Finn Hågen Krogh knows enough about the topsy turvy nature of this year’s Tour de Ski to maintain his focus on the overall outcome, not his last worst race.
“It’s ups and downs in the Tour, you just always have to look forward,” the 25-year-old Norwegian said in a post-race press conference following Friday’s 10-kilometer freestyle in Toblach, Italy. “There will always be some race that suits you. You just need to recover and move on.
“I don’t like doing bad ski races. I’m a sore loser and hopefully a good winner,” he told FasterSkier last Sunday after Stage 3 in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. He had just placed third in the 10 k freestyle pursuit after posting the fastest time of the day. “I like to do my best so every time I feel that I didn’t race to my potential I feel a little sad.”
Talk about high expectations.
For Krogh, Wednesday’s fifth stage was one of those days to forget, after placing 25th in the 15 k classic mass start. He had been skiing in fourth around 8 k when suddenly, for reasons unbeknownst to him and his coaches and techs, both his skis popped off. Krogh put them back on, but found himself outside the top 30 and more than 30 seconds back by 8.75 k. He finished a minute and seven seconds behind the winner.
Krogh rebounded on Friday, and was a good winner. In the 10 k freestyle individual start, he bested teammate Martin Johnsrud Sundby with a winning time of 22:07.8. Sundby, also coming back from an uncharacteristic 23rd in Wednesday’s 15 k, took second, 3.6 seconds after Krogh. France’s Maurice Manificat finished third, 14.6 seconds back from the win.
Heading into the last weekend of the Tour, including Sunday’s slog up Val di Fiemme’s Alpe Cermis, the Tour’s overall is still up for grabs. A bad day on Saturday or Sunday — which evidently is possible even for the best like Sundby — no skier has a lock on the Tour’s overall. That’s what made Friday’s race compelling.
Krogh started in bib 54, a minute ahead of Sundby in bib 56. The split times reveal a tight race from the beginning.
With a dusting of fresh snow on the trees and a slate-gray sky above, the two Norwegians hammered away. At the first time check at 1.7 k, Krogh and Sundby tied for third best time. At 2.1 k, the time difference between the two remained an eye-blink; Krogh bested Sundby by one tenth of a second. At 6.7 k, Sundby took Krogh by 1.8 seconds.
No doubt, Sundby and Krogh received the stats from coaches along the course. Yet the duel seemed over by 7.1 k: Sundby led by eight seconds — a margin Sundby never seems to hand back in a race’s closing kilometers.
However, in the final 2.9 k, Krogh gained enough speed to beat Sundby by 3.6 seconds at the finish.
Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov, finished in fourth, 16 seconds back, and overall contender, Norway’s Petter Northug placed 15th (+34.5).
After Stage 6, Sundby remains in the overall lead. Northug trails by 1:28.1, with Ustiugov right behind in third (+1:31.8). Krogh sits in fourth, where he can whiff the overall podium, 2:07.5 behind.
During the press conference, Krogh expressed that he understood the stars had aligned. “Yeah, it’s always good when you beat Martin. He has been extremely good this season, so you have to do everything right to beat him. Today was a great victory for me,” Krogh said.
Krogh saved enough energy during the race to prevent a pacing drop off.
“They said I was leading by a few seconds only,” Krogh recalled. “The start maybe I started a little bit too hard. The middle of the race was maybe little bit slow for me, but in the end I knew maybe I could win. Then I just pushed with everything I had.”
The ability to move beyond a poor result, as Krogh has done, remains a hallmark of successful skiers. Friday’s win sets him up for a possible two-day run at the overall podium.
“I just have to focus on doing good races in the end. Today and tomorrow, you just have to be in the top,” he explained. “The last day, maybe I can look if it’s possible to catch Ustiugov, but before today, I said it was impossible, but you never know. He can have maybe a bad tomorrow. So we will just have to see.”
As for the Tour leader, Sundby also proved one poor race does not make or break him. His performance stumble during Oberstdorf’s Stage 5 mass start, where he placed 23rd, is only a transitory part of his Tour narrative.
“It was relieving for my head to see that that thing that happened in Oberstdorf wasn’t like a total melt down physically. I am happy about this race,” Sundby said in the press conference.
“I had the feeling like it was going to be a good day. I didn’t feel like at all like I did in Oberstdorf. That was good,” he continued. “I knew that Finn was going to do a good race … He is quite strange like that. When he has a bad day like in Oberstdorf, he also does good races just after. So the most important thing for me today was for sure to have Ustiugov and Petter in the distance. Nothing is sure in this Tour. Everything can happen. We saw that in Oberstdorf and again we have a new race tomorrow. I will not take anything for granted.”
Hoffman’s First Top 20 of Season
For the U.S., Noah Hoffman bested his 41st on Wednesday. He finished in 19th as the top North American, 42.5 seconds behind Krogh, for his best result of the season.
After the race, Hoffman said his plan was basic. “My only goal was to keep it under control, and keep it clean … And I think I did that, so I’m happy,” he said.
The minimalist strategy kept Hoffman within the top 30 for the race’s duration. At the second time check, 2.1 k in, he was 28th. At the last time check before the finish, his time ranked 13th.
“I caught a nice ride early on, from one of the current leaders, [Russian Stanislav Volzhentsev], who was on his second lap and it was a good pace for me,” Hoffman recalled. “So I just stayed behind him, tried to keep it easy, and I tried to make it on my own on the last lap.”
Asked about Thursday’s rest day, the last of just two in the 10-day Tour, Hoffman was appreciative. “It was really good,” he said. “Needed and really good.”
With two stages remaining, Hoffman sits in 27th overall (+7:28).
Harvey Slips to 15th Overall
After beginning the day in 10th overall, Canada’s Alex Harvey hoped to move up, but instead, dropped back five places to 15th (+4:36.6).
Finishing 37th in the 10 k skate, a rare day when he was outside the points in a distance race, Harvey said he lacked his normal power.
“I felt good in the warm up. In the race, I had no power,” he said.
Harvey said his skis were good and the course was one on which he expected to excel. “It’s a lot of one-skate so it should be good for me,” he said.
Asked about his pacing, “I have no clue, but I was just bad from the beginning,” Harvey responded.
In a phone interview, Canadian National Team Head Coach Justin Wadsworth posits that Harvey is perhaps fatigued from a long, hard training season and grueling Tour.
“He didn’t have any real pop today, so I think that was just the story,” Wadsworth said. “In this sport, there are a lot of variables and just talking with Alex and just seeing, I think on the days when he has been a little rested, he’s had decent races. I think it was the other day, he might have a little general fatigue, but again this is my speculation.”
As for the Canadian team’s skis, Wadsworth said they were in the running.
“Skis are good,” he said. “When you are in good shape you can make the skis go well. When you are not in that maybe as good of shape, it’s harder to push the skis and you are not pushing as hard over the top. It’s one of those things.
“I mean, for sure when we are testing and everything, the skis feel good. They feel free and I think the speed was good on them,” Wadsworth added.
Historically, the Canadian team has thrived at the Tour de Ski.
“This team, we have had so much success in the past, especially in the Tour,” Wadsworth said of the core crew, with Harvey, Devon Kershaw, Ivan Babikov, and Lenny Valjas — the four members of the Canadian World Cup Team.
“The Tour has been one of those places where we have always been the strongest and we’ve got a lot of medals and I think it is frustrating for our guys,” he added. “I don’t think for whatever reason we are in top shape right now. We are going to have to go back and dissect things and look at the reasons why.
“It is not as fun and it puts pressure on everybody — from the wax techs, to myself, to the athletes,” Wadsworth continued. “Of course everything is sunshine and rainbows and unicorns when you are skiing well. And usually when you are skiing well, then it starts to reflect on the rest of the team. Right now we are definitely struggling a bit. But I do think coming out of the Tour if we do a good job resting and recovering, we are going to have good results this season. Now we can go for individual stages in the last two days and see what we get.”
Canadian Ivan Babikov finished 41st on Friday, 4:18.4 behind Krogh, for 33rd in the Tour (+9:21.8), while teammate Devon Kershaw placed 46th (+4:19) for 36th overall (+9:44.8). The second U.S. male aiming to complete his first Tour, Erik Bjornsen skied to 56th (+ 4:14.6) for 44th overall (+11:10).
Racing continues Saturday in Val di Fiemme, Italy, with the men’s 15 k classic mass start.
Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.