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Another clear, cloudless, and frigid day of racing for the men in Falun, Sweden as they completed three laps of a 5 k loop for Saturday’s classic mass start event. Even the perpetually bare-handed Andrew Musgrave of Great Britain was wearing gloves, a sure sign of cold temperatures. This made for fast and firm conditions, resulting in several high-pace crashes, perhaps abetted by the v-board placement on some of the sharper corners.
The Lycra color of the day was again red as Alexander Bolshunov of Russia took his 9th individual victory of the season (including the Overall Tour de Ski) in a time of 35:16.3. It was a race to the wire with challenges coming from the other men-in-red, the Norwegians. Directly behind Bolshunov in the final standings were Norway’s Pål Golberg and Johannes Høsflot Klæbo – who were given the same race time (35.16.7), effectively tying for second place in an extremely tight photo-finish. The silver medal, however, was awarded to Klæbo, and Golberg was given bronze. There was lingering confusion as the top-three lined up for the awards ceremony where Klæbo was heard asking, “am I third?” and he was told he had just out-lunged his teammate for second place.
As the race kicked off, four tracks across and two lanes deep a wall of red suits composed of Russians and Norwegians stormed ahead- a pronounced theme through the first 1.8 k and for that matter, much of the race. A bonus trophy sprint at 5.8 k brought Iivo Niskanen of Finland through the lineup for a brief time as he gathered 15 bonus points for his effort.
At the base of the sprint hill, just before the 8.9 k split came the first of the big crashes. Cornering tightly, Musgrave tangled with Ilia Poroshkin of Russia and the two went down, taking Bolshunov and a Swiss skier with them. As the rest of the pack crested the hill to descend into the fast sweeping corner, a second crash ensued, with Andrew Young of Great Britain busting through the sponsor boards and Erik Valnes of Norway losing a ski. Young (GBR) received first aid on-site and according to FIS was taken to the hospital for further medical care.
Despite the crash, a charge-ahead Bolshunov was soon back to the front, making a decisive move around 13.5 k. He was shadowed by Golberg. With a bit of a gap, those two began the descent into the stadium chased by a fast-closing Klæbo. Down the finish straight, Bolshunov looked to have it in the bag, yet the Norwegians were hot on his tails. Golberg seemed unaware of the close proximity of his teammate and didn’t make a lunge for the line, looking surprised to see Klæbo so close and ultimately loosing the photo-finish.
After the race Bolshunov said, “I am really happy to win this race in Falun. It is my fourth year in a row to have a victory here. It was a fast and hectic race and I had a fall but luckily no equipment was broken and I was able to catch up and take the victory.”
For much of the race, a duo in stars and stripes sporting matching camo buffs could be seen at the back of the pack. Gus Schumacher and Hunter Wonders, both U-23 skiers from Alaska, were the top finishers for the American men. Schumacher, who placed 28th, +14.8 back from Bolshunov, said of his race, “as the pace picked up, I didn’t have much spare energy, as I spent a lot of it trying to ski in the middle of the pack. In hindsight, trying to ski up in 10th-20th would’ve been a lot easier. I’m not super happy with my result today, it would’ve been nice to be able to attack in the last 5km, but I am happy with not falling or breaking any equipment. I’m sure some of the chaos was visible on TV, but there was a lot more that was going on the whole time, in terms of falls and tangles. It was a good day to practice group skiing, and I’m glad I had yesterday to show that if I ski well, I have that energy in the end!”
Hunter Wonders finished 37th (+24.9). “This is in fact my 2nd week on the WC and it’s pretty surreal to be side by side all the best in the world that I’ve been watching on TV for years,” emailed Wonders after the race. “Last week in Lahti wasn’t my best weekend of racing and I knew I could do better and just tried to keep it off my mind and look forward to these races in Falun. I try to go into every ski race with the mentality of it being just that, another ski race that I’ve done hundreds of times.
“Gus and I skied a good portion of the race together today and that was awesome to me, it reminded me of high school skiing in a way. The race was crazy hectic and there were lots of crashes so I think Gus and I are both just happy to have stayed on our feet!”
Also for the U.S., Adam Martin finished 57th, David Norris 60th, Ian Torchia 64th and Scott Patterson 65th.
The Canadian men were led by Remi Drolet who finished 47th, followed by Russell Kennedy in 54th and Philippe Boucher in 70th. Antoine Cyr did not start.
The weekend of racing wraps up tomorrow with a classic sprint.
Post-race comments from U.S. Head Coach Matt Whitcomb.
Results: Men’s 15 k