Within the first 1.8-kilometers of the 9 k freestyle pursuit up Alpe Cemis in the final stage of the Tour de Ski on Sunday, Martin Johnsrud Sundby padded his lead by 16 seconds, up to 3:07.5 minutes over his closest competitor, Alexey Poltoranin of Kazakhstan.
Just over seven kilometers and nearly 407 meters of vertical climbing later in Val di Fiemme, Italy, the 31-year-old Norwegian crossed the finish line with ease, capturing his third consecutive Tour de Ski title by a record-breaking margin of 3:15.7 ahead of second place, Norwegian teammate Finn Hågen Krogh.
As Sundby started 2:51 ahead of the field (with teammate Petter Northug heading out second) and raced himself up the mountain, a battle for the final podium spots took shape behind him. At the start, the four skiers starting behind Sundby — Northug, Poltoranin, Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov, and Krogh, respectively — all went off within ten seconds of one another. These four remained close through the flats and into the beginning of the climb, around 5.75 k.
Just after the 7.1 k time split and into the steepest pitches of the climb, things got interesting. Krogh moved to the front of the pack with Ustigov as Northug and Poltoranin yo-yoed off the back.
By 8.1 k, Krogh’s move split the group and put a little over five seconds between himself and Ustigov. Now down 30 seconds to Ustigov, Northug — visibly distressed and previously on record with Norwegian media as saying he will never win the tour because of this last stage — tossed his sunglasses, gritted his teeth and clung to Poltoranin.
Less than a kilometer later, Krogh widened his lead over Ustiugov to a little over 20 seconds. The 23-year-old Russian looked strong, but Krogh’s snappy skiing in the steepest sections separated him from the pack. The 25-year-old Norwegian’s final time for the stage would be the fourth-fastest of the day, only 14.3 seconds behind Sundby’s.
In a post-race interview with NRK, Krogh discussed his drive to finish second.
“Taking second place is the only thing that stood in my head,” he said. “I’ve thought about it all night and struggled to get to sleep. I was excited and did not particularly [have an] appetite this morning.”
At the finish Krogh was met with an embrace from his teammate Sundby, who had finished 3:15.7 earlier with a winning time of 30:47. Not only the winner of the pursuit, Sundby also set the fastest time of the day — mostly notable considering he skied uncontested from start to finish.
Rounding out the overall podium was Ustiugov, 3:43.8 behind Sundby and 28.1 seconds behind Krogh.
A reward for their efforts, Sundby earned 100,000 Swiss francs (CHF) by winning the final stage of the Tour: more than $100,500 U.S. dollars. Krogh took a little over half that amount in second (57,500 CHF, or $57,800) and Ustiugov claimed 35,000 CHF ($35,200 dollars) in third, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS) prize money list. So far this season, Sundby has racked up 215,500 CHF ($216,700) in World Cup prize money alone.
Despite finishing nearly 52 seconds off the podium in fourth (4:35.6 behind Sundby), Northug still received 20,000 CHF (about $20,000) for his result in Stage 8. Collapsing into a heap just after the finish, Northug maintained his streak of placing in the top four of the overall Tour standings to eight years. In fifth, less than three seconds behind Northug, was Poltoranin.
At the finish, Sundby told FIS, “It has been a perfect Tour for me. I had one bad day. But everything has been perfect.”
Not only did Sundby take the overall Tour title, he also won the fastest time of the day. Frenchman Robin Duvillard posted the second-fastest time, 7.2 seconds back, and Finland’s Matti Heikkinen was third (+11.8).
Seven Norwegians occupied the top 10 of the final Tour standings. On this accomplishment, Sundby told NRK, “This is a job that [has] many [people] behind it, I’m proud of this team. There is no one-man show. We work 200 days a year to become the world’s best cross-country nation, and I am so happy for the guys.”
Harvey 14th Overall; Babikov 11th Fastest Up the Climb
With five North American men racing the final climb, one landed in the top 15 overall and two posted top-15 times of the day.
Canada’s Alex Harvey finished the Tour in 14th overall (+6:57.3) after starting 12th. His teammate Ivan Babikov posted the 11th fastest time of day (31.9 seconds behind Sundby) to secure 29th (+12:42.2) after starting 29th.
American Noah Hoffman maintained his consistency in the final stage, moving up from 26th to finish 22nd (+10:44.3) with the 15th-fastest time (+56.4).
For Harvey, it was his third time completing the Tour de Ski and first time back on Alpe Cermis since finishing 40th there in 2012. In the years that followed, he skipped the final climb because of a blood-flow issue in his legs, which worsened with skate climbing. He had surgery to repair this past spring to remedy the problem.
After Sunday’s race, the 27-year-old Canadian remarked on the phone that although his Tour had not gone as well as he’d hoped, his legs finally felt good up the climb.
“On the climb I really felt good; my legs were not seizing up, and that’s the first time ever that’s not happened to me,” Harvey said.
In the past, he hit the climb and not been able to move. This year he found himself in a unfamiliar situation. “I actually had a bit too much left in the end,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect because over the years it has been so bad with my legs.”
Despite this, he finished with the 16th fastest time of the day (+1:07.4).
Looking back on his fourth completion of the Tour de Ski, Harvey expressed dissatisfaction.
“I’m not going to lie, I am pretty disappointed about the Tour, but I am really happy that the legs are working just as well as anyone else’s, so at least I am competitive on the climb. This is a big positive,” he said.
Going forward, gaining trust in his legs will prove essential when the Ski Tour of Canada kicks off in March.
“If I have a good tour like I did two and three years ago, I think it’s possible to fight for the top five and maybe podium on the climb,” he said. “It’s not something I believed before this year. I am really excited about that.”
The Ski Tour Canada, a brand-new, eight-stage series scheduled for March 1-12, ends with a 15 k classic pursuit.
While Harvey’s freestyle climbing may be a newfound skill, Hoffman and Babikov typically thrive on hill climbs. At the 2014 Tour de Ski, Babikov posted the third-fastest time in the final stage. Hoffman said on the phone that he entered Sunday with the belief that this stage is “really built around my strengths.
“The plan was to go out relax and let those guys come to me [the wave starters],” Hoffman said of his plan for the early flat terrain. As he transitioned to the climb, he focused on staying “as clean, and as efficient and as relaxed as possible.”
Despite skiing the 15th-fastest time of the day and moving up four places overall, Hoffman did not think he skied to his full ability.
“I had high hopes for myself,” the 26 year old said. “It’s a good result; it’s not a great, breakthrough result.”
Reflecting back on the tour, Hoffman continued, “I’m really happy with the way I moved from stage to stage. I was quite consistent throughout the Tour, which is definitely a big goal.”
He went on to mention that although consistent, he still remains without a notable finish.
“I didn’t have that big breakthrough result I was really hoping for, but there’s lots more racing to go this season,” he said.
Babikov, 35, skied the 11th-fastest time to finish in the top 30 of his seventh-consecutive Tour de Ski.
He started the day aiming to push through the flats and move up during the climb, “By the time the hill starts, you got to be up front to not get yo-yoed or dropped,” Babikov explained on the phone.
This is only Babikov’s second top 30 of the season, and he considered Sunday a positive step.
“It’s not my best result of course. Considering my shape, I think it’s quite good; I’m happy with it,” he said.
He added that this year’s Tour was great prep for the upcoming tour of Canada.
“For me, it’s really good prep. The more I race, the better I get,” he said.
The third Canadian in his 10th Tour de Ski — as many as Northug — finished 32nd (+13:47.7) after starting 33rd. In the opinion of Canadian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth, the final stage went well the team.
“All the guys skied really well today. It was good to finish out the Tour with some solid skiing with everyone on the team,” Wadsworth said.
This was a change from their overall Tour performance, which Wadsworth described as, “more not-so-good than good,” while adding, “There was some good races by the guys; everybody had their moments where they skied well.”
Wadsworth said the team is looking forward to the season-ending tour on home soil. “Our big focus is the Ski Tour of Canada, so hopefully we can rest up from this and put it together at home when it really counts,” he said.
Also for the U.S., 24-year-old Erik Bjornsen in his first Tour de Ski placed 41st (+17:51.4) after starting 42nd.
Racing resumes next weekend with a World Cup weekend of sprinting in Planica, Slovenia.
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.