What’s the first race of the season without a little drama?
Norway’s defending World Cup champion Martin Johnsrud Sundby got DQed in Friday’s 15-kilometer classic race, one of the first International Ski Federation (FIS) races of the season, in Beitostølen, Norway. Germany’s Tim Tscharnke was also disqualified, along with a 27-year-old Norwegian club skier Daniel Myrmæl Helgestad, of Henning SL.
According to a media announcement from the Norwegian Ski Federation, the jury ruled all three skated in the deteriorating tracks. FasterSkier obtained video of each apparent violation.
“I don’t really know when and where the jury might have seen this infraction,” Sundby, 31, said in a post-race TV interview with NRK.
The final starter out of 143 men, he had initially posted the winning time — and did so with a broken rib.
“I don’t agree with [the jury’s] decision, but there is no point in arguing about it,” Sundby continued. “There were a lot of racers on the course, and when I started as number 143, the tracks were chewed up. I don’t know, maybe the jury had decided that they wanted to show that they are going crack down hard on any violation of the skating rule. The good thing is that my body felt good, the rib felt fine and I felt like I had a good race. It’s good to see that focusing on double poling pays off.”
He was one of several who raced the four-lap time trial on skate skis. One of his fellow national-team members, 27-year-old Sjur Røthe took the win in 37:59 by double poling the entire course as well. He beat runner-up Martin Løwstrøm Nyenget of the Lillehammer Skiklub by 51 seconds, and Hans Christer Holund (Lyn Ski) was over a minute back in third (+1:08.7).
“I didn’t think I would win this race today, not before the race and not even after I had finished,” Røthe told TV reporters. “But it’s fun to win ski races.”
He said the best part was winning by exclusively double poling. The 139th starter, his 1.6 k time ranked eighth. He was up to first by 2 k, then slipped 14 seconds back to third at 3.8 k, and finally took control of the race for good at 5.4 k. That is, after Sundby was factored out of the results.
“I just now heard that Martin was disqualified, and it’s too bad he did,” Røthe said in the TV interview. “Yes, the tracks were not perfect and the conditions were a bit rough in places, but when you choose to double pole the course, you have to be extra diligent, especially now that they warned us all about being stricter than before.
“I’m really excited to win by double poling only,” he added. “The decision to go without kick wax was a combination of a couple of factors. The tracks and the snow conditions were tricky, and because of my back trouble, I was concerned that my wax would slip and I would re-injure my back. So I decided to just double pole.”
After leading at 1.6 k and hanging within the top three throughout the race, Nyenget, 23, was happy to finish on the podium.
“Whether I was second or third really didn’t matter so much,” he said. “It was great to have a good first race here, and see that the training I’ve put in this summer and fall is making a difference. It’s mostly important for my confidence, but I hope I will be able to ski lots of World Cup races this season and compete against the best in the world.”
Norway swept the top seven, with Jonas Dobler of Germany placing eighth. Canada’s Devon Kershaw finished 33rd, 2 1/2 minutes back from Røthe.
— Inge Scheve contributed reporting
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.