Alexey Poltaranin (KAZ) has officially shifted from a an early-season flash to a consistent World Cup podium threat, winning his third race in four starts by overtaking Russian Alexander Bessmertnykh at the line.
Poltaranin came on strong at the end of the Tour de Ski, winning the 5k classic prologue and 15k classic mass start, before placing 11th overall. He skipped the sprint weekend in Liberec, but demonstrated today that he is still in top form.
On the wide-open fields in La Clusaz, France, the 25-year-old never slipped far from the front of the pack in the 15k classic event, picking up an additional 22 World Cup points for his work in the two intermediate bonus sprints.
“I like all distances when it is classic,” Poltaranin told FIS News after the race. “I had a good rest after the Tour de Ski and I am happy that my shape was good today.”
The main pack never fractured, but the pace was high enough on the final climbs to spread out the field a little bit.
Dario Cologna (SUI) spent most of the race in customary position — toward the front, controlled and content to let others lead. He took over headed into the last shorter climbs, several times switching tracks to remain right in front of overall World Cup leader Alexander Legkov (RUS).
But Bessmertnykh, who has been knocking on the World Cup podium door of late, attacked over the crest of the final hill and opened a five meter gap.
Driving a hard double pole, Cologna pulled back up, with Poltaranin, Legkov and a surprising Didrik Toenseth (NOR) on his tails.
The Russian, however, held the edge on the hairpin turns in the stadium, and had the first step into the homestretch.
Cologna was unable to muster a sufficient kick while Poltaranin found a higher gear, blasting by on the outside and taking the victory with a superior lunge at the line.
Bessmertnykh still earned his first World Cup podium and just his third top-10.
He placed 7th and 9th in the final two classic events of the Tour de Ski.
The Russian did not push at the front early, perhaps learning form an ill-fated break in the Canmore 30k, but worked into position when it counted.
Entering the day Cologna had been hoping for his first win of the season, but told FIS News he was satisfied with third.
“It was a tough course and I wasn’t sure how I would feel after resting from the Tour de Ski,” he said.
While he missed out on the podium, the story of the day was Toenseth.
The 21-year-old entered the day with all of four World Cup starts under his belt, each coming last season.
His best finish was a 17th in the 15k classic in Oteppaa, Estonia.
Starting with bib 44, Toenseth slowly worked his way up through the field, eventually moving in to the lead at the 13k mark.
He held position in the top-5 for the remainder, and had the finishing speed to hold of Legkov at the end.
“It was unreal,” Toenseth told Norwegian broadcaster NRK after the race. “This I had not imagined. It feels like a victory.”
A member of the winning relay team at the 2010 World Junior Championships in Hinterzarten, Germany, Toenseth has inserted himself in the World Championship discussion after besting Norwegian veterans Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Eldar Roenning.
A member of the Norwegain National Development Team, Toenseth will ski the second leg in Sunday’s 4×7.5k relay.
Poltaranin jumped into second in the World Cup distance standings, just four points behind Legkov. Cologna is third.
Legkov held his position in the overall, losing just one point to Cologna today after the bonus sprints were factored in.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.