Headwinds and a thick falling snow couldn’t stop Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson from skiing away from the field to win his first World Cup race and Stage 2 of the Tour de Ski today in Oberhof, Germany. The 1.5 k sprint course was narrow and relatively flat, features that kept the racing close and entanglements frequent. Success found skiers like Halfvarsson who stayed out of trouble and who had a strong finishing kick.
The opening heat to the men’s quarterfinals promised to be an interesting contest, with Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw starting together and expectations high after their success yesterday on the same course. Josef Wenzl of Germany was the first off the line, and appeared to be a reluctant leader. Kershaw, skiing aggressively from the gun, briefly took over the lead before Wenzl recaptured it as the group ascended the first climb.
Wenzl kept the lead throughout the heat, with Harvey behind him and Kershaw threatening on the outside. As the group approached the finish line, Harvey jumped out from behind Wenzl into the far lane with Maciej Storega of Poland behind Harvey and Kershaw trailing Wenzl.
Wenzl easily crossed the line in first, and Storega took advantage of a slight gap between Harvey and Wenzl to lunge between the lanes to nip Kershaw for third place.
In heat two, Germany’s Sebastian Eisenlauer was the early leader. Eisenlauer led until Russia’s Alexander Legkov overtook him on the final climb into the stadium. Duvillard of France looked to make up ground late in the climb but caught a ski, sending him down and out of the race.
Skiing powerfully into the finish, Legkov won the heat with Eisenlauer in second.
Heat three saw Carl Quickland of Sweden fall just off the starting line, and he spent the remainder of the race catching up. Norway’s Petter Northug and Russia’s Evgeniy Belov jostled around an early corner, with Belov at one point skiing with one ski between Northug’s legs. Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby led before Halfvarsson took over on the first climb and proceeded to stretch the group out.
Northug battled furiously to stay with Halfvarsson as he skied away from him and Sundby into the stadium. Halvarsson finished the heat in first with Northug in second and Sundby and Belov in the third and fourth respectively. The fast pace set by Halfvarsson was quick enough to give Sundby and Belov the coveted lucky loser positions in the semifinals.
Heat four was lead out of the gates by Tim Tscharnke of Germany, with Andy Newell staying just behind him in second. Newell’s careful positioning through the race kept him in second position leading into the finishing stretch, where he stepped out into the far lane to out sprint Tscharnke. Newell, however, was foiled by a clever Jens Eriksson who pipped Newell at the last moment with a late surge in the near lane to win the heat with Newell in second.
Heat five was led by the Norwegian Finn Haagen Krogh, who seemed to be commanding the race until he caught a ski edge and was turned sideways, sending him to the back of the pack. He did his best to battle back but when he could not make up the lost ground, he pulled up and skied into the stadium frustrated. Federico Pellegrino of Italy took the heat followed by Ales Rayzm of the Czech Republic.
In the first semifinal heat, Wenzl had a false start, looking for another quick opening. On the restart Eisenlauer took the lead with Northug and Harvey behind the German. As the group started the first climb and passed under a bridge, it appeared that Legkov stepped on Harvey’s ski on the choppy climb, bringing the Canadian down. Harvey quickly regained himself and did his best to make up lost ground.
Squeezing himself past Wenzl, Northug took the lead into the stadium. Wenzl, though, had more energy at the end and bested Northug on the outside lane, with Sundby finishing in third.
The second Semifinal saw Pellegrino take pole position out of the gate with Halfvarsson and Eriksson lingering behind and Newell skiing mid-pack. Newell, looking to make a move, was caught out in the tricky final climb into the stadium, and found himself in fifth position and out of contesting the heat.
In the final meters, Eriksson jumped into the outside lane to try and out sprint Pellegrino, while Halfvarsson repeated Eriksson’s quarterfinal strategy and took the inside lane to win the heat. Pellegrino held off Eriksson for second.
The temperamental weather of Oberhof changed at the start of the men’s final with a thick snowfall descending as Sundby, Pellegrino, Northug, Halfvarsson, Wenzl, and Eriksson took the line. Northug false started and the racers were brought back to the line.
On the restart Halfvarsson took over the race as the group approached the first climb, and once the ascent began Halfvarsson went to work on trying to open up a gap between himself and his competitors. On the second climb he managed to break apart the heat, with Pelegrino following his skis and Sundby battling to catch up.
Halfvarsson skied into the stadium facing falling snow and a headwind to win the race in a commanding fashion. Pellegrino took second, while Sundby finished in third place for the third time today in his best ever sprint performance.
Jens Eriksson was fourth, a personal best, while Wenzl was fifth, and Northug sixth.
Calle Halfvarsson told FIS after the race, “I felt strong today and I pushed hard on the big hill each round. It’s my first victory and podium at the same time as an individual. The result is very important for my confidence for the upcoming competitions and also for the Olympics.”
Harvey’s 11th place was good enough to keep him in the leader’s bib as the Tour de Ski continues on Tuesday freestyle sprint in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. “I am happy with my qualification,” he told FIS. “It’s great I kept the leader’s bib after the first two stages.”
Pasha Kahn writes and coaches in Duluth, Minnesota.