Johan Olsson (SWE) has been relatively quiet this season, but is firing up at just the right time.
With only days remaining before World Championships, Olsson skied to an 11.8 second win over Dario Cologna (SUI) in the men’s 15km freestyle in Davos, Switzerland.
Olsson raced just one World Cup weekend prior to the Christmas break, but was back in action for the Tour de Ski. He finished an impressive 9th, mainly on the strength of his consistency as he cracked the top-10 in a race just twice.
So his victory today is somewhat of a surprise, for Olsson as much as anyone.
“I didn’t feel well in warm up,” Olsson told FIS News after the race. “I was hoping for a top 20 at best. Once I started, the feeling was much better.”
The key for the day, according to both Olsson and Cologna, was smart pacing on the challenging Davos course.
“You have to be careful in Davos too not hit the wall,” Olsson explained. “Last year I watched the race on TV and saw Petter Northug as he showed everyone how to race in Davos.”
Cologna concurred, saying “The key was to pace myself early on the course and not go to fast. It is always challenging in Davos.”
The start slow strategy was confirmed by the results sheet. While Olsson actually started quickly, ranking 4th at 2k, Cologna, Alexander Legkov (RUS) in third, Axel Teichmann (GER) in fourth, and Matti Heikkinen (FIN) in fifth ranked 20, 15, 18 and 13 respectively at that early time check.
Johannes Duerr (AUT) and Keishin Yoshida (JPN) took the prize for best implementation of the conservative start approach. Duerr was 29th at 2k and 24th at 6.6k before finishing 8th, while Yoshida came through the first check back in 35th and ended up 11th.
Going the other way, Norway’s Martin Johsnrud Sundby was 1st at 2k, before beginning a long trudge down the rankings. He finished back in 28th.
While somewhat less spectacular of a fall, Maurice Manificat (FRA) was either first or second at every time check through 12k, before slipping down to 6th at the finish.
Like Olsson, Cologna was not expecting much from today’s race, and whether it was the difficult course or pre-World Championship training, results were all over the place.
While there were certainly big names up toward the front, they included some faces that have not consistently graced the top of the result sheet, including Olsson, Teichmann and Duerr.
Meanwhile, Petter Northug (NOR) was back in 14th, Lukas Bauer (CZE) 15th, Maxim Vylegzhanin (RUS) 27th and so on, all the way down to Sami Jauhojärvi (FIN) in 67th place.
World Cup results are nice, and the price money as good as always, athletes are solidly focused on World Championships, and have structured their training and recovery accordingly.
Predictions based on today’s race are a dangerous game, especially with the World Championship venue at a significantly lower altitude.
Legkov the 2013 Tour de Ski winner, was just 2.1 seconds behind Cologna. The Russian felt he lost second place with a poor finish, but was still pleased to reach the podium.
Northug told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that the race was “good training,” and there appeared to be little concern he would not be ready for the more important races at the end of the week.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.