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The inevitable conclusion at the sharp end of the 2021 Tour de Ski came to fruition. The ticks of the clock to second skier overall, France’s Maurice Manificat (34), tell the abridged version of the past seven stages: Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov began the mass start race to the Alpe Cermis hill climb finish with a yawning 3:22 minute lead.
Beyond simply outperforming his peers, Bolshunov’s 2021 Tour de Ski is simply a highlight reel of a 24-year-old becoming a generational talent on the World Cup. He also had history on his side. In 11 previous 14 editions of the Tour de Ski, the leader coming into the final stage went on to win the overall Tour de Ski title.
The race for the final overall podium heightened the tension for an otherwise closed-book narrative for first place. Coming into the final stage, Manificat held a five-second lead on Russia’s Ivan Yakimushkin (+3:27) and Artem Maltsev (+3:27), with Denis Spitsov fifth overall (+3:50). Fifty-one starters churned down the Marcialonga course in Val di Fiemme skating towards the awaiting headwall.
Up the lower flanks of the Alpe, Bolshunov was initially surrounded by his team in red. A group, by the stage’s end, that would crowd the top-10 with seven skiers.
The stage accolades went to Spitsov, who began to pull away later in the race. He won in 32:41.0 minutes for his first stage win of the Tour and his second podium – he placed second in Stage 4’s 15 k skate. The yellow-bibbed Bolshunov paced to second (+13.3), with Manificat in third (+15.2)
With his effort, Spitsov lept over Maltsev and Yakimushkin to take third overall in the Tour. Manificat finished second overall.
This was another Bolshunov coronation. Bolshunov won six of eight stages, locking up every distance race in this Tour outside of the Alpe climb, amounting to five stage wins. He placed second and third, respectively, in the two sprint stages. Say what you want about each race being animated differently with the Norwegian men’s team absent and a potentially different outcome for the Russian; he raced against those who showed up and decimated the field.
With a cumulative time of 3:32:32.3 hours, Bolshunov becomes the second male skier to win back-to-back Tours after Swiss skier Dario Cologna won the 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 iterations. He also becomes the fourth men’s skier to have won the Tour multiple times. (Cologna won four, Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby two, and the Czech Republic’s Lukáš Bauer won two).
No need to calculate or parse the data – the win and its trove of World Cup points keeps Bolshunov in the lead for the World Cup overall as the race scene takes a break until January 23rd when the World Cup reconvenes, with the Norwegians in attendance, in Lahti, Finland. For those keen on the data, Bolshunov possesses 1297 points, with the next closes skier, Yakimushkin in second, has earned 631.
For American skiers, Gus Schumacher catapulted into our imaginations and the results when considering he is a first-year senior skier and this remains his first full-time World Cup stroll.
Schumacher placed 19th on the final climb +1:14.4 and cemented a top-20 overall finish for 18th (+8:36.1). As noted in yesterday’s men’s race report, this is a career-best for an American male at the Tour. Considering the nature of this eight-stage show, Schumacher gained ground as the kilometers ticked by. He placed 31st, 36th, 32nd, 14th, 15th, 8th, and 24th, and 19th, respectively, on each stage. A progression illustrating gains as energy reserves are depleted — a positive trend for any athlete seeing solid Tour results as part of their yearly goals. In summation: Schumacher nailed his first career Tour de Ski.
He is currently positioned 27th in the World Cup overall, having scored points (the top-30 earn points each race) in eight of 19 races – he earns 52 points for his 18th in the overall TdS standings.
The U.S. had two more men’s finishers on Sunday, Scott Patterson placed 38th (+2:23.0) on the stage, with Kevin Bolger in 48th (+3:12.9). In the overall picture, Patterson finished in 37th (+13:57.7), and Bolger 48th (+19:17.6).
FasterSkier corresponded with Patterson after the race to learn more about his 2020-2021 season. Below is the Interview conducted via email.
FS: Looking for some high points in terms of sensations during this Tour, can you describe a few moments (or more) that are positive takeaways for you and the season moving forward?
SP: While my results at the tour didn’t line up with where I was hoping, I think there are still several positives coming out of the 8 days of racing. The result high point was probably the 24th time of day in the skate pursuit in Val Mustair. Although my wheels started coming off at the end of that race, I was pleased with how I skied and felt like I did a good job fighting the whole way. For feeling, I think the Val de Fiemme classic was one of the better. I have felt like I have been struggling a bit with classic so far this season and finally captured a few better feelings in that classic race, even though I was shelled by the lead pack much earlier than I wanted. I’m encouraged that things will continue moving in the right direction on that end.
FS: This is your first Tour de Ski, can you talk about your approach to both trying to seize each opportunity in the distance races, and being mindful that this is an 8 stage event? Sort of the cash your chips in all at once strategy vs. being mindful of the long-term.
SP: This was my first tour, though I did race the Ski Tour Canada a while back with 8 stages. I was really trying to seize the opportunity for every distance race and hope that my training volume would let me preserve decently through the 8 stages.
FS: What maybe did you struggle with at the TdS specifically?
SP: It seemed like each day was a different struggle. Sometimes the altitude was tough and some days it was other things. The races included a lot of mass starts and pursuit starts which can be fun and great, but with my FIS points leaving something to be desired, it was often a fight to get into a good position. Then when the surges started happening, I had already burned some of my few fast-twitch matches.
FS: You had a high point result of 16th in Davos – curious what you experienced there that you are hoping to recapture as the season moves forward?
SP: While I don’t think the tour really showed it, I don’t think the form I had in Davos is far off. Each day was just a little off and that rapidly dropped me down the results. I’m looking forward to a little time to regroup and set up for the rest of the season. I think with a few days to recover, I should be coming right back around.
FS: Again, as your first TdS, what did you learn about yourself physically and mentally (as this is such a long haul)?
SP: I think there are quite a few takeaways from the Tour. I’m still processing a lot of them. A big obvious one is that I don’t seem to sprint any faster even after everyone has raced 6 times.
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.