Twenty-one-year-old Sergey Ustiugov of Russia started his sprint day in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic by winning the qualification by an astounding 3.51 seconds over American Andy Newell.
He ended it just as much the victor, powering away in the final to capture his first career World Cup victory.
The lanky former World Junior Champion won each of his heats on the way to the win, and overcame challenges from Italian Federico Pellegrino and teammate Alexey Petukhov, who finished second and third respectively.
Norwegian Eirik Brandsdal took an early lead in the final with three Russians – Ustiugov, Petukhov and Nikolay Morilov bringing up the rear.
Usitugov moved up rapidly on the first climb, and just missed squeaking by Brandsdal before the hairpin turn at the top.
He dropped into second with Pellegrino just behind for the descent.
On the next climb, Petukhov came back hard, reprising the patience of the his first two heats, where he quickly moved through the field from the back of the pack to take control.
He couldn’t get by Ustiugov, however, and had to settle for third heading into the final descent toward the stadium, Brandsdal, Swede Teodor Peterson, and Morilov struggling to keep up.
The top three held a comfortable gap into the homestretch, with Ustiugov running in pole position entering the final 100 meters.
Pellegrino initially closed up , leaping off the snow with each V2 alternate stroke, but Ustiugov would not be denied, and accelerated to keep the lead constant to the line.
Pellegrino stood on the podium for the fifth time in his World Cup career, matching his best-ever finish.
“It’s been an incredible day. I felt very strong already in the qualification,” Ustiugov told FIS news. “In the heats I was confident I can always make it through. In the finals Federico was following and was quite close but I am happy I could win my first World Cup.”
Gunning for Olympic gold in the sprint, Pellegrino was pleased with his seocnd-place, though the near victory left him confident.
“Ustiugov was very strong today but I think I could beat him,” Pellegrino said. “There are still some skate sprints this season but my goal is to win the one in Sochi.
Pethukhov, who hadn’t been on the podium since last December, was happy to be back in the top-3, and pleased to see the Olympic host nation put three skiers in the final.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.