As seems fitting for all things Davos, Switzerland: the racers enjoyed a bluebird day for the 1.5-kilometer freestyle sprint on Saturday. And just when we thought Johannes Høsflot Klæbo of Norway might be too spent from a year of media coverage and big-effort racing, he scored his first win of the season in gorgeous Davos.
He began the day at full-throttle in the men’s qualifier, placing first with a time of 2:22.39 minutes. Lucas Chanavat of France qualified second (+0.36) and Federico Pellegrino of Italy qualified third (+1.76).
Klæbo continued his winning streak throughout the heats, winning his quarterfinal, and semi. He finished the day with an overall win in the final, finishing in 2:20.44 minutes. This was Klæbo’s first win of the season. He qualified first in the 1.6-km skate sprint in Lillehammer, Norway two weeks ago, but he finished in 11th overall. One thing was for certain in Davos: Klæbo was skiing with confidence, snappiness, and some of the flair he’d been missing this season.
On the first climb of the final, Klæbo and Chanavat duked it out for the lead position. Pellegrino, skiing more conservatively at the outset, started in the back of the pack but was able to work the first corner to his advantage. By the top of the hill, he was sitting in third place. As the skiers lapped through and skated around the tight right-hander before the final climb, Kælbo was in stalk and hunt mode. He punched up the final climb and gapped the field on the downhill, sprinting to the finish ahead of Pellegrino who finished second (+.39).
“That’s what we train for the whole spring and all summer – so now I’m where I want to be. It’s a fantastic feeling,” Klæbo told Norwegian broadcaster NRK according to a translation. Klæbo also told NRK he has not confirmed his plans to race the Tour de Ski (TdS) and will make that decision in the coming days.
With the win on Saturday, Klæbo joins Norway’s Eirik Brandsdal and Petter Northug with nine wins each in World Cup individual sprint wins. The three all sit fourth all-time for World Cup sprint wins among Norwegian men.
For Pellegrino, it was his second podium of the season. He won the 1.6km skate sprint in Lillehammer. Pellegrino has won 11 freestyle sprint World Cups in his career which is the men’s record. That win total is topped by only Kikkan Randall who won 12 freestyle sprints, and Marit Bjørgen who won 24 freestyle sprints during their careers.
Despite his skate sprint pedigree, Pellegrino admitted he feels slightly old among the sprint scene’s young skiers.
“I think I am starting to be a bit old,” Pellegrino told the International Ski Federation (FIS). “This was my 10th race here in Davos and always passed the qualifications. I am really proud of that until now and I hope to do 10 more years and maybe I’ll beat the younger then.”
Babtiste Gros of France finished third (+1.40), barely out sprinting teammate Chanavat (+1.45) in the final. This was Gros’s first podium of the season and his fifth career podium.
Simi Hamilton(USST) was the only North American that qualified for the men in the Davos sprint. Hamilton was 17th (+4.76) in the qualifier. In the fifth heat, Hamilton was second to Joni Maeki of Finland to advance to the semis. A bit spent from the quick-turnaround after the fifth heat to the second semi-final, Hamilton placed sixth in his semi-final.
“Davos, it’s always been a good place for me, having grown up at 8,000 ft. I don’t feel like it’s super high here at 5,000 feet,” Hamilton told FasterSkier in a call. “I think it is still tough for everyone, but also for me when I haven’t been above 1,000 ft for the last 6 weeks, it’s still a shock to the system.”
Hamilton also spoke about his short recovery time from the fifth heat to the semis, and why he chose a later heat.
“Obviously you want to choose one of the earlier heats so you have a longer turnaround time between the quarters and the semis,” Hamilton added. “But, my main goal today was to ski into the semis. It’s always the big goal to be in the final and be on the podium, but I think setting the short-term, realistic goal is also important. So today, having not been at altitude for a while and not feeling super super good, I set the goal of just being in the semis. With that in mind, I chose heat five, knowing that would set me up best for getting into the semis, but probably wouldn’t result in me feeling really good in the semis. So I was kind of expecting that, but just went out and raced as hard as I could and completely ran out of gas in that semi-final and felt pretty crappy on that second lap. ”
US Ski Team Coach Matt Whitcomb also commented on Hamilton’s 12th place in a call.
“Nice step forward for Simi today,” Whitcomb said. “Not exactly what we need on a podium day, but it was still a step forward. He felt very controlled in his quarterfinal and was tactically sound today, made really good moves. It was nice to see him in the semifinals, it’s positive feedback for him. But I’m really looking forward to seeing him in the first few ski sprints in the Tour de Ski.”
Kevin Bolger (USST) was the second-best American, finishing 31st and barely missing the cut off for the heats. This is Bolger’s best individual result so far this season.
In an email to FasterSkier, Bolger explained he is feeling better energy in his first full World Cup season as a new member of the U.S. Ski Team.
“The qualifier was a fast 2 lapper, no room for error,” Bolger wrote. “Unfortunately, I ended up 31st just 0.02 out from qualifying, but it’s a step in the right direction. I’m moving forward and that’s a huge confidence booster going into Christmas break, and the Tour.”
Bolger also noted he will be racing in tomorrow’s 15 k skate individual start.
“It’ll be a burner, pretty tough course especially at altitude but I’m excited. I feel like my distance skiing is moving in the right direction as well, I’ll be using today’s result as fuel for tomorrow, but looking forward to getting out there and putting together a good race, should be a fun day in the sun!”
Alex Harvey was the best placed Canadian, placing 37th overall. Harvey, who in the past has explained he does not prefer higher altitude courses, has placed in the top-30 twice in Davos sprints: a ninth place in 2011, and a 23rd in 2017. Lenny Valjas, in his first World Cup of the season, was 53rd. Andy Shields finished in 60th. No other Canadians were entered.
Racing continues tomorrow for the men with a 15 k skate individual start.