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With Russia landing seven of the top eight positions yesterday, today’s 15 k classic pursuit started with a wave of red. Or as Maurice Manificat of France described it in a pre-race interview, “the Russian armada versus the French mafia.” Manificat (FRA) started in sixth and his teammate, Hugo Lapalus of France began in ninth, otherwise, the first thirty seconds of starters were all Russian. Under a ceiling of clouds, the racers wound up and down the snowy, forested hillsides, completing four laps of the 3.3 k course.
Bolshunov kicked things off with an eight-second head start over teammate Denis Spitsov of Russia (today’s pursuit start was based on yesterday’s finishes and not overall tour times), and a +1:15 lead in the overall tour standings. He began the day with three wins out of the four races already completed in this year’s edition of the Tour de Ski, and when the race had concluded he had increased that number to four wins.
Untouchable and in a class of his own, Bolshunov crossed the finish line in a time of 34:32.9. Only the occasional gasps for air as he passed the camera gave any indication that this was at all challenging for him. With seeming ease he stretched a lead of +8 seconds to +34.5 seconds by 3.3 k, and strode ahead of the first chase pack which coalesced early and was composed of six Russians and Manificat. At 6.6 k Bolshunov’s lead had widened to +45 seconds, and at 10 k the gap was up to +1:03.2.
In his post-race interview, Bolshunov explained through a translator, “I had two options, either you wait for the others and go like a mass start or you go as an individual start and since I had a good split to start I decided to go with the individual and it turned out very well.”
He also took the title of the fastest time of the day, +27.6 seconds ahead of teammate Evgeniy Belov. If there were lingering questions as to who the men’s winner of the 2021 Tour de Ski would be, today’s results should have cleared them up. Bolshunov now leads the overall by +2:06 ahead of Artem Maltsev of Russia.
The chasing pack, comprised of Ivan Yakimushkin, Belov, Alexey Chervotkin, Andrey Melnichenko, Denis Spitsov, Maltsev (all of Russia) and Manificat, stayed together for most of the race. A stumble, fall, and broken pole near the top of a climb on the final lap took Maltsev out of the running (his second broken pole of the day). Spitsov also dropped, leaving the four remaining Russians and Manificat to battle for second and third position.
Manificat lost steam through the stadium, as did Melnichenko (RUS), making way for a three-way duel for the last two podium spots. Yakimushkin (RUS) bested his compatriots and took silver, +55.5 seconds behind Bolshunov and 0.01 seconds ahead of Belov (RUS) who took bronze.
Chervotkin (RUS) finished fourth. Manificat stayed true to his starting number and finished with another sixth place, putting him third in the overall tour rankings, just three seconds behind Maltsev and six seconds ahead of Spitsov.
Following a stand-out performance yesterday, Gus Schumacher of the United States headed out of the start gates +51 seconds behind Bolshunov, wearing bib number 14. As the race got underway he joined the second chasing group which largely stayed constant throughout the duration of the course, absorbing Lapalus around 5 k and then breaking apart on the final lap. Schumacher finished the day with another strong performance in 15th place, +2:13.5 back from Bolshunov, and with the 19th fastest time of the day. This places him in 23rd in the overall tour standings, +6:18 behind Bolshunov.
As for the other two remaining American men, Scott Patterson who started the day bib 32 ceded a few places to finish 36th, and Kevin Bolger finished 46th, putting them in 36th and 52nd respectively in the overall tour rankings.