Wednesday’s 1.3-kilometer classic sprint in Drammen, Norway, was essentially two races in one: the race for the win and the race for the overall Sprint World Cup.
Drammen marked the final World Cup sprint this season. Going into the race, Norway’s Finn Hågen Krogh led the Sprint World Cup with 399 points, 33 points ahead of Italy’s Federico Pellegrino and 57 points ahead of fellow Norwegian Eirik Brandsdal.
All three men were still mathematically eligible to win the overall title. Brandsdal won last weekend’s freestyle sprint in Lahti and neither Krogh nor Pellegrino had ever qualified for the final in Drammen. Pellegrino had only qualified for one World Cup classic-sprint final in his career.
Over the course of the qualification round, the snow at Drammen turned very soft with temperatures around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Earlier in the morning, organizers hauled in two truckloads of snow to slow the rate of thawing on the course. Several skiers opted to use skate skis and take their chances double poling instead of making decisions regarding classic skis and what to use for kick.
As the first quarterfinal heats got underway, it appeared that Norwegian Petter Northug’s decision to use skate skis over classic might be the way to go. He had very fast skis and only lost to Brandsdal in a photo finish. Brandsdal took the quarterfinal win in 2:37.55, and both advanced to the semifinals.
One-third of the race for the Sprint World Cup was decided after the first quarterfinal. Pellegrino finished fifth, 2 seconds behind Brandsdal, ending his chance of winning his first ever overall sprint title.
Last year’s Drammen and overall Sprint World Cup champion, Ola Vigen Hattestad of Norway was a decisive winner in heat two. He qualified in 2:35.91, and teammate Timo Andre Bakken advanced as well, 1.71 behind.
Krogh kept his title hopes alive when he and Russia’s Anton Gafarov advanced out of the third quarterfinal. Krogh won it in 2:38.34, and Gafarov was 0.21 seconds behind in second.
Also advancing to the semifinals were Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov and three more Norwegians: Sondre Turvoli Fossili, Pål Golberg and Fredrik Riseth. American Andy Newell qualified as well.
It was an all-Norwegian lineup for the first semifinal. Still on skate skis, Northug jumped out to a fast start and lead up the first climb, but in the slushy conditions, he fell behind quickly and never came back into contention. Brandsdal dominated the race, crossing the line first at 2:36.3, ahead of Hattestad in second.
Fossli and Ustiugov advanced from the second semifinal, as did Russia’s Nikita Kriukov in third. Fossil’s winning time was 2:35.41, Ustiugov finished 0.39 seconds back, and Kriukov was 0.61 seconds back in third. Kriukov and Krogh advanced as lucky losers.
The finals were set, with two Russians Ustiugov and Kriukov, and four Norwegians: Brandsdal, Fossli, Hattestad, and Krogh. With his spot in the finals, the sprint title was wrapped up by Krogh before the final started. His margin over Brandsdal was too big of a deficit for Brandsdal to overcome even if he won.
At the start, Ustiugov led up the first climb and started to pull away from the pack. The group started to string out with Ustiugov leading to the second hill then an unforced error took out the two Russians at the same time.
Ustiugov on skate skis tried to herringbone up the second hill in the middle lane. Since he had no grip he tried to cut the corner short by going to the inside. He wasn’t aware that Kriukov was there and both men collided and lost momentum. Kriukov was later relegated to last in the heat.
With this happening at the back of the pack, the Norwegian train with Hattestad up front rocketed down the hill towards the finish. On the last turn, Brandsdal ultimately made the winning move, gliding past Hattestad and into the lead. He crossed the line first at 2:38.18. Krogh followed Brandsdal past Hattestad as well and finished second, 0.56 seconds later. Hattestad held onto third to complete the all-Norwegian podium.
“The World Championships in Falun did not go as I had planned. I wanted to end the season strong,” Brandsdal told FIS after the race. “I did everything I could to fight for the crystal globe for the sprint.”
While he didn’t get it, Brandsdal did win his sixth World Cup race.
Krogh used his disappointment from not being named to Norway’s World Championships sprint team as motivation.
“I have little to put a finger on what has been bad this season. Everything has gone according to plan,” Krogh told NRK, according to a translation. “This has been a bright season.”
This Sprint Crystal Globe was Krogh’s first. He won it by 57 points over Brandsdal and 103 points over Pellegrino. Hattestad won it last season, ahead of Brandsdal in second, and Brandsdal was third in the sprint overall in 2011/2012.