Petter Northug (NOR) holds a solid 40-second lead in the Kuusamo mini-tour, but that margin has come without a victory. For the second day in a row, a Russian skier kept Northug off the top of the podium, with Alexander Legkov following teammate Nikita Kriukov in displacing the Norwegian star.
Despite racing with the advantage of splits — he did not start until after Legkov had finished — Northug was unable to better his result from Friday’s sprint.
He started slowly, working his way into the race, a different approach then Legkov’s, who posted the fastest time at every intermediate check.
Legkov has generally performed well in Kuusamo, placing second in this race two years ago.
“I have good shape,” Legkov said after the race. “It was very cold, which is Russian tradition for good racing.”
With the performance he moved up into third in the overall standings, but is a full 53.2 seconds down on Northug entering the classic pursuit on Sunday.
Looking ahead to that race, Legkov is unconcerned about the switch to his weaker technique, saying “I am better in skating, but when in good shape then it’s no problem for me classic or skate.”
He will be looking to hunt down Alexey Poltaranin (KAZ), who rode an appearance in the sprint final and a 15th place today to second in the overall.
Northug described his race as “good,” especially the last 3.5k, where he moved from 8th up to 2nd.
“It was very tight today so I am happy,” Northug said. He should join his female counterpart, Marit Bjørgen, on the top of the podium tomorrow, and then will focus on recovery and training leading up to the Tour de Ski.
Frenchman Maurice Manificat bounced back from a rough start to the season in Gallivare, Sweden, where he placed 39th in the 15k freestyle, usually his strongest event.
Manificat finished just 1.1 seconds behind Northug to give him an even dozen career World Cup podiums.
“It’s crazy how the shape can change in one week,” Manificat said after the race.
He added he is feeling “very good” now, and that he will have his work cut out tomorrow. He will be starting 6th, in the middle of a large pack.
“My shape is good, so it will be exciting,” he said.
After Poltaranin in second, the field is tightly packed, meaning plenty of drama in the pursuit. Canadian Alex Harvey, back in 21st, is just 37 seconds behind Legkov.
American Noah Hoffman set a career-best, placing 19th, 38.1 seconds behind Northug while Alex Harvey led all North Americans, in 17th. Their races will be covered in a separate article.
– Dario Cologna (SUI) placed 8th after failing to qualify for the heats in Friday’s sprint.
– 11 different nations were represented in the top-10.
– Italian David Hofer cracked the top-5 in a World Cup race for just the third time in his career. His 5th place finish marked his best finish in a European World Cup distance race.
– Paal Golberg (NOR), known more for his sprinting prowess, cracked the top-30 in a distance race for the third time, and the top-15 for the first time. He placed 14th after leading at the first time check.
– Curdin Perl (SUI) followed up an 11th in Gallivare with a 12th today. Perl struggled most of last season after a strong 2011 campaign.
– The top-36 all finished within one minute of Northug.