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The second day in Davos, Switzerland started with the Men’s 15K Freestyle individual race. In contrast to yesterday’s snow and wind, it was a beautiful blue sky day, as 108 men chased splits around the tracks in Davos.
Two of the favorites, Johannes Høsflot Klæbo (NOR) and Alexander Bolshunov (RUS) started one minute apart from each other. The two ascended from the junior level together to quickly become World Cup champions, Klæbo in sprinting and Bolshunov in distance, though the Russian has proven all-around talent.
In total, Klæbo has won 44 World Cup events, including yesterday’s sprint, putting him 3rd on the all-time list behind Petter Northug (47) and Bjørn Dæhlie (46). Bolshunov has won 24 World Cups, with nine individual World Cup distance events in 2021 – already a men’s record for most individual World Cup distance event wins in a single calendar year. As Klæbo has looked to improve as an all-around skier, this matchup is one to watch.
Last week’s 15k winner at Lillehammer, Simen Hegstad Krüger looked to win back-to-back individual World Cup distance events. The last man other than Bolshunov to win back-to-back was Sergey Ustiugov (RUS) in the Tour de Ski in 2019.
Six Americans started the race, including Ben Ogden who is coming off a career-high 12th place finish in the sprint yesterday. The Canadian team did not race today, though Antoine Cyr had been on the start list.
As splits from the seeded middle group of starters rolled in, it looked like Klæbo (+20.4) was struggling through the first 3k with Bolshunov (+6.6) closing the gap between them both. Perhaps not surprisingly after last weekend’s podium sweep and top-15 dominance, Norway had the top-4 spots through the first 3k, held by Krüger, Hans Christer Holund, Martin Løwstrøm Nyenget, and Harald Østberg Amundsen, respectively. Sjur Røthe was also sixth as the team’s fifth man in the top-10, however, Klæbo had fallen just outside the top-30 in the rankings.
Bolshunov held the lead for the Russian men at this checkpoint, sitting in 8th, but the name that would rapidly ascend the rankings was Ustiugov, who was 19th (+15.6). Ustiugov started in bib-50, later in the lineup than most of the Norwegians except for Krüger, who wore bib-70.
At 12.2k, with roughly 3k to go, the rankings looked similar, with a couple of names making a dramatic swing in standings. Krüger, blasting through each checkpoint as the new leader, had increased his margin to over 24 seconds ahead of his teammate Holund, and Ustiugov had skied all the way up to third.
Close behind by time, Amundsen sat in fourth with Klæbo making a rapid rise into fifth.
Continuing to grow his lead over the final lap, Krüger ran away with the win, stopping the clock at 32:20.4.
Klæbo hit the final kilometers hard, accelerating to set what would stand as the fastest time of day until Krüger came through 26 bibs later. Ustiugov had beaten Klæbo’s split at 13k, but could not hold the pace required to stay ahead in the final 2k. After all the top men came through, in particular the dominant Krüger, it was decided that Klæbo took second (+22.9) and Ustiugov third (+27.2), both men earning their second podium of the weekend in Davos.
After back-to-back distance wins, Krüger gave the following remarks in a FIS interview from the leaders chair:
“It feels great and I like it here and I enjoyed every minute of skiing today. My skis were incredible and I just enjoyed every single minute of it. It was a really fun day today.”
The remaining top-10 was composed of three Norwegians, two Russians, and two French skiers. Amundsen (NOR), Holund( NOR), and Røthe (NOR) finished 4th (+32.), 5th (+33.7) and 6th (+38.3), respectively. Artem Maltsev (RUS) finished in 7th (+39.4) with fellow teammate, Ivan Yakimushkin (RUS) finishing in 9th (+52.0). Maurice Manificat (FRA) had a strong race to finish in the top 10 in distance for the second week in a row, this time in 8th (+50.8). His teammate, Hugo Lapalus (FRA) finished 10th (+54.7).
Bolshunov dropped back to 12th in the standings, following 14th place in this event last weekend in Lillehammer. The three-time overall World Cup distance champion has not been outside the top-10 in consecutive events since December 2018.
The top U.S. Skier in Davos was Gus Schumacher sat inside the Top-30 throughout most of the race, rising as high as 18th at the 5k. Having started just behind Swedish junior champion William Poromaa, Schumacher held his margin to the Swede even through the first half, then began to cede time to the leaders. Schumacher ended his day in 29th (+1:53.8), improving upon his result from the Lillehammer 15k, where he finished 38th.
“[I’m] pretty happy with it, but i still think I have better races coming,” Schumacher reflected in a post-race email. “I think I did a better job with pacing than last year, but still didn’t quite nail it. Definitely getting a better handle on the race routine and pacing, and I’m looking forward to some more races later this season!”
Schumacher added that he plans to stay in Davos through Christmas with “the boys”, which he said will be “magical.”
Ogden, coming off a fantastic sprint yesterday, was the next American in 51st (+2:39.7). Norris (USA) had a solid race coming in just behind Ogden in 54th ( +2:44.7). Schoonmaker, Wonders, and Patterson finished in 66th (+3:03.5), 70th (+3:07.5), and 75th (+3:26.0) respectively.
After a weekend at altitude, the World Cup now heads to Dresden, Germany for an exciting individual and team sprint in the city. This will be the last races before a break for the holidays, and then we begin the Tour de Ski.
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.