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In the wake of the American women taking second to the Swedish powerhouse duo, and yesterday’s top two spots on the podium, Maja Dahlqvist and Jonna Sundling, the men’s team of JC Schoonmaker and Kevin Bolger lined up to race the freestyle team sprint final on the track in historic Dresden, Germany.
“Together again,” wrote Bolger in a post-race email. “We teamed up 3 years ago when JC came over for his first World Cup and didnt ski great then together, but being able to team up again and move to the final after a really solid semi was super rad today! He skied really well all weekend and I’m so impressed with how he’s looking, so it made today really fun!”
Six quick laps each, eleven exchanges total, on a flat and fast city 0.65-kilometer loop with minimal recovery means flooded legs and tight racing. Like a series of just-over one minute intervals with equal rest, athletes take a conservative start, accruing fatigue while minimizing the opportunity for crashes and broken equipment to decide the race, over fitness and tactics. As the number of remaining laps dwindles, the pace steadily builds, like a bottle rocket, until the critical point arrives in the last few laps and leaders explode off the front in an effort to take control of the outcome.
As expected from a lap that lasted just over a minute, the whole pack of ten teams stayed very tight through the halfway mark. The Norway II team of Thomas Larsen and Even Northug spent time at the front, putting in quick surges at the beginning of each leg to re-establish their position.
Tagging off after lap 6, the team tagged off with Great Britain on one side, and the Norway I team of Sindre Bjørnestad Skar and Håvard Solås Taugbøl, on the other. Still very much in the mix were the Russia I pairing of Alexander Bolshunov tagging Gleb Retivykh, Italy’s Francesco di Fabiani and Federico Pellegrino, and France’s Richard Jouve and Lucas Chanavat.
At the half, the Americans remained in contact near the back of the pack, as Bolger tagged Schoonmaker in 9th (+2.0).
Coming into lap 9, Bolshunov made a move to the front to take the reins for Russia I, with both Norway teams and Jouve quickly responding to his tempo, while Italy and Great Britain worked hard to maintain contact. This burst set the tone for the final three laps.
As Retivykh unsuccessfully attempted to drop Taugbøl and Northug in lap 10, the pack in pursuit began to stretch out. While all remained in contact with the leaders, Great Britain began to look out of the running for a win, with Italy and France remaining a podium-threat in fourth and fifth. The teams behind thinned rapidly.
In Bolshunov’s final lap, he rocketed off the front, skiing powerfully through his legs with an aggressive forward lean, carrying momentum between each push. Whereas the early laps, rounding the tight curves looked careful and calculated, the men shot around the degrading bends, losing no speed as they pushed into the straightaways.
Tagging off for the final lap, Northug accelerated ahead of Retivykh, free skating powerfully off the first roller to regain the lead for Norway II. Feet quickly stepping around the first curve, Norway II looked in control with Norway I and Russia not ceding the win just yet. Italy and France remained on their tails, still in position for the podium.
Coming into the final curve hot, Taugbøl made an attempt to slingshot Norway I to the lead, but the tactic was thwarted by the closing speed and power of Northug. Standing up to pump his fist into the air, Northug coasted over the line for the win in 14:19.34, while Taugbøl narrowly edged out a hard-closing Retivykh to make it Norway II, Norway I (+0.42), then Russia I (0.62) for the podium.
“It was amazing,” Northug told FIS at the finish. “We struggled a little bit in the semifinal, but in the final we did everything right. Thomas sent me out first on the final lap and that was the plan. It was good.”
Speaking to the experience of racing with Northug, Larsen spoke highly of his partner, and of putting the Norway II team ahead of Norway I on the podium.
“It’s fantastic, he’s an incredibly good skier,” Larsen said. “He hasn’t had so many chances in the World Cup so far, but now he shows with yesterday and last week, he shows that he is one of the best in the world. I think this was a dream team today, and it’s cool to be the underdogs and just take it home.”After a fast final leg by Pellegrino to keep his team in the mix for the top-three, Italy was next over the line, narrowly missing the podium in fourth (+0.78), with Chanavat bringing the French I team home in fifth (+1.21). Knowing he was no longer in position to snag top-three, Great Britain’s Andrew Young relaxed in the final stretch, coasting over the line in sixth (+3.84), followed by a sizable gap to the next racers.
After losing contact in the final laps, Schoonmaker brought the American team to the line in 9th (+11.36).
“Dresden is a really fun event,” Bolger said after the race. “I think it’s something a lot of us skiers on the a World Cup enjoy to mix things up!”
Bolger explained that he and Schoonmaker “just wanted to stay out of trouble — and try as best as we could to put ourselves into a position to where we could attack when we needed to… I was hoping for more of a tactical final but it seemed like Bolshunov had a different plan and really pushed the pace for my leg the whole time, which made it really hurt, but I think that makes it really fun and competitive!”
Providing insights into the team’s tactics and his experience during the final, Schoonmaker provided the following comment in a post-race email from the road.
“I would say our main strategy going into the final was to conserve energy while staying in the top half of the field so that we would be able to match any moves made later in the race,” Schoonmaker explained. “It seems everyone had the same plan in mind, though, so it was tough to make that work. We were a little too far back to make anything happen when the pace picked up in the second half of the race. In Dresden, it really seems to be all about being out front because passing is just hard on a short, narrow and turny course. It’s a super fun format with the short laps, but also very challenging!”
Racing in semifinal B, Luke Jager and Logan Hanneman skied to 10th (+10.96), with the Canadian duo of Russell Kennedy and Graham Ritchie not far behind in 12th (+14.91). Neither team advanced to the finals.
Despite sitting out the weekend in Dresden, Norway’s Johannes Høsflot Klæbo currently leads both the World Cup overall and sprint standings. Klæbo is roughly 150 points ahead of Sergey Ustiugov (RUS) in the overall, and 60 points ahead of Taugbøl in sprinting.
Leading the American men, Schoonmaker sits in 11th place in the sprint standings with 112 World Cup points, and 20th in the overall. Schoonmaker is also the second ranked U23 skier, trailing Russia’s Alexander Terentev by 219 points.
Ben Ogden also ranks inside the top-30 in sprinting, sitting in 23rd with 46 points. Ogden is 4th on the U23 list, with Gus Schumacher 20 points behind in 7th. Luke Jager sits in 13th of the 21 athletes on the U23 list, with Zanden McMullen close behind in 16th. The future of American skiing is looking bright.
After a holiday break, racing continues with the Tour de Ski, which kicks off in Lenzerheide, SUI on December 28th.
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