In an impressive display of strength and consistency, Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby once again bested the men’s World Cup field by double poling on skate skis during Sunday’s 15-kilometer classic individual start in Toblach, Italy.
Just like Kazakhstan’s Alexey Poltoranin double poled to the win in last year’s 10 k classic on the same course in Toblach, Sundby opted for strictly glide wax and double poled all three laps of the 5 k loop. With slightly below freezing temperatures on artificial snow, the kick wax was fairly straightforward, but some racers figured they’d be faster by simply hammering the course with brute arm strength.
“I am incredibly happy. I have achieved a big goal, namely to win on shiny [skate] skis,” Sundby told NRK, according to a translation, after winning the 15 k by 12.6 seconds in 35:27.4.
No stranger to double poling classic races, Sundby drew widespread media attention at this year’s Norwegian season opener in Beitostølen, Norway, for setting the fastest time in the 15 k classic and subsequently being disqualified for skating.
Two of the top three used skate skis to reach the podium on Sunday. Sundby’s Norwegian teammate Sjur Røthe also opted to double pole and finished third, 48.6 seconds behind Sundby.
“I started quite early and I did not know how I was doing comparing to others,” Røthe said in a post-race interview with FIS. “In the last lap I learned that I was fighting for the podium. I felt great and very strong in the last kilometers.”
Røthe’s 5 k lap time ranked fourth, 20.8 seconds back. By 10 k, he was third, 38.2 seconds behind Sundby.
Before ultimately placing second, Russia’s Alexander Bessmertnykh waited anxiously on the leader’s chair through 34 finishers before Sundby dethroned him. Bessmertnykh chose classic skis, as one of three in the top five and six of the top 10 on kick wax.
“I had a very good race and it was a good choice to go with kick wax,” he told FIS. “I had amazing skis. Our service team did a great job.”
After the first lap, both Sundby and Bessmertnykh’s times ran similar, with Sundby leading by 2.1 seconds. However, by 5 k, the two had already distanced themselves from the field with the next closest challenger, Norway’s Emil Iversen, 14.1 seconds behind Bessmertnykh.
At 10 k, the gap widened a bit, with Sundby opening his lead to 5.2 seconds on Bessmertnykh and 38.2 seconds on Røthe, who had moved into third. The finishing order would not change from there, although Bessmertnykh’s time at 12.1 k was within 2.7 seconds of Sundby’s.
“… I’ve got to throw some compliments to the Russian. He skied extremely well today,” Sundby told NRK. “It was a cool fight, but I’m glad it went my way of course.”
Sundby has now won all five World Cup distance races so far this season, including the Ruka Triple pursuit despite not being the winner of the day (which leaves some interpretation about whether Sundby has won four or five distance races this season). Last season, he won two non-pursuit distance races (plus two pursuits) and ended up winning the Overall World Cup crown.
For those keeping track at home, the male record for outright distance wins in one season is seven, achieved by Sundby’s teammate Petter Northug Jr. in 2009/2010, and Kazakhstan legend Vladimir Smirnov in 1993/1994.
In nine total World Cup races this season, Sundby has won six — including a relay as a member of the Norwegian men’s 4 x 7.5 k team.
Of 88 finishers, five were disqualified for skating: Kazakhstan’s Sergey Cherepanov and Nikolay Chebotko, Germany’s Andreas Katz, Austria’s Dominik Baldauf, and Korea’s Hwang Jun-ho.
Harvey 16th for Canada
Leading the North American men on Sunday were Canadians Alex Harvey in 16th (+1:29.9) and Devon Kershaw in 28th (+2:14.7).
According to Canadian head coach Justin Wadsworth, who is in Canada but touched base with his team after Sunday’s race, this was the first time Harvey and Kershaw double poled a World Cup distance race on skate skis.
“They were satisfied with their race, happy with the skis,” Wadsworth said on the phone. “For double poling they’re both pretty satisfied.”
Also for Canada, Graeme Killick double poled to 54th (+3:39.7) while Michael Somppi and Len Valjas opted for classic skis with kick wax and finished 70th (+4:34.9) and 75th (+5:03.6), respectively.
Comparing Sunday’s classic distance race with the freestyle sprint the day before, where the Canadians all finished outside of the top 60, Wadsworth said his team showed resilience on Sunday.
“Definitely a solid effort by the guys and I think it shows they are good mentally to be able to bounce back after yesterday,” he said in a Cross Country Canada press release.
He added that Kershaw has landed in the points at every distance race this season, a potential first for him and a welcomed sign for the upcoming Tour de Ski, one of the team’s focuses going into the season. Wadsworth told FasterSkier that Canada’s starters for the upcoming 2015/2016 Tour de Ski will be announced on Tuesday, Dec. 22.
For the U.S Ski Team, sprint specialist Andy Newell was the team’s top finisher after double poling to 52nd (+3:32.9). He was followed by Noah Hoffman in 61st (+4:00.3), and Kris Freeman in 78th (+5:15.3). After placing second in Saturday’s sprint, Simi Hamilton did not race on Sunday.
Erik Bjornsen did not race as he was recovering from a cold and “playing it safe in order to be fully healthy for the [Tour de Ski],” according to U.S. head coach Chris Grover in an email.
World Cup racing will resume after the holidays with the Tour de Ski kicking off Jan. 1 with a freestyle sprint in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
New to the FasterSkier team, Jeremy has been involved in many facets of the ski community since he began ditching middle school to go skiing. When not daydreaming of the Birkie, he finds time to explore the fishing and trail-running opportunities of his new home, Seattle, Wash.