Klæbo Takes His Fourth Sprint Win in Davos; Ogden 12th

Rachel PerkinsDecember 11, 2021

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Three weeks in, the World Cup swings to the picturesque Alpen valley which holds Davos, Switzerland. As may be hinted by the towering mountains surrounding the glacial valley, Davos sits roughly a mile high in elevation, making this the first high-altitude stop of the World Cup season. Most seasons, that simply means less available oxygen for the athletes to consume, adding a variable that might shake up what is expected on the results sheet. 

However, with less than two months to go until the start of the 2022 Winter Olympics, performance at altitude might carry additional weight. According to FIS, the cross country course at the Kuyangshu Nordic Center near Zhangjiakou, China tops out at 1,800 meters, just under 6,000 feet, in elevation. By concentration of available oxygen per volume, that translates to a deficit of roughly 4% relative to competition at sea level. Altitude is its own beast, and it is not always as simple as adjusting pace when it comes to optimizing performance as an athlete. 

Altitude and rugged mountain backdrop aside, the sprint course in Davos sits on the valley floor, making it relatively flat compared to other venues. The maximum climb on the two-lap 1.5-kilometer course is just 12 meters; 30 meters or more is needed to meet the criteria of an A-Climb by FIS homologation standards. 

The elevation profile of the two-lap 1.5k sprint course in Davos, SUI. (Photo: FIS Broadcast)

Taking command in the qualifier, Norway’s Johannes Høsflot Klæbo set the fastest time of 2:24.16. Lucas Chanavat of France was second in the qualifier (+1.51) followed closely by Federico Pellegrino of Italy, whose name we have not yet seen in the final. That said, Pellegrino had history in his favor when it comes to freestyle sprints on Swiss snow. 

Coming into the weekend, he had won three freestyle sprints in Davos, including last year, along with two wins in the freestyle sprint stage of the Tour de Ski in Val Müstair, SUI a couple of weeks later. Pellegrino has also won multiple times in Cogne, Italy, at a similar elevation, and has shown prowess on flat courses, including the city sprint in Dresden, Germany. 

Federico Pellegrino (ITA) races to third in qualification in Davos. (Photo: NordicFocus)

The Italian’s stats in Davos are only matched by Klæbo, who also has three wins at the venue. Today was the tie breaker. Who would take home a fourth wooden sled for his collection? 

On the American front, Ben Ogden was the only athlete who qualified for the rounds today. Ogden skied to 13th (+2.87) and raced in heat five of the quarterfinals.

The storyline of Pellegrino versus Klæbo was decided before the two could line up to face each other head to head. Klæbo advanced smoothly from the first heat, however, Pellegrino was knocked out in his quarterfinal shortly thereafter. 

Italy’s Federico Pellegrino pushes the pace during his quarterfinal of the freestyle sprint in Davos. (Photo: NordicFocus)

In heat two, Pellegrino took the lead in the second lap, hopskating up the primary climb and powering over the top just ahead of Norway’s Håvard Solås Taugbøl and Richard Jouve of France. Holding his position at the front as the men pushed around the final curve, Pellegrino was matched by the surging men as they each held their own finish lane while sprinting to the line. Jouve had the fastest acceleration, gaining the advantage as the three men threw their boots for a photo finish. Jouve took the heat, with Taugbøl 0.12 seconds behind, leaving Pellegrino third (+0.2) Unfortunately for the Italian, the tactical heat was too slow for him to advance to the semis. 

In Ogden’s quarter, two Swiss men, Jovian Hediger and Valerio Grond, pulled from the front through the first lap. As the men hit the primary climb in the second lap, Russia’s Alexander Terentev, who won the opening sprint in Ruka, accelerated up the left side of the course, cresting the hill with the two Swiss men, creating a spicy final turn into the stadium. Grond caught a ski tip on his teammate’s tails, causing him to lose speed in the turn, but all of the men stayed upright. 

Ben Ogden (Bib 13) races into the semifinal from a tight heat of the quarters. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Terentev led in the final straight, but Ogden and Sweden’s Anton Persson, who had maintained contact throughout the heat, were rapidly gaining ground on the Swiss skiers. Coming to the line four across, the men slid over the finish, Persson in second (+0.37), followed by Grond (+0.44), and Ogden (+0.53), with Hediger just behind in fifth (+0.74). Though it was the final heat of the quarters, it ended up being the fastest, allowing both Grond and Ogden to advance to the semifinals. Hediger (SUI) could be seen swatting the ground with his pole at the finish upon seeing his result. 

In the first heat of the semis, Ogden lined up with three Norwegians, Klæbo, Taugbøl, and Erik Valnes. The heat also contained Jouve, and Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov, who had challenged Klæbo in the quarters. 

Ustiugov takes the lead in the semifinal in Davos. Note Ben Ogden in contact wearing bib 13. (Photo: NordicFocus)

As the pace accelerated in the final lap, Ustiugov took to the front again, this time seeming to want a larger margin over Klæbo as they headed into the final turn and straightaway. Though the Russian led into this turn, Klæbo was able to slingshot around the outside, earning a clear lane to the finish. The Russian was on his right, with Valnes on the other side. Perhaps too confident for his own good, Klæbo stood up before the line, coasting across with a boot kick that looked like an afterthought.

Erik Valnes (NOR), Sergey Ustiugov (RUS), Johannes Klaebo (NOR), (l-r) (Photo: NordicFocus)

With five men still tight around him, this allowed Ustiugov to take the win, while an accelerating Jouve tried to throw his boot along Klæbo’s left side, from within the same lane, just 0.14 seconds behind the Norwegian. With multiple athletes vying for limited real estate at the finish, Klæbo had his tails skied over, sending him abruptly onto the ground just after he crossed the line. 

Valnes was fourth in the heat, followed closely by Taugbøl; these first five men were spread by only 0.58 seconds in total. Ogden, who had lost contact in the second lap, held on for sixth in the heat (+7.28). 

While still tight, the second heat of the semis had a clear winner, Chanavat of France. Behind him was Even Northug of Norway, followed by Terentev, whose time was not fast enough for a lucky loser spot in the final.

The pace was pedestrian as the first lap of the final progressed, the athletes seemingly biding their time and conserving energy for a tactical second lap. Mirroring the first two rounds of racing, Ustiugov made a big push in the second time up the climb as the men powered uphill with impressive tempo. But again, as they headed downhill and around the final right-hand curve, it was Klæbo on the Russian’s tails, shooting around the outside and into the center lane as he cruised to the finish for a commanding victory. 

This time waiting to celebrate until he was over the line, Klæbo took home his fourth win on the tracks in Davos. Ustiugov held pace for second (+0.87), followed by Jouve in third (+1.23). 

Johannes Høsflot Klæbo takes the win in Davos, while Sergey Ustiugov and Richard Jouve accelerate to second and third. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Off the podium, Valnes was fourth in the final (+1.31), followed after a gap by Northug in fifth (+3.74) and Chanavat in sixth (+7.95). 

“It was an amazing day,” Klæbo told FIS at the finish. “I think it was really, really fun to race out there. I was a little bit skeptical because of the weather before we started today, but I think the conditions are really really good and it was a fair fight, which was really nice.”

The men’s podium of the freestyle sprint in Davos. Johannes Høsflot Klæbo (NOR) took his fourth win at the venue, ahead of Sergey Ustiugov (RUS) and Richard Jouve (FRA). (Photo: NordicFocus)

It was a blustery day with light snow peppering the athletes throughout the rounds, a contrast to the sun and blue sky we often expect from the venue. Klæbo also shared that he will have an extended stay in Davos, putting in some additional time and training at altitude. 

“I’m going to be here now until the 22nd of December, so I have a few more days left here, and it’s beautiful now, and I see that the weather is going to be much better next week, so I’m looking forward to some nice weeks here.”

After the final standings were firmed up, it was concluded that Ogden finished his day in 12th.

Ben Ogden races into the semis in Davos. (Photo: NordicFocus)

“Today was a lot of fun,” wrote Ogden in a post-race email. “For the qualifier, I knew it was going to be hard but there was a good amount of rest out there so I wasn’t afraid to pretty much pin it out from the start ,which thankfully worked out well. I was definitely slower the second time up the hill but was able to push hard over the top and get into the finish without anything catastrophic happening. I was surprised and happy to qualify in 13th.

“In the quarter final, I figured it was going to be fast because all of us qualified so close to each other. I learned on the first lap that my skis were very fast, so when the other guys got a little gap on me over the top of the hill on the second lap, I was still hopeful. Then they made the critical mistake of sliding the first bit of the last corner, and because I was a touch behind I could step around it and set myself up well for the final straight. I bet it wasn’t pretty, but it was just enough to get me into the semi finals for the first time! Really pumped with this. I always figured I would first advance [into the semifinals] in classic, but things came together today so that was awesome.” 

Ben Ogden puts together a career-best finish in Davos, ending his day in 12th. (Photo: NordicFocus)

“I did, however, learn that there is a reason all the fast guys pack into quarter final 1 and 2 when I finished and learned that I had just over 10 minutes before my semi final…” Ogden continued. “The guys in the semi final were damn strong, but I was pumped to stay in it for a bit and push all the way to the finish. One step at a time! Fun stuff out there and cheers to my wax tech (the famous Jason Cork) and all the wax techs for awesome skis!”

Luke Jager skis to 41st in the qualification round in Davos. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Outside the heats, JC Schoonmaker was second for the Americans, finishing 41st (+6.73) in qualification, less than 1.5 seconds off the time needed to compete in the rounds. Logan Hanneman was 44th (+6.99), followed by Luke Jager in 50th (+7.93), Kevin Bolger in 51st (+8.28), and Gus Schumacher in 65th (+10.48). 

Here is a post-race interview with U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Matt Whitcomb with insights into the altitude and conditions on course, along with individual feedback on the men and women who raced today. Whitcomb also comments on the string of victories earned by Bolger’s girlfriend, Swedish champion Maja Dahlqvist.

Racing for Canada, Antoine Cyr skied to 36th in qualification (+6.43), followed by Graham Ritchie in 45th (+7.02). 

Antoine Cyr leads the Canadian men, skiing to 36th in the qualifier. (Photo: NordicFocus)


Qualification | Final

Rachel Perkins

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

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