Finn Hågen Krogh had what he called a perfect race Sunday in Davos, Switzerland.
After placing third in the qualification round of the 1.3 k freestyle sprint, the Norwegian rapidly progressed through his quarterfinal, semifinal, and ultimately the final to earn his first World Cup victory.
Krogh won the freestyle sprint in the Lillehammer mini tour earlier in Decemeber, but as the race was a Stage World Cup, he had yet to win a true World Cup until Sunday.
Speeding around a relatively short course on the high-altitude trials of Davos, Krogh sustained a pattern of starting hard off the front to lead the majority of each race. Many skiers would try to hold their own against the up-and-coming Norwegian, but they often paid the price.
In the final, Krogh fought to earn a spot at the front of six men despite a strong challenge from Calle Halfvarsson of Sweden. As the meters progressed Krogh and Halfvarsson left the remaining competitors behind, but by the time they entered the second lap of the sprint course, Halfvarsson’s energy was spent and the other men overtook him. With Halfvarsson out of the way the race was Krogh’s.
Although fellow Norwegians Anders Gløersen and Eirik Brandsdal gained on Krogh in the final meters, there were no challenges to his strength as he crossed the line with a time of 2:18.16. Gløerson and Brandsdal placed second and third, 0.62 and 1.07 seconds behind their teammate.
In a post race interview with FIS, Krogh said the key to his success was his fitness. “It was a perfect race. I am in a great shape. My tactic was to ski in the front and control the race. It is amazing to win a World Cup,” he said.
The race marked another Norwegian podium sweep – a regular occurrence so far in the 2015 season. After the Davos World Cup, Norway has won 12 of 14 races and earned 34 of 42 podium positions.
In a post-race interview Gløerson told FIS that he felt pressure heading into Sunday’s race because of the success his team has experienced in the prior weeks.
“So many of our guys have skied well this year. I felt under pressure to do a good result today. I think I was lucky. I found a good rhythm and I am very satisfied with today,” he said.
The final corner leading into the stadium proved troublesome for several skiers including Brandsdal. As he entered the turn, he tripped and almost fell. Brandsdal was forced to the outside of the corner as he attempted to stay on his feet, losing momentum into the stadium. While he was disappointed in his tactical error, Brandsdal said he was proud of his teammates and the Norwegian podium sweep.
“I was angry about myself about how I skied the last curve. I wanted the victory so much that I lost my head. I am proud of my teammates, they did a great job. I felt strong but the finish did not work as I hoped,” he said to FIS.
Federico Pelligrino of Italy also fell victim to the corner. Pelligrino skied a strong qualifier for the fastest time of the day, and, like Krogh, maneuvered his way to a win in his quarterfinal. In the semifinal however, Pelligrino made a wrong move on the corner and moved from second position to last.
The remaining men in the final were Alexey Petukov of Russia (+1.35), Halfvarsson (+2.06), and Norweigian Tomas Northug (+2.29). Northug, the younger brother of the famed Petter Northug, earned his second-best World Cup result after finishing sixth. His best result is a fifth place from a March 2013 Stage World Cup classic sprint in Stockholm, Sweden.
Petter Northug finished his day in 19th position after what some commentators called an obstruction by Brandsdal in his quarterfinal. Northug placed fourth in the quarterfinal.
Rounding out the top-ten, were Martii Jyhae of Finalnd, Baptiste Gross of France, Maciej Starega of Poland, Ola Vigen Hattestad of Norway, Pellegrino, and Joeri Kindschi of Switzerland.
The top North American finish of the day came from Lenny Valjas who qualified in 10th position and eventually placed 13th. It was the first time in roughly a year-and-a-half that Valjas qualified in a sprint, after earning several podium spots in 2012 and 2013 World Cups. Andy Newell was the only other North American in the finals and placed 15th.
After the weekend of World Cup racing, Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway is the overall World Cup points leader with 491 points. Sundby placed 31st position in the sprint, missing qualification by 0.06 seconds. Inching towards Sundby is Krogh, who currently sits in second place with 409 points. Halfvarsson is ranked third with 275 points.
The World Cup returns to Davos next weekend as scheduled races in Las Clusaz, France were cancelled due to poor snow conditions. With another freestyle sprint planned for Sunday, competitors will have a chance to either defend their results or improve.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.