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Any time a Cross Country World Cup is contested on Norwegian snow, the story is likely to be about the racing prowess of the many additional Norwegian skiers who are granted start positions (a courtesy that FIS provides to host nations). Today’s World Cup 10 k Freestyle race was no exception, with the list of finishers in Lillehammer being led by a crowd of Norwegian stars and soon-to-be stars. With only one World Cup start on his record, 22 year old Iver Tildheim Andersen earned an unexpected win over his more famous countrymen, Didrik Toenseth (2nd) and Hans Christer Holund (3rd).
Up and coming North American skiers also took advantage of this moment to shine, as Zak Ketterson posted a World Cup career-best 26th place finish, closely followed by Gus Schumacher in 32nd. Other American finishers included Scott Patterson (40th), Hunter Wonders (45th), and Ben Ogden (56th). Canadian finishers included an impressive World Cup performance by Oliver Leveille (36th), followed by Antoine Cyr (46th), and Graham Ritchie (51st).
The additional story in Lillehammer, though, was about who was NOT on the roster of starters: in this case, World Cup leader Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo. Norwegian news reports indicate that Klaebo’s absence from the race was due to illness (a sore throat, with early reports suggesting it is unrelated to Covid). It is unknown whether he will be at the start for tomorrow’s World Cup Sprint. With Klaebo’s absence from today’s racing, his Norwegian teammate, Paal Golberg, takes over the lead in the World Cup Distance standings.
Fresh snow decorated the trees along the Lillehammer course, but the snow that lay on the ground appeared heavy and wet. On a day marked by relatively warm conditions, many racers were feeling their way into the race rather than charging blindly ahead. Early splits were widely spread as skiers attempted to sort out the conditions and determine where best to glide and where best to drive. One of the early standouts was England’s Andrew Musgrave. Skiing barehanded on this relatively warm Norwegian day, Musgrave was one of the few who pushed the pace early.
Ketterson’s 26th place represents a season’s-best finish, and an indicator that his training and his preparation are bringing him into form at just the right time. “I think just having another year of professional training under my belt has made a really big difference,” he commented. “Last year was my first season with Team Birkie and I was able to make a pretty big jump. This summer and fall has just been a continuation of the momentum we picked up last year and it’s been pretty cool to see it working out so far.”
While Ketterson’s career-best World Cup finish was last spring in Falun when he was 15th in the 15 k skate, today’s result bodes well for the remainder of Ketterson’s World Cup season. “I think it is a great sign of things to come,” he said. “It’s easy to forget that it’s still only the beginning of December and it is a very long season!
For surprise winner, Andersen, the day was one that must’ve felt like a dream. “It was pretty amazing,” he said. “I didn’t actually expect to win this race.”
Andersen raced aggressively from the start, continuing to extend his lead throughout the race, and delivering a blistering finish that saw him take the lead by a large margin after the first half of finishers. Ultimately, his hold on the leader’s chair would be confirmed as Norwegian after Norwegian fell short of his finishing time.
“It was a good feeling, for sure, hearing that I’d taken the lead, and just keep increasing the gap,” he said. “I was hoping to improve my best from the World Cup, and I did . . . So I’m very happy.”
Andersen’s only other World Cup finish had been a creditable 24th place in last years Holmenkollen 50 k. Considering his win in today’s Lillehammer World Cup, it seems we should expect to see Andersen appearing at many more World Cup starting lines.
Norway ended the day with nine of the top ten finishers in this men’s race. In a further display of Norwegian dominance, Klaebo’s withdrawal provided an opportunity for a Norwegian replacement-skier—Henrik Doennestad—who finished 15th, only 35 seconds behind the winner.
In Klaebo’s absence, the World Cup Distance Leader’s jersey passes to Paal Golberg who finished 6th today in Lillehammer, and 2nd in both the 10 k and 20 k World Cup distance races last week in Ruka.
Racing continues in Lillehammer with the Men’s and Women’s Sprints on Friday, and the Men’s and Women’s Mass Start 20 k Classic on Sunday.
Lillehammer World Cup 10 k Men’s Freestyle RESULTS