CANMORE, Alberta — Belay the pressure, bridal the win.
Just ask Italy’s Federico Pellegrino, the winner of the men’s 1.5-kilometer classic sprint in Canmore on Tuesday.
“Today … I was really without pressure, any kind of pressure,” Pellegrino told FasterSkier after the final, “Because the globe was in Italy.”
After Pellegrino secured the Sprint World Cup Crystal Globe last week in Québec City, he entered the Ski Tour Canada’s fifth stage–trophy still in tow–with no weight on his shoulders.
“I raced like this in the first month of the season and I won four times,” said Pellegrino, the first non-Norwegian or Swedish male to win the overall Sprint World Cup.
“Then when I started to think about the globe I had some problems — in my mind,” he added. “But after Gatineau, after Québec City, after I won the globe, I was without any kind of pressure.”
Pellegrino’s win in the sprint final on Tuesday, which he secured in a time of 3:43.33 minutes, stood as his second World Cup classic sprint podium–after placing third in 2013 in Davos, Switzerland–and his first classic-sprint career win.
“Turn after turn, it was always better for me and for my skis,” Pellegrino said. “My goal for today was to pass the quarterfinals and then to pass the semifinal and then to win the final. And when you realize your goals, it’s so good.”
The Final: Pellegrino On the Prowl, Northug On Standby
Seeing the likes of Petter Northug strolling around a sprint course? At the start of the final, the Norwegian wasted no time — or energy — making a statement about his final sprint effort.
“I was just skiing around and enjoying the great tracks,” Northug told FasterSkier afterward.
Some hypothesized it was a tactical move to save himself for the Tour’s later races. However, Northug’s usual cheeky charades also perhaps played into his decision to take his time.
“I’m a really bad skier when it comes to finals,” Northug said. “I have to work on that.”
Sprinting and sarcasm? More of the same from Norway’s notorious nordic celeb.
While Northug slowed to a trudge within the first few hundred meters, France’s Maurice Manificat, Pellegrino, and three other Norwegians — Finn Hågen Krogh, Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Eirik Brandsdal — burned the pace at the sound of the gun.
“Our tactic was to try to get the pace as slow as possible for Petter and Martin, but these [Pellegrino and Manificat] didn’t want to,” Krogh said during a post-race press conference. “For sure, I wanted to stay as close to these guys as possible.”
Heading into the second half of the Tour in Canmore, Northug and Sundby ranked in the top five, with Northug sitting in second and in pursuit of Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov in first. On Tuesday, Ustiugov won the qualifier and rocketed to first in his quarterfinal, but fell to fifth in his semifinal and did not reach the final. He placed ninth on the day, but remains 19.5 seconds ahead of Northug in the Tour.
In the final, Manificat led the group up the first and second climbs, while Brandsdal, Krogh, Pellegrino and Sundby followed behind.
“Perhaps I could have done a little better,” Sundby said during an interview after the race. “I have a major job to do for the next competition. But my shape is quite good. Better now than the beginning of the tour.”
As the group looped back by the stadium, Brandsdal and Krogh moved to the front by the top of the third major course climb, with Pellegrino pressing hard to their right. Manifcat and Sundby losing ground at the top of the final descent.
By the bottom of the last hill, however, the five finalists had regrouped for the finishing stretch.
Pellegrino pulled Manificat in the right-most tracks, while Sundby, Krogh and Brandsdal stuck to the two center lanes. Manifact then maneuvered out from behind Pellegrino in front of Brandsdal, challenging the Italian from his left. Breaking free of Manificat, Brandsdal went left, ahead of Sundby.
The final double-pole pushes, however went to the blue suit of Pellegrino, who outlunged Krogh by 0.54 seconds. Manificat was 1 second back in third place.
“I didn’t know this morning that I would be on the podium with these guys, the best in the world,” Manificat said at a post-race press conference, sitting alongside Pellegrino and Krogh.
In his first sprint final and first sprint podium, Manificat made it clear that he was not going to let that stop him from the prized step.
“I’m not really a sprinter,” he said during an in-person interview. “[But] even if the legs burn and the body burns you have to stay focused.”
With his previous best in a World Cup sprint being eighth–which he last achieved in both 2010 and 2011–Manificat referred to sprinting as “a game”. This season, the French men’s team found it’s a game they have won multiple times. At the last freestyle sprint in Quebec, France’s Baptiste Gros edged Canada’s Alex Harvey for the win.
“We have for sure a good sprinter team this year,” Manificat said at a press conference. “They inspire us and especially me, and I tried to do something for the race today.”
Just off the podium, Sundby placed fourth (+2.21), which was enough to move him up to fourth in the Tour, 1:55.3 behind Ustiugov and about 45 seconds behind fellow Norwegian Emil Iversen in third overall. Krogh finished fifth (+32.79) while Northug leisurely rounded the course, crossing the line 2:15.14 minutes back in sixth.
Canada’s Valjas ‘Can’t Complain’ in 11th; Harvey In Need of ‘Reflection’
After getting to compete in Tuesday’s sprint heats in front of a home crowd, Canadian World Cup Team member Lenny Valjas said he “can’t complain.”
While he didn’t reach the final, Valjas stood as the top North American on Tuesday, placing 11th after finishing sixth in his semifinal. The result was his second best of the season, after placing 10th in a classic sprint at the Tour de Ski earlier this year.
“This was a dream come true to get back in the semi for the second time this year, back here at home,” Valjas said during an in-person interview. “I have my parents here, family. I couldn’t have picked a better day.”
After qualifying in 18th, Valjas advanced to the fourth quarterfinal where he finished in third, 0.61 seconds behind Northug, who won that heat in 3:33.40.
“In the quarterfinal, the skis were fantastic,” said Valjas, a 27-year-old Toronto native.
He moved on to the second semifinal as the first of two lucky losers.
“The semifinal I just started getting a bit tired,” he recalled. “I was I was sitting at the back and if you don’t push over the tops of the hills, you don’t get the same finishing speed.”
The top Canadian fought for fifth at the top of the second climb, but ultimately settled for sixth, 7.76 seconds Manificat, who won that second semifinal in 3:45.07.
“Usually I qualify and stop,” Valjas said regarding some of this season’s sprint races. “This is hard. Doing this three times today, that’s how you get fit for sprinting. It’s just the feeling of skiing fast when you’re dead. I’m not used to that, because I [have been] unlucky getting 31st so many times [this season]. … Next year, I want to get into the heats early.”
Two Canadian men reached the heats, with Alex Harvey qualifying in 14th (+5.41) and ending the day in 21st overall.
“Very disappointed with today’s result, even more so because I lost ground on the ones I am chasing and it allows for the those behind me to gain some ground after I kept them at bay in Quebec City,” Harvey wrote in a statement to the media.
“My analysis and comments will come after I’ve had a chance to think calmly,” Harvey added. “The entire team will be part of the reflection.”
Despite skiing in second for much of the beginning of his quarterfinal, Harvey slipped back to fifth by the end of his heat, crossing 5.12 seconds behind Sundby, who won the third quarterfinal in 3:34.61.
“He was definitely unhappy about the skis,” Canadian head coach Justin Wadsworth said after.
Wadsworth added that the way Harvey raced the course’s corners could have also affected his speed in the quarterfinal.
“Some places are sunny, some are in the shade, it’s all if you come out of the corner and you’re in kind of the wrong place,” Wadsworth explained. “If you hit a little bit of that wet snow that maybe somebody else didn’t hit, that’s game over coming into this long downhill and it translates into looking like bad skis.”
Harvey slipped one spot to fifth in the Ski Tour Canada (STC) standings heading into Wednesday’s 30 k skiathlon.
“It’s a bittersweet day,” Wadsworth said, referring to the juxtaposed performances of Harvey and Valjas, as well as 22-year-old Dahria Beatty’s breakthrough in 15th place in the women’s sprint. “In Alex’s case he got bumped out of the quarters and we’re going to use that as a positive and be more rested for tomorrow.”
No American men qualified on Tuesday, with U.S. Ski Team member Erik Bjornsen leading the team in 44th.
“Just trying to keep it rolling,” Bjornsen said of the rest of the Tour. “[With] four races left, really looking forward to some of those distance races and finishing in the 15 k classic. That’s a good race for me.”
Canada’s Devon Kershaw narrowly missed the heats in 33rd, Simi Hamilton (USA) placed 47th, Knute Johnsgaard (CAN) was 48th, Andy Newell (USA) 52nd, Patrick Stewart-Jones (CAN) 54th, Jess Cockney (CAN) 54th, Bob Thompson (CAN) 58th, Graeme Killick (CAN) 59th, Russell Kennedy (CAN) 61st, Reese Hanneman (USA) 62nd, Andy Shields (CAN) 64th, Kevin Sandau (CAN) 66th, Ivan Babikov (CAN) 68th, Noah Hoffman (USA) 69th, Simone Lapointe (CAN) 70th, Scott Patterson (USA) 72nd, Eric Packer (USA) 73rd, Michael Somppi (CAN) 76th, Tad Elliott (USA) 77th, Dakota Blackhorse-vonn Jess (USA) 78th, Brian Gregg (USA) 81st, and Matt Liebsch (USA) 83rd.
— Gerry Furseth, Jason Albert, and Alex Kochon contributed
Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.