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 – They say revenge is sweet. If so, Dario Cologna could skip hispost-race recovery drink after taking a good slug of redemption when he best Eldar Roenning (NOR) in the final meters of the World Cup Final 15k classical mass start.
Exactly a week ago, Cologna and Roenning staged an epic battle in the Holmenkollen 50k in Oslo, Norway, with the Norwegian coming out on top in the final sprint.
The race today consisted of three five-kilometer laps that included the monster Mördarbacken, but no other substantial climbs, a sharp contrast to the inescapable ascents in Oslo.
After days of brilliant sun and borderline hot temperatures, the day dawned gray and damp, and while the thermometer was well above freezing, there was a chill in the air.
In true spring skiing fashion, the track was highly variable—water, ice, corn snow, and slush all made appearances at points.
The pace out of the start was relaxed, and did not pick up until Cologna went to the front on the second lap.
Unlike the Friday’s prologue, course did not take the race directly to the lone large climb, instead winding up a gradual ascent from the top of the stadium.
The first of two intermediate bonus sprints awaited at the top of Mördarbacken, and Cologna, feeling good, kept pushing into the climb.
Swiss Head Coach Guri Hetland told FasterSkier that Cologna’s plan for the race was to stay toward the front where he could keep an eye on the Canadians, who he viewed as the biggest threats, and be in position to fight for bonus seconds.
“He felt strong and was racing hard up there,” Hetland said of the second time up Mördarbacken.
Roenning had been hovering toward the front the entire race to this point, and was in position when Cologna attacked.
This was the Norwegian’s plan—to stay at the front to respond and “have good control on the rest of the field.”
The icy conditions also played into Roenning’s approach.
“The snow today was quite fast and people were coming from behind all the time,” he said. “So you had to stay at the front to keep your positioning into the big hill.”
Cologna took the first preem and the accompanying 15 seconds with Maxim Vylegzhanin (RUS) and Kershaw just behind.
The attack on the steepest part of the climb completely shattered the field.
By the time the field looped back down and approached Mördarbacken for the “short version” to close out the second lap, a group of four held a lead of 20 meters.
Cologna, Roenning, Tobias Angerer (GER) and Vylegzhanin pushed into the stadium, but the long gradual descent of the backstretch allowed the field to compress.
After the race Cologna said he knew that the lead group would likely be caught given the lengthy descent, but he still wanted to break up the field and maintain position at the front, out of trouble and ready for a final sprint.
“I think it was almost impossible to get away,” Hetland said also pointing to the structure of the course.
Martin Johnsrud Sundy (NOR) bridged up, and Devon Kershaw brought another group up from behind on the climb out of the stadium.
While the race closed up, the acceleration had taken its toll. There was less of a pack, and more a compact string, with the same men toward the front.
Jean Marc Gaillard joined the part at the front, taking a turn leading before yielding to Roenning who kept the pressure on.
The two men, skied side by side up Mördarbacken the final time, with Roenning gaining the edge for the bonus seconds, and only Vylegzhanin, and Gaillard could hang.
A rematch was in the making.
“I wanted to keep the speed all the way over the top and into the downhill,” Roenning explained of his strategy.
He was looking to get away from any chasers before the descent into the stadium, and it appeared he had succeeded.
The four men stayed tight on the descent, but Vylegzhanin was sprung on the bottom part of the short Mördarbacken loop, and Cologna, Roenning and Gaillard dropped into the stadium together.
The backstretch in Falun seems endless, and the three-man race suddenly got more complicated.
By the time the leaders had reached the sweeping turn at the bottom of the stadium and were headed up to the finish, they had lost nearly 30 meters on the chasers.
Niklaus Dyrhaug, who had lost contact at the top of Mördarbacken, along with Kershaw and Valjas drove the chase.
Cologna and Roenning powered up the final rise to the finish, Cologna double poling the ascent and Roenning striding out.
In the slow Oslo snow last week, Roenning use a strong stride in the sprint to move past Cologna who stuck with double pole a bit too long.
Today, however, in faster conditions, the double pole would take it.
“It was nice to take the revenge today,” Cologna said after avenging the defeat in Oslo.
“He repaid me here,” Roenning said. “But I am quite satisfied because for me it is much more important to win in Holmenkollen of course.”
Just behind, Valjas shocked Dyrhaug when he came flying past the Norwegian.
“I thought I should take my first podium,” Dyrhaug said. “But Valjas came by in the last twenty meters.”
Cologna wrapped up the overall World Cup title weeks ago, but has showed no signs of slowing down.
“I am still in good shape so for me it is fun to race,” Cologna said, noting that nothing has changed since he clinched the crystal globe. “As long as the shape is good I try to win the races,” he continued.
“He is so motivated to ski good races,” Hetland added. “This is what he wants to do and is enjoying it. He was focused on ending the season as good as it has been all the way through.”
The Swiss coach says that given the way Cologna is skiing, “any course is good for him.”
While that may be the case, Cologna would like to see some changes to the Falun loops prior to the 2015 World Championships.
He said he liked the track, but that it was perhaps not the most modern.
“They have the Mördarbacken—It is a very hard hill but there is only the Mördarbacken. The other hills are nice for skiing, but not very steep,” Cologna explained.
He would like to see more climbs on the other parts of the course, and most importantly another hill to break up the descent to the finish, a drop that measures nearly a kilometer.
Cologna enters the ultimate stage of the World Cup Finals with a 36-second lead on Valjas and 46 seconds on Kershaw.
“It is a good gap and if everything is going well and my shape is good it should be enough,” Cologna said of his chances of victory.
Roenning, however, has no illusions regarding his skating abilities, though he has more confidence in the spring conditions.
“My skating is not good enough to be in the front and fight about the podium, so maybe top ten is realistic for me,” he said.
His teammate, Dyrhaug, still looking for his first World Cup podium, will start in 6th, 26 seconds behind Kershaw in third.
After placing fourth in Friday’s prologue, Dyrhaug has one simple goal—crack the top-3.
Matt Voisin contributed reporting.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.