Coming into the final stage of the Lillehammer triple, Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby the clear favorite despite starting 20 seconds back in second. Sundby won all the World Cup stage-tours last season — the opening Ruka Triple, Tour de Ski and World Cup Finals — and his sweep marked the first time a male managed to win all three of the tours in single season.
Maybe somebody forgot to tell his teammate Finn Hågen Krogh that before Sunday’s 15-kilometer classic pursuit. After the first two races of this weekend’s mini tour, in which Krogh notched back-to-back podiums (third in Friday’s sprint and second on Saturday), the 24-year-old Norwegian found himself with a 20-second head start on Sundby.
But Sundby, in the yellow overall World Cup leader’s bib, was already on a roll after winning Saturday’s 10 k freestyle by 2.2 seconds over Krogh.
So was Krogh — after finding himself as the World Cup mini-tour leader for the first time in his career heading into the final pursuit.
At the start of his race, Krogh showed every indication that he could hold off the charging Sundby. At 2.2 kilometers, he led by 18.3 seconds, but by 5 k, he down to 12.8 seconds ahead.
“I started out hard, like a regular 15 km, and tried to go my own race,” he told NRK after the race.
Also in pursuit of Krogh, his Norwegian teammates Pål Golberg and Sjur Røthe started 26 and 27 seconds behind him, respectively. Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson went out fifth, another second later, and the sixth-man, Norway’s Niklas Dyrhaug, didn’t start until 15 seconds after Halfvarsson.
At the 3.3 k mark, the chase group of Golberg, Røthe and Halfvarsson was only able to chip away four-tenths of a second off Krogh’s lead. But as soon as all three left the start, they were first hunting Sundby. They caught their first glimpse of him at 0.9 k.
After the first lap at 5 k, the three men caught Sundby, but it wasn’t long until Sundby launched his own attack to reel in Krogh. The chase group tried to respond but they couldn’t match his acceleration around 5.8 k.
“I had a plan, and it was running into Finn quickly as possible, and keep the rest of the people behind us,” Sundby told NRK, according to a translation. “We spent longer to catch Finn, than I had envisioned.”
To Sundby’s surprise, Krogh remained ahead through the 8.3 k checkpoint, where he was 1 second ahead of Sundby.
“He went on an insanely good run ahead and I would hold second so long — I thought that he wanted to go alone into the finish,” Sundby added.
When Sundby closed the gap and caught Krogh, the pair worked together for a while to increase their lead over the chase group. The pace increased, assuring Krogh of a podium spot, and it became a matter of which order he and Sundby would end up.
Sundby tried to answer the question before the finish, attacking several times but Krogh matched the pace each time.
Then, at the 13.3 k mark, Sundby launched what would be his final attack heading into the final climb up to the stadium.
“I went all-out on the last hill” Sundby told NRK. “My plan was to give everything on the last climb and not look back until I was on the top.”
His plan worked perfectly. Krogh quickly fell behind, and Sundby opened a sizable lead, which he held across the line for the 16.6-second victory in 39:48.2.
“It was a heavy finish,” Krogh recalled. “I was struggling with grip and I had no chance to keep Martin’s tempo. I had hoped Martin would attack later. I was just too tired to follow him. Second place in the mini tour is a big achievement. I am really happy about the whole weekend.”
It was an exciting finish for third place, after Røthe, Golberg and Halfvarsson skied together for most of the race, trying to close the gap to Sundby and Krogh.
Røthe looked to be in the best form compared to the other members of the chase group heading into the last climb. The 26-year-old Norwegian launched an attack similar to Sundby’s on the climb, aiming to separate himself from Golberg and Halfvarsson before the downhill curve and straightaway into the finish.
Golberg recognized the attack and countered, dropping Halfvarsson to rejoin the charging Røthe. At the finish, Røthe had a little more left, out-double poling Golberg by 1 second for third (+36.5).
“My plan was to stay behind Martin and Finn,” Røthe said. “It was a hard fight on the last uphill. I thought I had a little gap on Pål, but he managed to catch me on the top. We were not far away from each other before the home stretch. I believed that if I gained a few meters before the finishing straight, I can beat Pål.”
The all-Norwegian podium was a repeat from Saturday’s 10 k, which featured Sundby in first, Krogh in second and Røthe in third. Norway swept the top five with Didrik Tønseth, who started 21st and raced himself to fifth place after passing Halfvarsson less than a kilometer before the finish.
Tønseth posted the fastest time of the day in 39:20.9. Kazakhstan’s Alexey Poltoranin ranked second (+1.4) after racing from 30th to 11th at the finish, and Sundby’s time was 7 seconds slower than Tønseth’s to rank third.
Finland’s Matti Heikkinen improved one position to seventh (+50.9), and Switzerland’s Dario Cologna skied up from 12th to eighth, 0.3 seconds behind him. Dyrhaug was another 0.7 seconds back in ninth, and Canada’s Alex Harvey made the top 10 in 10th, 0.6 seconds after Dyrhaug, after starting 11th.
The win gave Sundby his fourth-consecutive mini-tour victory and extended his Overall World Cup lead to 82 seconds over Krogh. Golberg is currently 79 seconds back from Krogh in third.