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It’s the last hurrah, folks. Roughly a year after the COVID-19 virus achieved its global pandemic title, the World Cup finds itself at the end of a season that once looked as if it may not happen in the first place. Though four competitions — Lillehammer, Nové Město, Oslo, and Beijing — were cancelled or postponed, the World Cup toured through Europe from November to March without any known significant outbreaks. All things considered, they pulled off a bold and robust competition schedule.
Leaving the unpredictable spring conditions at the World Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany, the cold, crisp tracks and an Alpen backdrop looked like a wintery treat during today’s 15-kilometer mass start classic event. The picturesque venue, home to the Engadin Ski Marathon, is nestled in the Engadin Valley of Switzerland just south of St. Moritz in the town of Surlej. Pristine conditions, bluebird skies, and high mountain air; what more could you ask for in a final stop?
As the dust settles from the World Championship, in particular the conclusive result of the men’s 50k classic just six days ago, eyes were on the 24-year-old duo up front with 5k to go. To put it clearly, we mean Norway’s Johannes Høsflot Klæbo perhaps looking for redemption after his disqualification for obstruction and loss of the World Championship gold medal versus Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov. The Russian also felt robbed of this medal as the interaction with Klæbo in the finishing stretch resulted in a snapped pole, consequently losing him ground to Emil Iversen and leaving him with silver.
With the field staying tight over the first 10 k on Saturday, it was on Bolshunov to move early and avoid setting up a repeat opportunity for Klæbo to sit and kick in his signature style. Time and again, Klæbo the World Champion and Olympic gold medalist in the classic sprint has demonstrated his potential to, quite literally, run away from the field in the final 400 meters, rocketing down the final stretch to clinch the win. Though Bolshunov is the overall World Cup winner for the third year running, it would not behoove the Russian to face off with Klæbo in this way.
And he knew it. Crossing the bonus sprint checkpoint at 10 k, Bolshunov and Klæbo were side by side. But as the leaders kicked and glided into their final lap, Bolshunov began to surge off the front. At 11.4 k, he had only a second gap ahead of Klæbo who attempted to match the pace. But, by 2 k later, the winner was clear. Bolshunov had a 24.9 second gap at 13.8 k, while Klæbo had allowed the chase group to catch back up, letting go of a win and setting himself up for a sprint finish for second place.
Despite his lead, the Russian kept his foot on the gas all the way to the finish stretch where he raised his arms to soak in his achievement and coasted through the finish in 34:07.1.
“I really like St Moritz,” Bolshunov told FIS through a translator after the race. “I was very pleased with the conditions here and feel it is one of the best places I have been skiing and training. About the race, I was really happy with the result and happy that now we have again hard winter conditions and that I could push hard on this course. I am very happy to take the victory.”
The remainder of the podium was less certain, with Klæbo heading toward the stadium with a pack of seven men. Utilizing his aforementioned signature, Klæbo engaged his sprint gear to move up to the front of the group, coming into the final 100 meters alongside his teammate Pål Golberg. Klæbo held Goldberg off by half a ski length for second (+18.5), leaving Goldberg in third (+18.9).
Sweden’s Jens Berman took 4th (+20.0), with Simen Hegstad Krüger of Norway in 5th (+21.2), Artem Maltsev of Russia 6th (+24.2), and Iivo Niskanen of Finland 7th (+27.4). Hans Christer Holund brought up the rear for the first group of chasers in 8th (+31.2).
With this 23rd World Cup win under his belt — nine from this season alone — Bolshunov joins Norway’s Peter Northug as joint-fourth on the all-time list. He is the first male skier to win three consecutive World Cup crystal globes, tied for the second-most distance globes in his collection with Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby who also holds three. Only the Swiss champion Dario Cologna outranks Bolshunov, with four distance globes.
Turning to the North American results, Antoine Cyr took 21st for Canada (+54.5), nailing his best individual result of his career. This is the second season on the Senior National Team and racing at the World Cup level for the 22-year-old who hails from Gatineau, QC.
As the dense cluster of skiers from the mass start slowly began to thin out, Cyr skied his way up from 45th and 23 seconds back at the halfway mark to 21st and just 9 seconds behind the leaders at the 10 k checkpoint. Holding his ground in this group over the last 5 k, Cyr crossed the line just behind Andrew Musgrave of Great Britain.
“I had a really good race today — it is the first time I have earned World Cup points, so it’s pretty exciting,” wrote Cyr in a post-race email. “I knew it was a good course for me but I was starting far back on the grid and had to make up a lot of spots on the third lap, then the fourth lap I was just hanging with the pack I was skiing with. I am really happy with the results but I know I have even more to give as I am a rookie on the World Cup and just getting used to the way it races here. I am excited for tomorrow and what is to come!”
Also racing for Canada, Russell Kennedy took 35th (+1:17.0), Rémi Droulet 67th (+2:57.1), and Graham Ritchie 71st (+3:25.5).
For the US squad, David Norris was the top finisher, leading the way in 41st (+1:31.4).
“Our transition from World Champs to the Engadin went smoothly,” wrote Norris in a post-race email to FasterSkier. “I’ve spent this week previewing the new courses here in the Engadin and trying to recover from the 50km last week. Up until Wednesday my legs were still pretty heavy from my final effort in Germany. I’m in a good place now and race preparation on Friday felt good.
“I didn’t know what to expect going into today’s race. The course is quite flat and there was a pretty strong wind all morning. I chose the wrong skis for this morning so I consistently lost ground on a few crucial descents that fed into long double pole sections where you didn’t want to be alone breaking wind. When the guys up front started to stretch out the pack I was still pretty far back. I wasn’t strong enough to move forward so the last two laps my group seemed to pick guys off who were fading, but otherwise I think we bled time to the packs ahead of us. It was a fun race, but I know this is far from a great performance for me. Time to start thinking about tomorrow’s 50km – I’m real excited for Sunday!”
Next up for the Americans, Hunter Wonders crossed the line in 47th (+1:45.4) closely followed by Gus Schumacher in 48th (+1:46.1). Ben Ogden took 51st (+1:51.5) with Scott Patterson 53rd (+1:58.8), Kevin Bolger 60th (+2:11.5), and Johnny Hagenbuch rounding it out in 72nd (+3:39.7). The race saw 82 finishers.
Racing continues tomorrow with a pursuit start 50 k freestyle.
Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646