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At an elevation of 5,118 feet above sea level, Davos Switzerland is the highest stop on the FIS cross Country World Cup tour—high enough that its elevation has definite effects on racers’ performances. The air is thin and dry, and a long sprint day in Davos (for those who make it all the way to the final) is a test of endurance almost as much as it is a test of speed.
This third sprint event on the World Cup tour also marked the much-anticipated return of FIS World Cup Sprint Leader, Johannes Hosfloet Klaebo, who skipped last week’s endurance finale in Beitostolen on account of illness. Klaebo has often been quoted this year about his intentions for the season, and his feeling that the World Cup Overall crown has already slipped away due to new FIS point systems favoring skiers who compete in all events. Klaebo has already missed numerous starts this season, and he would’ve been much more accustomed to the sort of points-lead that the old system would have provided him (a system that rewarded race wins more than race consistency).
Ultimately, this day would not be about points but about passion, as veteran sprint star, Federico Pellegrino (ITA), stormed forward to win the day, followed by Klaebo in second, and Lucas Chanavat (FRA) third. In Davos today, the Italians were exultant (as they so often are when their athletes achieve such great results); let the national celebrating begin.
The Davos sprint venue consists of two laps making a 2.7 kilometer course. Early on, it appeared that the prologue could prove to be the big story of the day when—for the first time this season—Klaebo was not present atop the leader board. He finished second, .26 behind prologue winner Chanavat. North Americans also qualified well, as has begun to seem like the norm: Ben Ogden (USA) 6th and Graham Ritchie (CAN) 8th.
More North Americans qualified for the quarterfinals—JC Schoonmaker (USA), 21st, Kevin Bolger (USA), 26th, and Antoine Cyr (CAN), 28th—but no North Americans advanced beyond the quarterfinals. Ben Ogden appeared to be in position to advance out of his quarterfinal heat, but an errant pole plant resulted in a tangle on the final uphill that took him out of contention. Ogden would finish the day in 21st, while Canadian Graham Ritchie would finish 17th.
Matt Grover was one of the Team USA staff members who was impressed with Ogden’s performance, despite Ogden’s disappointment at not advancing. “I’m really stoked for [Ben],” Grover commented. “The way he was skiing in the first three quarters of that quarterfinal, it was clear he was going to be one of the people controlling it.”
Grover continued his comments, referring to the potential Ogden is showing in the season to come. “He’s a guy who’s still racing himself into race fitness this year,” said Grover. “It’s really impressive.
The quarterfinal heats also claimed one of the significant contenders, as Richard Jouve (FRA)—the winner of last week’s World Cup Sprint in Beitostolen—crashed mid-race after tangling with his countryman, Renaud Jay.
Five Norwegians qualified for the semifinals, though one of those heats was decidedly more stacked than the other. Semifinal 1 featured Klaebo, Even Northug (NOR), Pellegrino, and the day’s top qualifier, Chanavat. Chanavat set the early pace, followed by Klaebo and Pellegrino. The racing was should to shoulder as Pellegrino executed a daring move to enter the final turn on the inside. His speed pushed him to the outside on the finishing straight, leaving the inside lane open for Klaebo. Pellegrino won the semifinal with Klaebo standing up to glide in ahead of Chanavat (who would qualify into the finals as a lucky loser, along with Northug who finished the semifinal in fourth).
The final looked to be super-competitive with top-qualifier Chanavat joined by Klaebo, Pellegrino, Northug, Edvin Anger (SWE), and breakthrough performer, James Clugnet (GBR). At the start of the final, Chanavat powered to the front followed closely by Northug. Klaebo drifted to mid-pack, though managed to move up into contention on the straightaway at the beginning of the second lap. Having maneuvered past Northug and Anger, Klaebo transitioned to V1 much more quickly than Chanavat, leaving the Frenchman flat footed. The climb looked to be unfolding as expected with Klaebo speeding to the front. Pellegrino was able to match Klaebo’s pace, and began the final descent in second. Keeping pace, Pellegrino marked Klaebo around the final righthand bend and into the finishing straight. Then the truly unlikely took place, as Pellegrino overtook Klaebo from behind, and out-sprinted him to the finish line.
Pellegrino’s victory ties him with Klaebo for the most sprint wins (4) in Davos. “Always incredible in Davos,” Pellegrino said in a post-race interview. “Here I feel like home.” Perhaps Pellegrino’s performance is made even more impressive when we consider that he drove to Davos (from his home in Italy) early this morning, after being satisfied that his wife would be fine without him for the day. The couple are expecting a child any day . . . even more reason for all of Italy to celebrate.
Davos World Cup Sprint Men’s RESULTS