If you’re trying to imagine how Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby reacted to his win on Saturday, picture his female teammate Therese Johaug realizing she beat Marit Bjørgen by three-tenths of a second for the win. Better yet, watch the video.
Sundby was basically the opposite of that. It’s not that the 30-year-old defending Overall World Cup champion is too cool to jump up and down and yell, he just had a different way of showing his emotions.
And he was actually a little emotional on Saturday.
Sundby led a Norwegian podium sweep, winning the men’s 10-kilometer freestyle individual start — the second stage of the Lillehammer World Cup mini tour — by 2.2 seconds over teammates Finn Hågen Krogh and Sjur Røthe, who was 6.4 seconds back in third.
Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson placed fourth, 1.5 seconds off the podium, and Norway took fifth and sixth with Niklas Dyrhaug and Chris Andre Jespersen, respectively.
“I am happy for the win, but I am extremely happy for the team,” Sundby told FIS.
With Friday’s sprint winner, Pål Golberg, in 12th and Didrik Tønseth in 17th, the Norwegians had seven of 15 starters in the top 20. What might be more notable is neither Petter Northug (in 35th) nor Eirik Brandsdal (in 53rd), who led the Overall World Cup before Saturday’s race, were among them.
“We have trained hard for so many months now, and … for me, kind of a captain for this team, I get a bit touched when the guys are so good,” Sundby said.
After finishing 14th in the sprint (just like Johaug), Sundby ranked 15th in the mini tour, 27.4 seconds behind Golberg, after Friday’s race. He improved to second on Saturday behind Krogh, and will start 20 seconds after Krogh in Sunday’s 15 k classic pursuit. Golberg will head out 6 seconds later in third.
Sundby’s win also put him in the yellow bib for in the second World Cup weekend of the 2014/2015 season.
But even after standing up from the leader’s chair and flexing his right arm a little bit for doting Norwegian spectators, Sundby was quick to defer the attention back to his teammates.
“It is an absolutely insane team effort,” he told NRK.
Four different Norwegians took turns in the leader’s chair: first Jespersen (who topped Sweden’s Daniel Richardsson by 13 seconds. Before that, Richardsson ousted Switzerland’s Curdin Purl, who started eighth of 118 men).
Jespersen’s initial splits weren’t anything outstanding: he ranked 22nd at 2.2 k, but sped up to ninth by the halfway point. With 1.8 k to go, the 31-year-old Jespersen posted the eighth-fastest time of all the finishers. During his race, it was the fastest.
“I do not think it was so much fun to be peed on last weekend, so I had decided today [to go hard],” he told NRK, referring to the 15 k classic in Kuusamo, Finland, where he placed 45th.
“The ending was abnormally good to me,” he said of his finish on Saturday.
The 17th starter, Jespersen remained in the hot seat for some time until his teammate Dyrhaug topped him by 0.6 seconds. Dyrhaug turned it on even later in his race, going from fifth at 7.2 k to first by the finish.
At the end of the day, Dyrhaug’s 8.3 k time ranked eighth and he ended up fifth.
Røthe then took over the top position by 12.5 seconds. With Sundby just six starters behind him, he looked as if he knew he wouldn’t be in first for long. Røthe posted the fastest times through every checkpoint but the first one at 0.9 k (where Switzerland’s Roman Furger had the quickest start), until Sundby, Halfvarsson and Krogh came through.
At 2.2 k, Halfvarsson took the lead, followed by Sundby 3.4 seconds back. The order stayed the same with Røthe in third until 5 k, where Røthe’s time ranked second-fastest by just 0.3 seconds over Sundby.
Halfvarsson remained in first until 8.3 k, where Sundby, who started 1 minute ahead him, had the edge by 1.1 seconds. Later on, Krogh, the 114th starter, would post the third-fastest time at that marker, 2.7 seconds behind Sundby.
That’s about when Sundby, in the leader’s chair after displacing Røthe by 6.4 seconds, started to pack up his belongings. Any way about it, even if Krogh had the race of his life and beat him, or Golberg as the last starter picked off six places in the last 2 k to reach the podium, Sundby knew he was headed to the flower ceremony.
“I did an even race. I tried to push hard last 2 kilometers,” Sundby told FIS. “I tried to collect some seconds on the last uphill where a few skiers were struggling. Everybody must have had tired legs.”
Halfvarsson faded in the last two kilometers to put himself on the edge of a top-three, finishing 7.9 seconds behind Sundby. Krogh looked to be after the win more than a podium as he pushed himself to the brink into the stadium, collapsing and gasping for air at the finish. He ended up 2.2 seconds behind Sundby for second overall.
“Since yesterday’s prologue I felt my shape has been very good,” Krogh said. “I was ready for today; it was maybe better than I expected. I found a good rhythm from the start. I had very good skis and I felt confident.”
Røthe was third, another 4.2 seconds back, and Halfvarsson settled for fourth, 1.5 seconds later.
“I’m really happy to be back on the podium,” Røthe said after his first individual World Cup podium since placing third in the 2012 skiathlon in Canmore, Alberta (and not counting his second-fastest time in last year’s Tour de Ski final climb in Val di Fiemme, Italy).
“It is even better to be there with my good friends Finn and Martin,” he added.
After not feeling quite in top form before Saturday, Sundby, who now leads the Overall World Cup by 9 points over Krogh and 20 points over Brandsdal in third, told reporters he was excited for Sunday’s pursuit.
“Hopefully we get an exciting race tomorrow,” he told FIS. “I think both the race and the winner could be exciting.”
Notes: Great Britain’s Andrew Musgrave, 24, had the best distance race of his career (not counting the eighth-fastest time in the 2014 Tour de Ski final climb) in 13th, which puts him 10th in the mini-tour standings before the pursuit.
Canadian Alex Harvey dropped from sixth to 11th in the mini tour, after placing 33rd, 54.6 seconds behind Sundby. He cited his bothersome left leg, with a blood-flow issue that typically springs up and pains him on uphill skating courses, as the reason behind his result.
“At the top of the course [around 3.5 k] before we go back down to the stadium, there’s a lot of offset, like steep climbing and my leg was starting to feel pretty bad already,” Harvey said on the phone. “So I was just fighting against it already and I couldn’t push after that. I couldn’t use my leg much, and the downhills were so icy that it was kind of hard to relax and recover so I was always contracting the legs. It was just a really bad day for my leg I guess.”
He’ll start Sunday’s pursuit 59.3 seconds behind Krogh and 0.4 behind Musgrave, and is focused on picking off as many places as possible — possibly up to Dyrhaug, who’s starting 16 seconds ahead of him in sixth.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.