Groundhog Day. That was the feel of Sunday’s 6 x 1.2-kilometer freestyle team sprints at the World Cup in Planica, Slovenia, a day after Sweden’s Stina Nilsson and Italy’s Federico Pellegrino won the individual freestyle sprints on the same one-lap 1.2 k course.
The women’s team sprint came down to the final climb on the last leg — just like in the last round of the individual women’s sprint on Saturday. Trailing a Norwegian on the last descent and into the base of the climb back up to the stadium (yesterday it was Ingvild Flugstad Østberg; today it was Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen), Nilsson carried her speed to pull up alongside and blow past the Norwegian, leading by the top.
The 22-year-old Nilsson, both U23 and Sprint World Cup leader, continued to accelerate in the last 200 hundred meters to the finish, winning in 3.51 seconds for her second victory of the weekend. Nilsson shared it with Ida Ingemarsdotter, 30, teammates on Sweden’s first team (noted as Sweden I).
“We had a great day as a team. You could say we are a good couple,” Nilsson told FIS after the race. “Ida did a great work. In the final lap I was in a good position and I could ski as I wanted. I am very satisfied with the weekend in Planica.”
After sharing the podium with Nilsson on Saturday, Heidi Weng and Jacobsen teamed up for Norway I and finished second after leading at every exchange, just ahead of the Swedes. Nilsson and Ingemarsdotter had won their semifinal (ahead of Americans Ida Sargent and Sophie Caldwell in second) to automatically advance to the final, and Weng and Jacobsen won the other semifinal.
“This is better than third, but not good enough tactically to win,” Jacobsen told VG after the final, according to a translation. “Towards the end Stina had a gear that I had not.”
After nine of 10 teams skied within four seconds of the lead through the first two exchanges, Weng picked up the tempo on her second leg (third overall), and Ingemarsdotter and Germany’s I’s Sandra Ringwald stuck closest to her. Meanwhile, Sweden II slipped about 1.5 seconds off the pace in fourth, while the U.S., with Ida Sargent and Sophie Caldwell, skied in fifth (+4.46) at the third exchange — the halfway point.
One lap later, Jacobsen and Nilsson remained close, about half a second ahead of Sweden II’s Hanna Falk in third. Germany’s I’s Hanna Kolb came through the exchange a second later in fourth. By the final exchange, Weng and Ingemarsdotter had gapped Germany’s Ringwald, skiing in third, by 2 1/2 seconds.
“I knew Weng would run hard, especially in the second and third lap and am happy that I could latch on to and give Stina a good position,” Ingemarsdotter told Dagens Nyheter, according to a translation.
“Ida made it perfect. I just got the position I wanted,” Nilsson said.
Germany’s first team hung onto third and secured third, 8.84 seconds behind Sweden and 5.33 seconds behind Norway, for their first podium in almost two years.
“My attack came maybe a little too early, but it was the plan, and maybe that didn’t totally work out because I folded a little in the end,” Ringwald told German TV broadcaster ZDF. “But the three of us were able to create a gap, and so we are satisfied with the third place.”
“I am really relieved, because we knew we had a gigantic chance today and that we had to grasp it,” Kolb said. “Just a great feeling.”
Last season, Nilsson and Ingemarsdotter won the only team sprint on the schedule — also freestyle technique — in Otepää, Estonia. There, they beat Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla and Østberg by 0.85 seconds, and Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk and Sylwia Jaskowiec finished 0.95 seconds back in third.
Falla and Østberg rested on Sunday, while Mari Eide and Kathrine Rolsted Harsem represented Norway II. Fourth through seventh were separated by 2.77 seconds, with Falk (Sweden II) leading the chase group in for fourth (+18.24), followed by Caldwell in fifth (+20.57).
Germany II’s Lucia Anger edged Harsem in a photo finish for sixth by 0.01 seconds, 21 seconds behind the winners. Two Slovenian teams reached the final, placing eighth (+47.24) and 10th (+2:42.12), while Italy finished ninth (+55.98).
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Italy, France, France
Minutes after the women’s final, the men’s final played out to produce the identical winner to Saturday’s sprint — Italy’s Federico Pellegrino — who essentially pulled off the same move as Nilsson, not long after she anchored the Swedish women to the win in 16:14.08. Pellegrino anchored Italy’s first team (with teammate Dietmar Nöckler) to the win in 14:44.82.
In yet another repeat, France occupied the remaining spots on the podium in the men’s race. Renaud Jay of France’s first team led five frontrunners into the exchange zone for the last time, with France I, Germany I, Italy I, Russia I, and Norway I all within a second of one another.
On the next lap, Jay’s teammate Baptiste Gros set a blistering pace and Pellegrino chased him up the longest climb on the course. There, they began to break away from Germany and France’s second team, and Gros continued to lead up the final ascent.
On that climb, Pellegrino pulled a “Nilsson,” so to speak, as he carried his momentum from the downhill draft to pass Gros before the top. The 25-year-old Pellegrino, who became Italy’s winningest Italian male skier of all time on Saturday with his seventh individual World Cup win, added another victory to his resume as he skated away toward the finish, looking back a few strides before and winning in 1.79 seconds.
France I’s Jay and Gros place second, and France II, with 20-year-old Valentin Chauvin and Richard Jouve, 21, held off Germany for third (+2.41).
Germany I, with Thomas Bing and Sebastian Eisenlauer, notched fourth (+2.93). Norway missed the podium for the second-straight men’s race with Norway I’s Anders Gløersen and Eirik Brandsdal in fifth (+4.51) and Norway II’s Ola Vigen Hattestad and Pål Golberg in seventh (+7.66), behind Russia’s Gleb Retivykh and Alexey Petukhov in sixth (+6.46).
Americans Andy Newell and Simi Hamilton crossed the finish line in eighth, but were disqualified for missing the tag in the zone on the second exchange.
Early in the race, Gløersen led though the first exchange to give Norway I an early lead, but they slipped to sixth with Brandsdal on the next leg, 1.3 seconds behind Norway II in first. Hattestad had brought Norway II into the lead, and by the fourth exchange, his teammate Golberg remained third, within half a second of Pellegrino and Gros. One lap later, Norway I and II came through the last exchange in fifth and sixth, 1 and 2 seconds out, respectively.
Norwegian commentators were quick to call Sunday’s final another instance of the Norwegians being “outclassed,” pointing out that six Norwegians occupy the top seven in the men’s overall World Cup standings. In the sprint standings, Pellegrino leads Norway’s Sondre Turvoll Fossli by nearly 200 points. Finn Hågen Krogh ranks fourth and Petter Northug is the third Norwegian in the top six.
“I realized a dream I had at a very young age,” Pellegrino told Italy’s La Gazzetta after Sunday’s win, according to translation. It was apparently Italy’s first team-sprint win since the women won in 2010 in Düsseldorf, Germany.
“In my early years of the World Cup, one of my first trips to the World Cup was in Düsseldorf, where they scheduled just a sprint and team sprint,” he added. “Seeing champions such [Italy’s Arianna] Follis and [Norway’s] Hattestad that could make a perfect weekend lit my imagination. I wondered if I could ever do it.”
For Nöckler, 27, it was his first World Cup win.
“I did not feel that good in the semifinal,” he told FIS after he and Pellegrino qualified second behind France’s Jay and Gros. France II won the other semifinal.
“I knew Federico is the best finisher in the world,” Nöckler added. “I tried to work hard to prepare a good position for him. We have won five Italian national championships together. It is great to win the World Cup.”
At 2015 Word Championships, Nöckler and Pellegrino earned bronze in the freestyle team sprint (behind Norway and Russia, respectively).
France’s Jay was thrilled to be on the podium after placing fourth on Saturday.
“I knew Baptiste was very strong today,” Jay told FIS. “I wanted to gain some meters before the last exchange so that Baptiste has advantage on Pellegrino, but Federico was too strong.”
For Chauvin, the weekend marked his first on the World Cup.
“It is just amazing,” he said of Sunday’s podium. “It is fantastic I could be on the podium with my friends. The whole team did great here during the whole weekend.”
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.