Working off the premise that history repeats itself, there were only so many ways this grueling 30 k skiathlon in Lathi, Finland could end. The plot, this weekend, thickened with the return of Norway to the field and all eyes on Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov post-two week break from a historic and runaway win at the Tour de Ski. Would Bolshunov hold the snap and power for 30 k with a horde of Norwegian men hungry to prove themselves after a World Cup hiatus? Would Norway crush – fresh from high-level domestic racing but muscles absent the load of eight stages at the Tour?
On the surface, Norway benefitted from their absence while Russia, still the bear of the men’s field, looked more withered (but still formidable) after a long hibernation than anything else.
After 15 k of classic, Finland’s Iivo Niskanen led the top group of 30, who were separated by roughly twenty seconds.
Not so much lurking behind the Finn as just biding their time was Norway’s powerhouse men’s squad, which had many cards to play. Near the front for Norway were 2018 Olympic skiathlon champion Simen Hegstad Krüger, Hans Christer Holund, Sjur Røthe, Emil Iversen, and Pål Golberg. The only Russians in the top-10 at that point were Bolshunov and Evgeniy Belov.
Absent the load of eight Tour stages, and perhaps eager to demonstrate their supremacy, Norway ruled the skate portion of the race. At 20 k, Iversen, Holund, Røthe were driving upfront in a pack of nine skiers — five Norwegians, two Russians, a lone Swede in Jens Burman, and the Finn, Niskanen.
The lead pack ebbed and flowed during the next 5 k. What you need to know is this: six skiers popped off to animate the closing kilometers on this storied drizzle-slicked Lahti course. As we mentioned before, this was Norway’s race.
At roughly 1:06:30 into the race, Krüger drove led followed by Røthe, Holund, Bolshunov, and Iversen — all within a few meters of one another with Golberg a second off the pace but holding on.
Lahti possesses many locations where the topography makes for spicy racing. There’s Lahti corner, a sweeping downhill into the stadium which has, in the past, taken out many would-be heroes. But before that descent, there’s a curvy section leading into a notorious kicker — a place to make a move in the closing moments of the race.
Leading into the punchy ascent, Bolshunov and Holund slid into the netting and crashed. The others streamed into the climb with no momentum lost. Iversen sent it, and with a hippity hop-skate passed Røthe, Golberg and Krüger. Bolshunov, after righting himself, faded slightly off the back while Holund straggled up with a broken pole.
Iversen, Røthe, Golberg and Krüger came into Lahti corner clear for the top-four spots. Only Krüger botched the corner with a slight stumble. Iversen coursed into the straight followed by Røthe. Iversen took the win in 1:10:18.4, with Røthe second (+0.4), and Golberg third (+6.6). Krüger placed fourth (+9.5), Bolshunov fifth (+20.9) and Holund sixth (+28.7). This was Iversen’s first skiathlon win on the World Cup, an event he won last week at the Norwegian National Championships.
Adding to his string of top-20 finishes in the Tour de Ski, Gus Schumacher was the top finisher for the US in 18th (+1:31.1), finishing a pack led by Great Britain’s Andrew Musgrave in 15th (+1:29.8).
“It was definitely pretty nice to be in the classic and feel like I was relaxed and knowing that they weren’t necessarily pinning it, but there were still people falling off the back so I knew there was some gusto to that pace,” said Schumacher of his pacing in the classic portion with a full field of Norwegian skiers in the mix.
Schumacher was 8.1 seconds off the lead, in a mass of skiers stringing out as he skied through the 15 k mark and beginning the skate. “I was lucky to start in bib 12 so I did not have to fight through the pack. My goal was to hold that position and did not experience a ton of accordion running into the back of people after downhills and I did pretty well with that and then it started to split up more, so it was pretty easy, relatively easy to stay relaxed in that pack.”
A few seconds behind in 21st was Scott Patterson (+1:35.1) for his second time in the top-30 this season. Patterson has a history of strong results in the skiathlon; he finished 18th in the event during the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang and 30th at the 2019 World Championships in Seefeld, Austria.
“I feel like I have really kind of struggled with classic this year, I haven’t really found a groove, I think that was kind of the case today,” Patterson said in a post-race call. “it felt really chaotic, and a lot of work there racing the classic 15 k.” Patterson came through 15 k, the race mid-point in 29th, 18.8 seconds off the lead.
“I was feeling good and relaxed on the skate,” he added. “I am satisfied [with the result], I always want more, always want another breakthrough to make the next step or like get into the top-10 or something like that. But I am pretty happy with today. I think there are a lot more good opportunities to try and build some momentum here.”
Patterson, at times, moved into the top-20 during the skate, coming through in 16th at 20 k.
Returning to the World Cup after a COVID-19 infection interrupted his start to the season, David Norris finished 32nd (+2:56.8).
“The travel to Finland went well and I’ve adjusted to the time change okay – a few hours around 2 am where I roll around. Post-Covid the hard efforts have been a challenge, but every hard workout is making it better. This was my second race of the season and I’m pleased with the improvement even from my first race in Anchorage two weeks ago.”
“The toughest part of today’s race was just getting into the mix and responding to the early pace changes. At this point I just need to race as much as possible- I expect that I’ll have a good response to these hard efforts over the next two weeks.
“I’d say today was a success. Ten weeks or so my goal was to get back to race form by the end of the year. Today proved to me that I am not far from that and that my base from summer is still with me. I’m honestly relieved that I had glimpses of my usual shape during today’s race. Today was a great step towards reaching my season goals, which are in Oberstdorf.”
Adam Martin was the next from the American squad in 45th (+5:27.9), finishing alongside Hunter Wonders in 46th (+5:27.9). Today was Wonders’ first appearance on the World Cup. Ian Torchia was lapped by the leaders on his eighth lap, forcing him to withdraw from the event at the 20-kilometer mark.
Racing for Canada, Russell Kennedy was the top finisher in 29th (+2:40.8). Teammate Antoine Cyr finished 37th (+3:50.1), Phillipe Boucher 47th (+5:34.2), and Remi Drolet 49th (+6:30.1).
– Rachel Perkins contributed
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.