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Low pressure moved in. The Alp’s wind kicked up, a coating of snow fell, and a sinuous 50 kilometer skate pursuit for the men closed out the World Cup season. With the race schedule shuffled around, the final weekend was moved from Norway to Engadin, Switzerland. Sunday’s pursuit, based on finishing times in Saturday’s mass start classic, was a point to point affair that served as a more than two-hour stream of alpine wonder sure to please any local travel board keen on boosting tourism once travel restrictions lift.
From a tactical standpoint, with headwinds and crosswinds taxing skiers, the 82 starters found safety in numbers for much of the race. Tucked in the pack, as if in a school of fish, skiers could garner a bit more protection from the surrounding environment.
Yesterday’s 15 k mass start classic winner, Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov, was sent off first Sunday with an 18 second gap on second starter, Norway’s Johannes Høsflot Klæbo. With an elite field beginning shortly after Klæbo, Bolshunov was no tactical fool. Keeping the chasers at bay was never going to be his winning hand. He was absorbed by a pack of 14 chasers roughly five minutes into the race. Soon enough, a massive pack of skiers snaked through the Engadin valley.
With a season’s worth of racing in their engines, the showdown for this 50 k skate pursuit, which played out like a mass start event, came down to the known quantities of endurance horse power. At the sharp end of the race at 40 kilometers was Russia’s Alexey Chervotkin coming through 13 seconds ahead of a pack loaded with thoroughbred chasers. Pål Golberg, Daniel Stock, Martin Løwstrøm Nyenget, Hans Christer Holund, Simen Hegstad Krüger, Harald Østberg Amundsen, and Klæbo, all of Norway, along with the likes of Bolshunov, were a group of skiers among the top-20 grouped 13 to 20 seconds behind Chervotkin.
If you’re Chervotkin, why not take a run at the solo off the front win? Wearing bib 10, Chervotkin had ample camera time up front. But lurking in the foreshortened distance, were the hungry chasers. With the field split into two distinct chase groups behind him, Chervotkin was an ample carrot. With an assortment of pacers leading, most notably Krüger doing the labor up front, Chervotkin was caught and swallowed with 4.68 ks remaining in the race.
In the closing kilometers, a group of twenty skiers were the front group, and skiing near the tail end was twenty-year-old Gus Schumacher of the U.S.
After two-hours of racing the tempo quickened with the smell of podium in the air. Bolshunov, yellow-bibbed as the World Cup overall leader (and winner), pulled the front of the echelon. Bolshunov drilled the pace, stringing out the skiers into a single file line of hurt, with Schumacher pushing to maintain contact.
Those elite skiers all seemed shattered as the final incline, about 1.8 k before the finish, crept up off the valley floor. Holund moved past Bolshunov, with Jens Burman of Sweden, and Krüger able to velcro onto his effort. Bolshunov hung on for a moment, but his line to the threesome was cut. He dropped off as Burman hop skated away with 1.55 k remaining.
Krüger took the win in 2:10:41.4, with Holund second (+1.2) and Burman third (+3.0). Klæbo and Golberg gapped up to Bolshunov and passed him in the closing k. Klæbo was fourth (+13.0), Golberg fifth (+14.7) and Bolshunov sixth (+17.7).
“This was such a tough race,” Krüger told FIS after the race. “It felt a little bit like the Tour de France and I really had to stay focused and work hard to remain in a good position for the final stretch. I am really happy this worked out and I can finish off this season with a victory.”
This was Krüger’s fifth individual World Cup win. He’s also the 2018 Olympic gold medalist in the skiathlon. He is on form. At the recently concluded 2021 World Championships, he won silver in the 15 k skate and 30 k skiathlon, while securing bronze in the 50 k mass start classic.
The Americans were well represented in the top-30. Schumacher placed 20th (+1:23) while racing the sixth fastest time on the day.
“It felt good! So nice to end on a positive note,” Schumacher noted after the race. “ It makes it way easier to keep my confidence from mid winter. Worked hard with the US boys at the beginning to catch the main pack, and then skied easy in that big group until about half and then was basically covering attacks for the rest of the race. Time to go home!”
Scott Patterson finished in 25th (+1:46.7), with David Norris 26th (+1:59.1). Outside the top-30 for the U.S. were Ben Ogden in 47th (+5:23.5), Hunter Wonders in 53rd (+6:02.1), Kevin Bolger 67th (+14:20.3), and Johnny Hagenbuch 69th (+14:25.2).
Antoine Cyr was the top Canadian in 29th (+2:14.7). He was followed by Russell Kennedy in 33rd (+3:02.2), Rémi Drolet in 57th (+7:28.6), and Graham Ritchie 68th (+14:21.4).
And that folks, is the season wrap-up for the World Cup. The overall crystal globe, overwhelmingly, goes to Bolshunov. He also wins the distance globe. Italy’s Federico Pellegrino takes the overall sprint title.
Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.