Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby, who was disqualified for skating in Friday’s classic FIS race in Beitostølen, Norway, returned to the course with a vengeance Saturday. He ended up winning the men’s 15-kilometer freestyle by 47.4 seconds over runner-up Hans Christer Holund (Lyn Ski), also from Norway.
And Sundby wasn’t even sure he’d race. He made up his mind just minutes before his scheduled start — which was last in a field of 148 men.
“It was a good race for me, and I had fantastic skis,” the 31-year-old defending overall World Cup champion told NRK after racing in heavy snowfall. “That was a huge advantage in these challenging conditions. It was hard to get the timing just right with a lot of snow in the tracks that tended to make the skis go different directions than I wanted. But all that considered, I feel like I skied technically solid and was on the ball in the sections where it mattered.”
Sundby took the lead for good at 5.4 k after ranking fourth at 1.6 k behind France’s frontrunner at the time, Martin Fourcade, a multiple-time world champion biathlete. At 2 k, Sundby was up to second, just 1 second behind Fourcade.
“My body felt good, and it felt good to win,” Sundby added. “I took that jury decision sort of personal yesterday and it bothered me quite a bit. But I got a reality check later last night with all that happened in Paris.”
Fourcade went on to place 12th, finishing 1:38.5 off of Sundby’s winning time of 36:12.1.
“I had a good start, but I [couldn’t respond] later in the race,” Fourcade told NRK, according to a translation. “I was not in my best form … but I am confident for the start of the season even if I am not happy today. I’ll try to do better in the Kuusamo World Cup…”
A day after terrorist attacks in Paris killed at least 127 civilians, France ended up with three in the top 12 nearly 2,000 kilometers away in Beitostølen. National-team member Robin Duvillard led the way in third, 1.7 seconds behind Holund in second.
Petter Northug Jr., who recently rejoined the Norwegian national team was another 10 seconds back in fourth (+59.7), and France’s Maurice Manificat was fifth (+1:00.2).
Duvillard started 140th and briefly took the lead from Great Britain’s Andrew Musgrave, who trains with the Norwegian team Røa IL and ended up sixth (+1:02.7). In the finish pen, Duvillard approached TV cameras urging viewers to “Pray for Paris.”
Less than a minute later, Holund, 26, bumped him out of the leader’s spot until Sundby finished and secured the win.
“It’s always fun to race fast at Beitostølen, but I will have to step it up a notch for the mini tour in Finland,” Sundby said of the World Cup opener in two weeks. “I’m excited.”
Holund was satisfied with his race and his second podium finish in as many days. He placed third on Friday.
“It was really fun to be on the podium today after skiing fast enough to be on the podium, not because someone faster than me was disqualified,” Holund said, referring to Sundby, who initially was thought to have won Friday’s 15 k classic.
Holund wasn’t concerned about the 47-second gap to Sundby.
“Martin is in a league of his own. I have never been even close to him in skate or classic,” he said. “For me, it was great to feel that my body felt good and that I am able to ski fast again.”
“Martin is in a league of his own. I have never been even close to him in skate or classic.” — Hans Christer Holund, 26, of Norway’s Lyn Ski club, after finishing second to Norway’s leading man, Martin Johnsrud Sundby
During a recent altitude camp with the Norwegian team in Val Senales, Italy, Holund was evacuated off the glacier during a workout. He recalled feeling weak at the start of the workout, and that feeling got worse. Suddenly, he was gasping for air and struggling to stay conscious. He was airlifted to the hospital and underwent a battery of tests. Ultimately, doctors could not determine the cause.
“I have to take their word for it, but I’m still curious given that it happened so suddenly and during an easy workout rather than while doing intervals,” Holund told the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.
Just off the podium in fourth, Northug raced for the first time this season after skipping Friday’s 15 k classic. He said he curious to see how his fitness would stack up, but coming off the altitude camp, he wasn’t expecting to be at peak performance this weekend.
“My body felt a bit slow after so long at altitude, and this was also my first hard effort after coming back down,” Northug said. “So it was a little too early for me, but the plan is to race fast in Kuusamo, so this was just a good hard effort..”
After the sprint race at Beitostølen on Sunday, Northug and the rest of the top Norwegians will continue their training regimens for the next two weeks, aiming to be primed for the World Cup opener in Finland Nov. 27-29.
“The courses in Kuusamo are tough and I know the mini tour there usually suits me well,” Northug said.
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.