Italy’s Federico Pellegrino repeated what he did in the Davos World Cup before Christmas: he destroyed the Norwegians in the Tour de Ski sprint final in Val Müstair, Switzerland.
“Today, one of my big dreams has come true: to beat Petter (Northug) in the sprint final,” Pellegrino said to reporters after the race.
The swift Italian beat Tour de Ski (TDS) leader Petter Northug of Norway as well as defending overall TDS champion Martin Johnsrud Sundby in increasingly challenging conditions.
“I feel I am in a great shape,” Pellegrino said in a press conference. “I was focused on Petter and I forgot about Martin. In the last curve before the finishing straight I had a good speed and I could keep it to the finish and win.”
As the day progressed the course got both icy and chewed up, especially in the turns.
On the top from the first heat
Pellegrino was sixth in the qualifier, where Northug had the fastest time. But from there on, Pellegrino won every heat. First he beat Russia’s Evgeney Belov in the quarterfinals after a controlled effort pulling into first on the final meters. In the process, he knocked hometown favorite Dario Cologna out of the race.
In the semifinal, Pellegrino beat both Sundby and Northug after a tactically perfect run.
In fact, Northug made the final by the skin of his teeth, advancing as a lucky loser after finishing third in the semifinal behind Pellegrino and Sundby.
In the final, Northug showed that he learned from the close call in the semifinal, and opened aggressively from the start. Sundby, however, hung out in the back on the first lap along with Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson, one of the other overall contenders. But unlike Halfvarsson, and later Ilia Chernousov of Russia, Sundby advanced on the second lap, creating a large gap to the Swede and the Russian.
By the end of the second lap, Sundby was first approaching finish line, in front of Northug, while Pellegrino came like a bullet from behind and beat both of them in a thriller finish.
Nothing determined overall
At the end of the day, Northug now has a 25-second buffer to Sundby in second place in the overall Tour de Ski.
“With a 10k classic on the schedule tomorrow, it’s even likely that Martin takes the overall lead,” Northug said in the press conference, noting that he hardly feels that the overall victory is in sight. “I will use my position as best I can, and hopefully go out somewhere close to Martin in the long-distance pursuit that follows. At least not too far behind him.”
There are still four stages to go, and the last stage up the alpine hill Alpe Cermis in Val di Fiemme, Itlay, has been an Achilles heel for the strong Norwegian as long as the Tour has been around.
“Winning the overall Tour de Ski is not that likely,” Northug said. “I’ve started the final stage with fantastic leads before and still made a fool of myself year after year. So I have to try again.”
Harvey’s Missed Opportunity
Canadian Alex Harvey hurt his own chances in the quarterfinals. After a slow start, Harvey moved up on the second lap and looked like a for sure second place, behind Halfvarsson who had an impressive gap on the rest of the heat. Harvey was surging toward the finish line, but forgot to get the full picture and narrowly lost the position to Halfvarsson’s teammate Andersson, who slid into second place.
The move cost Harvey not only the semi final, but also 40 bonus seconds in the overall TDS.
Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.