does anyone think Kowalzyks poles might be too long? They are almost as tall as her!

  • cork1

    March 19, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    For what it’s worth, it was indeed odd that they were crossing over to ski where other racers were going to opposite direction, but legal (and presumably, faster to ski there).

    My guess is that the OC didn’t want to set v-boards on the downhill corner, so they put in the pine boughs to provide an “out” in the icy conditions, which opened the door for this move.

    There is no specific rule against skiing backwards on the course for FIS, only that, “Competitors must follow the marked course from start to finish and must … behave in a fair manner towards other competitors” (340.1.1).

  • Topher Sabot, Editor

    March 19, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    An explanation to the course issue can be found here:

    Cork’s initial explanation is accurate, but the previous comment is not.

    Traffic was moving in the same direction at the point in question.

    I don’t think organizers would have skipped the v-boards for two-way traffic, and I also think the Canadians would not have employed the startegy if it meant skiing head-on into downhill traffic.

  • davord

    March 19, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    Topher, thanks for the explanation! It’s a pity you couldn’t get a jury member like Mr. Mignerey or one of the Swedish jury members for their take and clarification, but obviously it was fair game (again, not that I questioned the legality of it earlier). If it’s within the FIS rules and the jury is consistant in enforcing their own rules and said anyone and everyone could do it, good on Devon and Lenny for the heads up racing! Another word on the course, it’s a pity we couldn’t catch the downhill of the Morderbacken, especially in the women’s pursuit yesterday, because it seems like everyone (including Eurosport) was wondering what happened to Kowalczyk. Did she fall? Did she just lose her impetus? Was Bjoergen just upping the ante after the Morderbacken, or perhaps all of the above? Thanks for the wonderful coverage of the Falun WC final and for all the news, race reports, interviews, tips, etc throughout the year!! Kudos to all of you at Fasterskier!!!

  • cork1

    March 19, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Should have quit while I was ahead. Totally zinged by Topher. My bad.

  • Topher Sabot, Editor

    March 20, 2012 at 9:02 am

    Jason – I actually took great pleasure in the image of Kershaw skiing uphill toward a fast-moving pack of men coming down. Now that would be gutsy!

    In response to Davor, they definitely concentrated the TV cameras on the climb at the expense of elsewhere on the course.

    It would have been great if they had one that could capture the long flat over the top, which was a critical point of the race. The steep part of the climb got all the attention (including the handheld camera that they tilted to make it look much steeper than it actually was), but as any racer knows, getting over the gradual ascent at the top, and then the flat into the downhill was key, and there was no footage of that.

    In regards to Kowalczyk, she did not fall. We were not able to talk to her directly, but Therese Johaug told us that she thought Kowalczyk may have had slower skis and that she heard that Kowalczyk was having peoblems with her legs.

    You may remember that Kowalczyk has had problems over the years with her legs that make descending difficult. That is why she duct taped her boots last year, and motivated a switch in boot companies for this season.

    All of the above is unconfirmed.

    We were on the lower part of the hill, and while there was a video monitor there, could see no more of the top and descent than anyone watching on TV.

    Regardless, it was striking how much time she lost considering she was in contact over the steep part of the hill.

    The descents, however, definitely were fairly technical, and if Kowalczyk was struggling and had slower skis, the amount she lost was not unreasonable.

    It is also worth noting that even on the climb, while she stayed with Bjørgen, she did not look her best. She appeared to be straining, her technique not as efficient, so she may also have just been a bit tired—like Bjørgen the day before.

    It was disappointing we weren’t able to fill out these stories more. It was pretty crazy after each race as they did all the overall podium ceremonies.

    We were scrambling between shooting photos of those, trying to grab a minute or two with many of the athletes in those ceremonies, as well as track down coaches and athletes who were not involved.

    Unfortunately it was impossible to do it all—which is too bad, because there was a lots of interesting stuff going on.

    There will be some more articles on World Cup Finals over the next day or two. With travel the last two days, we were unable to get some things done.

    Thanks for your words of support and appreciation! It means a lot.

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