North of the Arctic Circle three weeks from the equinox and it was buff weather in Ruka, Finland for the final race of the World Cup’s opening weekend. Norway’s Johannes Høsflot Klæbo sealed it with a win in the men’s 15 k freestyle pursuit. He won in a time of 35:29.7 minutes and a slim 1.8 seconds over teammate Emil Iversen. Yesterday’s 15 k classic winner, Iivo Niskanen of Finland was third (+11.1).
It was a weekend where Klæbo flexed. He won Friday’s classic sprint in superhuman fashion besting the closet chaser by over four seconds. He was momentarily displaced from the throne by Niskanen in yesterday’s race. The Finn is known as a dominant 15 k classic skier – in particular in his home country. He’s won four times on the World Cup, all in the 15 k classic and three of which were in Finland.
What he is not known for is his skate skiing prowess. But today, the results sheet and the images from the ski track tell the story of a three-skier race with Niskanen in it until the final climb.
Klæbo led out in the leader’s bib, then Iversen and Niskanen at 16 and 18 seconds respectively. There were lurkers starting a bit further back: most notably Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov at 43 seconds. Last season’s World Cup overall runner-up and distance overall winner placed fifth on Sunday (+48.3).
No surprise that Klæbo held off any contenders as he’s showing a re-birth of his distance skiing chops. But like Niskanen, Iversen has historically excelled in classic. Of Iversen’s nine World Cup distance podiums — they are almost exclsuively in classic. Now notch a skate podium to the mix.
Niskanen and Iversen pushed to close the gap to Klæbo. And by the 10 k mark with Niskanen taking the lead pull through the stadium. And Niskanen did not hide in the back, forcing the Norwegians duo to work upfront. A wise tactic, as both Klæbo and Iversen are the proven sprint closers.
Niskanen hung with the Norwegian tandem until the final hill — which also serves as the final hill on the Ruka sprint course. The Norwegians simply floored their sprint V1 and gapped Niskanen. Klæbo carried only a few meters of comfort room ahead of Iversen as he crossed the line.
For the U.S. Ski Team, Erik Bjornsen began the race in bib 28 and 2:26 behind Klæbo, the first skier off. Bjornsen moved up three spots to finish the weekend’s mini-Tour in 25th. He was 3:13.8 back for the three-race series and 1.23.7 minutes back from the fastest time of day set by Norway’s Hans Christer Hollund in 34:53.8.
Post-race interview with Erik Bjornsen
David Norris (APU) skied to 47th overall (+4:26.3) and 1:48.2 minutes back from Hollund’s fastest time. Kyle Bratrud (SMST2) was 59th, Kevin Bolger (USST) 65th, and Scott Patterson (USST) 68th. Simi Hamilton (USST) did not start.
The World Cup resumes next Saturday with a skiathlon and 4 x 5 / 4 x 7.5 k relays.
Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.