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A crisp and clear day in Val di Fiemme, Italy as the men lined up for Stage 6 of the Tour de Ski. Today’s race, a 6 x 2.5 k classic mass start with a total climb of 96 meters per lap, found them winding around the tight turns of the shadowed side of the valley, poles creaking in the cold snow. With the crack of the starter’s gun, the 53 skiers were off.
A bonus points sprint around 1.5 k, won by Richard Jouve of France, caused a slight stretch in the pack, but like elastic they quickly snapped back together. For the better part of the second lap, Evgeniy Belov of Russia tried his hand out front but his teammate Alexander Bolshunov did not let this continue for long as he led the hunt, reabsorbing Belov as they lapped through the stadium for the third time.
The sprint for bonus seconds on the penultimate lap went to Bolshunov, earning him an additional 15 seconds. Throughout all this, Gus Schumacher of the U.S. was gradually working his way up through the pack from his starting position in bib 33. When the cowbell rang signaling the final lap, Schumacher was sitting in 12th, well situated within the lead pack.
Francesco de Fabiani of Italy seized an opportunity out front and began to pull away, closely shadowed by Bolshunov. By the time they descended into the massive horseshoe corner for the final time a clear threesome had broken away, led by de Fabiani, then Bolshunov and Russia’s Alexey Chervotkin. De Fabiani entered the downhill towards the finish some meters ahead of Bolshunov, but his skis were no match for the rockets worn by the Russian. Bolshunov shot past de Fabiani and essentially out-glided him to the finish line in a time of 41:33.7. De Fabiani came away with silver, +1.8 seconds behind, and Chervotkin held his own to finish third (+3.7 seconds back).
It appears Val di Fiemme and de Fabiani go well together: last year in this same stage of the Tour (the 15 k mass start classic), he placed second, 0.6 seconds off the top-step to Norway’s Johannes Hoesflot Kleabo, who won. Bolshunov placed third.
At a certain point, one begins to run out of superlatives to use, but once again Bolshunov proved his dominance, despite a tricky course for breakaways. Bolshunov now has won five of the six stage races and continues to grow his overall lead in the tour standings. In his post-race interview Bolshunov spoke through a translator, “It was perfect skiing conditions today and due to that, it was really hard to ski away so the fight was at the end and luckily I was able to pull that out.” After his victory today, his lead has now stretched to +2:37 ahead of Maurice Manificat of France who has moved into second place overall.
Race of the day, and certainly the year for American distance skiing, belongs to Gus Schumacher. As the pack split apart on the final lap, Schumacher remained in range. Pacing strategically, and working up through the pack, he was 31st at 5 k (+13.1) then 16th at 10 k (+6.7). Looking for optimism in American men’s distance skiing? Here is your ray of sunshine.
At 13.9 k he was in 5th place, behind the three eventual podium finishers and Ilia Semikov of Russia. Minutes later, he crossed the finish line in 8th place, a career best. Schumacher, who took gold in the 10 k classic at World Juniors last year in Oberwiesenthal, Germany, seems to be on a steady upward trajectory in this year’s Tour de Ski. With today’s standout performance he is now seated in 18th place in the tour standings, +6:45 back from Bolshunov (RUS).
Another performance worth noting is that of Ireland’s Thomas Maloney Westgaard, who is based in Norway, placed 9th in today’s race. Westgaard’s (IRE) previous best World Cup finish came in February 2020 when he placed 16th in a 15 k classic race in Lahti, Finland. Additionally, Sweden’s Calle Halvorsen did not finish.
Scott Patterson of the U.S. finished in 35th (+1:50.5) and Kevin Bolger came in 46th (+3:38.7). Racing continues tomorrow with a classic sprint.