For the Norwegian men, racing with comrades in red essentially means nothing — except for maybe a pat on the back or a head nod at the finish. Ask Martin Johnsrud Sundby, Petter Northug or Didrik Tønseth, all of which started within a minute and 31 seconds of one another as the first three starters of Sunday’s 10-kilometer freestyle pursuit.
It was enough of a task to catch Sundby, the Tour de Ski’s leader after two stages. The 31-year-old overall World Cup leader started the Stage 3 pursuit in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, 1:18 ahead of Northug. Thirteen seconds after Northug, 24-year-old Tønseth set out on the three-lap course.
Clearly on a mission, Tønseth caught Northug by 1.2 k. The two skied together, 28 seconds ahead of Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov, after Ustiugov started 1:53 back in fourth. They remained 1:27 behind Sundby, and stuck together for all but the final minutes of the 10 k race.
That was Northug’s choosing. Still 1:36 behind Sundby at 7 k, the 29-year-old, oft-controversial Norwegian accelerated around 20 minutes into the race and dropped Tønseth before 8.7 k. There, Tønseth fell 20 seconds behind Northug and was just eight seconds ahead of the chase group behind him, with Norway’s Finn Hågen Krogh leading Ustiugov and Norway’s Sjur Røthe.
“It is as if they were from two different nations!” NRK commentator Fredrik Aukland exclaimed as he watched Northug leave Tønseth for the taking.
Northug ended up closing the deficit to Sundby to 1:25.2 at the finish. Sundby secured his second-straight stage victory in 21:44.7 and Tønseth finished at the back of the Krogh-Ustiugov-Røthe train in sixth (+1:54.7).
After he did most of the pulling throughout the race, leading Northug at every checkpoint through 7 k, Tønseth told NRK that he and Northug “rarely work well together, and we did not today, either,” according to a translation.
“I had hoped for more help,” Tønseth added. “The partnership does not work particularly well for me, but it did for him.”
That said, he wasn’t surprised by Northug’s see-ya-later move. Tønseth explained they are from rival clubs: Byåsen and Strindheim.
“Our clubs are archenemies; we saw that today,” he said.
He also wasn’t in a position to respond. “I saw stars when he jerked,” Tønseth said. “I stopped completely.”
Still second in the Tour after three stages, Northug said he was feeling the effects of his second-place effort in Saturday’s 30 k classic mass start.
“It was a hard 30 km yesterday and I could still feel it today,” Northug told FIS. “I tried to speed in the last lap to gain some seconds back.”
Asked about how others reacted to his move on Tønseth, Northug responded, “99.9 percent of all skiers are sour on me because of that.”
And is he OK with that?
“Yes, I take it with me to the grave.”
But enough about Northug — let’s get back to Sundby, who currently leads the Tour by 1:30.2 over Northug and 2:00.2 over Krogh, who skied the fastest time of the day to rise to third overall.
“I am ready for a rest day,” Sundby told FIS. “I knew I was being chased. I am happy I could gain some more seconds.”
In another spicy storyline, Krogh started sixth and caught his teammate Røthe within the first kilometer. Those two played nice and worked together throughout the race, reining Tønseth in and entering the stadium together for a final push for third.
Krogh upped the chase pack’s tempo around 8.7 k to catch Tønseth, then the four-man group contended for the podium in the finishing stretch. Krogh continued to lead the group in, and outlasted Ustiugov in a photo finish for third, 1:50.2 behind Sundby.
A day after shouting an assortment of curse words at the finish (he had lost contact with the lead group when he crashed during the 30 k), Krogh said he was happier with Sunday’s result.
“I had a lot of pent-up pressure from yesterday, which I needed to release,” he told NRK. “I’m actually wondering if maybe my crash was a bonus in the overall picture. I really wanted to reverse the damage, and I feel like I succeeded in that.”
He ended up with the fastest race time in 21:20, 25 seconds faster than Sundby. While Krogh said he doesn’t have any specific goals for the Tour, he’ll continue to strive for top results.
“He, he. I am a competitive person, no doubt,” Krogh said. “Those who know me well know that it does not take much, no matter what form of competition it is, before I get pissed. But I will most pissed when I manage to [ruin] it for myself as I did yesterday.”
Ustiugov held his position in fourth in the Tour and is now 2:05.2 behind Sundby. Røthe finished fifth and Tønseth sixth and are 2:07.9 and 2:09.7 back overall, respectively.
Some 38 seconds behind Tønseth on Sunday, Kazakhstan’s Alexey Poltoranin and Switzerland’s Dario Cologna raced to the line for seventh, and Poltoranin took it by 0.6 seconds (+1:54.7). Poltoranin bested another four-man chase group, with Harvey finishing ninth (+2:35) and Belov 10th (+2:35.1). Norway’s Niklas Dyrhaug was nearly a minute father behind in 11th (+3:26.4).
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) 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.