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Accompanied by the constant soundtrack of distant cowbells, Alexander Bolshunov of Russia steadily worked his way through the fog, four times around the 3.3 k course to maintain a lead that was never threatened, completing the race in a time of 32:11. He started today’s skate pursuit with a margin of one minute ahead of teammate Artem Maltsev (RUS). When the race concluded Bolshunov had ceded only 6.3 seconds, despite skiing alone the entire way. In the winner’s post-race interview with FIS, when asked whether the race felt as easy as it looked, Bolshunov replied (through a translator), “[I] wouldn’t say it was easy, the last laps [I] had to work really hard. But still [I’m] really happy to take the win with good distance.”
This is the third podium for Bolshunov in this Tour de Ski alone. In ten World Cup races this season, he missed a podium only twice, when he placed fourth in Ruka’s classic sprint and fourth again in Dresden’s skate sprint. With the Norwegians remaining off the World Cup, for now, he remains peerless.
Initially, the followers’ chase was mounted by Russia’s Maltsev and Dario Cologna of Switzerland for the first 7.4 k. Cologna was the third starter today, but he quickly ate up the 11 seconds margin to Maltsev. As the race evolved, Maltsev began to pull away, eventually crossing the finish line in second place, +53.7 seconds behind Bolshunov. According to the FIS database, Sunday’s second place was Maltsev’s second career World Cup podium. He also won a bronze in the 2018 Olympic team sprint.
Cologna (SUI), who is the first man to have won three 15 k Olympic gold medals in a row and should consider this distance a specialty, was caught by Maurice Manificat of France, Ivan Yakimushkin of Russia and Denis Spitsov of Russia at 8.9 k. Gradually Manificat (FRA) worked his magic, 15 k skate events being something of a favorite for him, and he finished third +1:10.07 behind Bolshunov. With an elapsed race time of 31:42.1, Manificat also had the second fastest time of the day.
Spitsov (RUS) followed closely behind in fourth, earning the fastest time of the day with his performance (31:41.8). +23.5 seconds back from Spitsov, Yakimushkin (RUS) outsprinted Cologna (SUI) and they fell into 5th and 6th position. Friday’s sprint winner, Federico Pellegrino of Italy, held his own despite not having a reputation as a distance skier, to finish in 8th.
Gus Schumacher was the first American out of the gates. In bib 35 he started +2:55 behind Bolshunov. When he crossed the line, 36:15 minutes later, he had gained three places to lead the American men and finish in 32nd, with the 28th fastest time of the day, earning him his third World Cup points of the season. “My strategy today was based mostly around consistent pacing,” wrote Schumacher in an email, “I wanted to avoid a big loss of energy, so I tried to make smart decisions regarding whether or not to respond to attacks. Moving forward, I’m mostly focused on recovery and taking each day as a new day, a new race to continue improving. I know that I have 5 more races to try to work up the field.”
Scott Patterson, who started in the first wave (+3:22) with bib 46, also gained several places and finished 38th. Patterson skied his way to the 24th fastest time of the day in a time of 33:09.9. Simi Hamilton finished 47th and Kevin Bolger rounded out the U.S. men in 55th.
Overall Tour Standings:
With his victory today, Bolshunov’s overall lead in the Tour is +0:53 seconds ahead of Maltsev in second. Manificat moved into third position (+1:07) followed by Spitsov (+1:10) and Cologna (+1:34) in fourth and fifth respectively. The Tour now moves to Toblach, Italy where racing continues on Tuesday (January 5th) with a 15 k interval start skate race.