Finland’s Iivo Niskanen took the victory in Sunday’s 15-kilometer classic individual start in Otepää, Estonia. This is Niskanen’s first World Cup win of the season and his third career individual World Cup victory.
During the first half of the race, Niskanen’s splits were up on the rest of the field and by 7.5 k, he had almost 15 seconds on the next closest competitor. Niskanen finished in a time of 19:26.8. Niskanen was just voted Finland’s “Athlete of the Year” at Finland’s Annual Sports Gala.
“It was a nice way to start a new season and new year,” Niskanen told the International Ski Federation (FIS) after the race. “I have been really tired after the Sports Gala in Finland. Yesterday, I couldn’t have done this kind of result, but I was happy that when I woke up this morning I felt fresh legs. So it was easy to classic 15k today even though the weather was so slow.”
Finishing 15.9 seconds behind Niskanen on Sunday was Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov in second place. This is Bolshunov’s eighth individual podium of the 2018/2019 World Cup season.
Sunday’s third and final podium spot went to Norway’s Didrik Tønseth, who finished 46.4 seconds off of the winning time.
Erik Bjornsen of the U.S. Ski Team was the top North American on Sunday, finishing in 30th (+2:35.7).
“Today was okay,” Bjornsen wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “I had some good moments during the race. My fitness is not where I would like it to be right now so I’m trying to turn that around.
“This weekend was a step in the right direction,” he added. In yesterday’s classic sprint, he finished 24th.
“My focus is on the team sprint and the individual 15 k at world champs,” he wrote on Sunday. “Today was a tough effort and hopefully something I can build off of. I’m not satisfied with a 30th place finish.”
Following Bjornsen, the next U.S. skier to finish was Scott Patterson in 36th (+3:01.0).
“Today was a step in the right direction for me,” Patterson wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “US Nationals was a little tough due to a painful shoulder injury over the holidays; however, I am working on putting that behind me and building towards peak fitness for later in the season. I started a little slow in Period 1 and today was definitely better than that. There is still lots of room for improvement, but today represented progress.”
“I think the US techs did a great job today for the men’s race in figuring out pretty good skis for some tricky conditions with loose blowing snow, some glazing sections, steep hills, and blown out tracks,” Patterson continued. “It was extremely variable skiing today. Relative to others I skied with in the race, I think our skis were competitive.”
Also racing for the U.S., Ben Lustgarten finished 53rd (+4:41.1) and Kevin Bolger 56th (+4:57.3).
“I’m coming off of a week of being sick before Dresden and the last few days I was taking some antibiotics to get over my sickness, so the body wasn’t feeling the best,” Bolger wrote in an email to FasterSkier.
Canadians Len Valjas and Bob Thompson placed 43rd (+3:56.9) and 52nd (+4:24.0), respectively.
American Andy Newell did not start Sunday’s 15 k race.
Next weekend, the World Cup will head to Ulricehamn, Sweden. Patterson told FasterSkier, “Apparently they have already sold 40,000 tickets for the races so it should be a great show.”