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Lenzerheide, Switzerland was tucked into a snow globe today, as snow fell steadily in fat flakes throughout the races. The wax technicians had their work cut out for them as they prepared skis for the second stage of the 2021/22 Tour de Ski, a 15-kilometer interval start classic.
With the seeded group of podium favorites starting in bibs 30-50, there was time for athletes to learn how the course was skiing. Among these favorites, Johannes Høsflot Klæbo (bib 42) was looking to maintain good standing in the Tour, building on his top finish in yesterday’s freestyle sprint. In the 2019-2020 Tour de Ski, his last appearance after sitting out last year’s Tour for COVID-19 concerns, Klæbo finished in 10th in the 15k classic stage.
Winner of the last two iterations of the Tour de Ski and back-to-back World Cup overall champion, Russian Alexander Bolshunov has had an unprecedented start to the season, with results well below what were anticipated, possibly due to health challenges he’s faced this year. Bolshunov was knocked out in the quarterfinal of yesterday’s sprint, finishing 17th, and has not been on the podium in an individual event since the opening World Cup weekend in Ruka.
The Americans were looking to build upon solid results yesterday, where they put three men in the Top-30 overall. Kevin Bolger was the top finisher in the sprint, placing 16th overall, after qualifying 9th. Ben Ogden finished in 21st overall, after qualifying 5th, and Logan Hanneman ended his day in 25th overall.
As the seeded group time trialed through the snow, it was Iivo Niskanen in bib 36 who set the bar at the 5.8k mark, leading a group of Norwegians and Russians. Bolshunov (+11.1) came through in 2nd (+11.1) with five Norwegians in tow, namely, Erik Valnes (+16.7), Pål Golberg(+18.6), Simen Hegstad Krüger (+20.9), Klæbo (+22.1), and Martin Løwstrøm Nyenget (+22.8).
Gus Schumacher was the top American in 37th (+59.2) at the 5k, with Ogden not far behind in 41st (+1:03.9).
With snow continuing to fall and tracks beginning to disappear, some athletes began to favor double pole to striding. Conditions didn’t seem to slow down Niskanen as at the 10k mark he was able to grow his lead over the pack. Bolshunov was still in second (+15.7), looking back on form and in contention for the podium. Goldberg was in 3rd (+28.4), with Klæbo sitting just off the podium in 4th (+33.3).
Thriving in his signature event, Niskanen continued to set the bar at each checkpoint to take the win in 32:51.7, making it a family sweep with his sister, Kerttu, winning the women’s race. This is Niskanen’s seventh World Cup victory, each of which has been in the 15k classic. He’ll be one to watch in the event at the upcoming 2022 Olympics, where he’ll be looking to add a third gold medal to his collection. Niskanen won the 50k classic in 2018 and was a member of the winning classic team sprint duo in 2014.
Perhaps a breakthrough after setbacks, Bolshunov held on for second (+19.3), finally earning another individual podium after weeks away. Goldberg was able to hold off his fellow teammate, Klæbo, to finish 3rd (+25.2) and 4th (+34.3) respectively. Yakimushkin (+34.6) couldn’t close the gap on Klæbo in the final meters, finishing just off the Norwegians mark in fifth (+34.6).
After the race, Niskanen told FIS, “I felt quite good… I tried to keep the race slow and steady [at the] start. I actually started too fast. I am happy, it was good also at the end.”
Niskanen also explained how he felt before the race after seeing his sister winning the women’s race, “I got a little nervous before the race because I saw she won. We had really good skis today, and it was an unbelievable day for our family.”
Racing through tough conditions, each of the Americans finished outside the Top-30. Schumacher was the top finisher, placing 38th (+2:13.4), roughly 9 seconds off 30th place. Ogden was not far behind placing 44th (+2:22.4). Bolger placed 65th (+3:25.3), with Hanneman finishing 70th (+3:44.8). Luke Jager finished just in front of Zak Ketterson, placing 84th (+4:36.4) and 85th (+4:43.2), respectively.
Post-race interview with Matt Whitcomb, from U.S. Ski & Snowboard cross country communications manager Tom Horrocks, discussing the men’s and women’s day in Lenzerheide.
There are two sets of standings in the Tour, points and cumulative time. Bonus points were up for grabs at the 2.4k mark, providing an opportunity for sprinters to stay in the mix through the distance-heavy Tour. While sprinters did not look to fight for these points today, Niskanen surged ahead of the field to earn the maximum 15 point-bonus. Bolshunov was second at this checkpoint, claiming 12 points, with Valnes in 3rd for 10 points. Klæbo was 5th at 2.4k, earning 5 bonus points.
As results from the day became finalized, Klæbo was able to hold on to the overall lead in the Tour, having a 14 second lead over his teammate, Goldberg. With today’s win, Niskanen moved up the rankings, now sitting in third place.
After a day off for rest and travel, racing will continue on Friday with a 15k freestyle in Oberstdorf, Germany.
Growing up in New England, Ian found his love for cross country skiing and running at a young age. As a lifelong lover of the sport, he fostered his connection to skiing as a coach for a local high school in Maine and a board member for the New England Nordic Ski Association. He's also a regular at the Birkie. In his free time you can find him on the running trails, ski trails, or just enjoying the New England outdoors with his son, Bear.