On a sunny day in Liberec, Czech Republic, Russian Nikolay Morilov led Russia II to victory in the men’s freestyle Team Sprint.
In an event that could be kindly termed “uneventful” for the majority, and perhaps more accurately described as “mind numbingly boring,” the Czech Republic team of Dusan Kozisec and Ales Razym provided a modicum of excitement for the home crowd, taking over the lead on the final leg, and duking it out for the podium in the final sprint.
Razym, anchoring, was unable to hold position, slipping to fifth behind Norway I, Russia I and Norway II.
The bulk of the race was conducted at training pace, with no one willing to step up and push at the front. Small surges occurred prior to the tag zone in order to create space, but the first attack of note, and really, the first skiing at an intensity much greater than a stroll, did not come until the fifth leg — the last time the scramble skiers took to the course.
Alexey Petukhov took Russia I to the front on the first climb out of the stadium, but when the race came back together after the sweeping descent, he ended up slightly back, a position that may have cost his team the win when Norwegian Oystein Petersen clipped the Russian’s ski.
Petukhov went down and was instantly 20 meters behind heading into the tag to teammate Nikita Kriukov.
Each athlete skied two 850-meter laps per leg, with times in the 3:30 range.
Tim Tscharnke (GER) moved to the front prior to Petukhov’s crash, leading through the lap. But Petukhov easily charged past on the climb out of the stadium, seemingly putting the Russians in ideal position.
Not even the opportunity to put away a team of two of the top sprinters in the World could motivate the field, however.
The anchor skiers took to the course, and once again let the pace drop. The first lap of the final leg was once again relaxed before Razym made his move out of the stadium the second time, hitting the steepest climb with ferocity.
He led out, but could not shake the field.
Meanwhile, Kriukov had taken advantage of the situation and impressively skied back on to the group.
Razym led down the long descent to the stadium, but with the field riding his draft, he was not in ideal position for the homestretch.
Norway’s Paal Golberg came by first, but it was Morilov who would threw down the gauntlet in stunning fashion.
Swinging wide, the Russian came by Razym and Golberg with ease, accelerating to top speed, and nearly instantly opening an insurmountable gap, the next five skiers left to contest for second.
Razym did an excellent job to stay in the mix, but he could not match the finishing speed of the others.
Golberg came through half a meter clear for second, with Kriukov completing the comeback with a tremendous lunge, stretching his Gumby-esque leg for the line, just inches ahead of Anders Gloerrsen of Norway II.
Razym was just behind in 5th, besting the Flying Pasini Brothers of Italy II, Renato closing out for teammate Fabio.
An elated Morilov described Liberec as a “happy place” for him. His only other start at the venue came back in 2009 at the World Championships, where he won bronze in the freestyle sprint.
Teammate Mikhail Devjatiarov, who missed a chance to ski in the individual sprint finals on Saturday when he was relegated for obstruction, made just his second World Cup podium appearance. Back in 2007 he won the Stockholm classic city sprint.
Morilov said the strategy was simple — conserve energy on the first legs, and then attack hard at the end. Of course that appeared to be the tactic of all teams, but the Russians executed best, and took home the gold and a solid 6,000 Swiss Francs apiece.
Golberg’s teammate Brandsdal was happy with second, but blamed himself for not tagging in better position.
“I was feeling good but I did not manage to give Paal optimal position for the last leg. But I am quite satisfied,” Brandsdal told FIS News after the race.
Golberg described the general pace as “pretty slow” but that the race got “quite tough” when Razym attacked on the last lap.
Racing continues next weekend in La Clusaz, France, where the men will race a 15k classic individual and a 4×7.5k relay.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.