Action in Les Rousses: Klaebo Back on Top, Cyr Again Top Ten, Patterson Powers to 12th

Ben TheyerlJanuary 29, 2023

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Scott Patterson (USA) powers to a 12th place finish in the World Cup 20 k Mass Start in Les Rousses, France. (Photo:NordicFocus)

Ski racers know steep hills: the stomp up the first climb in the Swedish Vasaloppet, Wave 8 of the American Birkebeiner on “B**** Hill,” the race-changing “Russian Hill” on Lake Placid’s 1980 Olympic trails. The Les Rousses World Cup course has one of those hills, steep enough to reduce the world’s best skiers to a waddling, stuttering herringbone. Coming within the first 500 meters of the course, this hill was the defining feature of a 3.3 km loop that the World Cup field completed six times today en route to finishing a 20 km classic mass start. A hill like this becomes strategic: hit it hard and the hill could break up the field, string out the pack, perhaps even break Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR) who has looked surprisingly mortal this weekend in Les Rousses. Don’t let it come down to a final sprint. Beat him on the hill.

Easier said than done . . . Les Rousses’ hill indeed took its toll. By the final lap, only six skiers remained in contention. And among them was Klaebo, initiating a push into the check-point that marked the summit of the hill, then slowly returning to the pack like he’d just completed an interval. Iivo Niskanen’s (FIN) attempt to break away on the next hill came far too late. Klaebo had survived the climbs, had forced the race to finish on his terms, and so launched his race-winning sprint in time to have it all wrapped up as he entered the stadium. He waved and bowed to the Les Rousses crowd, extending his win streak in classic distance races to four, matching similar streaks by Alexander Bolshunov (RUS), Vladimir Smirnov (KAZ), and Bjorn Daehlie (NOR). Niskanen climbed onto the podium in 2nd place, while William Poromaa (SWE) finished third, earning his second podium of the weekend.

North American racers also excelled: The sole Canadian starter, Antoine Cyr, finished eighth, continuing his string of top ten finishes, while Scott Patterson (USA) finished 12th. Other American finishers included Ben Ogden 37th, Zak Ketterson 47th, Peter Wolter 54th, and Finn O’Connell 57th.

Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR) waves to the crowd on his way to winning Sunday’s 20 k classic mass start in Les Rousses. Klaebo ended a weekend where he struggled back to the top, outsprinting a six-man lead group. (Photo: NordicFocus)

The tactics played by Klaebo did not change the reality for the rest of the field in Les Rousses. There was still a grinding, grueling fight for places up and down the field, which kept attention on the finish-line long after the lead pack finished. The first of these pitched battles was between Cyr and Martin Loewstroem Nyenget (NOR) who traded turns in 7th and 8th place through the bulk of Sunday’s action. Loewstroem would take the edge in the end, but Cyr’s 8th place finish marked his third top-10 result in a month on the World Cup (after two top tens during the Tour de Ski), an auspicious sign of form from the young Quebecois skier.

Antoine Cyr (CAN) trades places with Martin Loewstroem Nyenget (NOR) during the 20 k classic mass start. Loewstroem outsprinted Cyr for 7th place, but Cyr’s 8th place marked his third World Cup top ten in the last month. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Then there was the main chase group behind Cyr which included another pack of skiers vying for top 10 spots. Among them was Patterson, who had held strong as the pack strung out to give himself a chance at a top ten. “I recognized that this course was pretty hard and expected the pack to spread out relatively early,” Patterson said. “Right from the start, my tactic was to hold position pretty high and fight to stay with the leaders. My group lost the leaders on the fourth lap, at which point I was able to shift into a more stable race pace and pick off stragglers from the lead pack.”

On the last climb of the big hill, Patterson made his move to the front of the pack, but was unable to break away any further. The back half of the course mitigated his strong showing on the uphill sections of the course, and he found himself in a sprint to gain every place he could. Friday’s World Cup winner, Harald Oestberg Amundsen (NOR) and Beda Klee (SUI) established a gap on the American, but Patterson came up the better against Frenchmen Clement Parisse to earn a 12th place finish on the day. Of his finish Patterson said, “I’m pretty psyched with the 12th today. I feel that I’m building momentum as this season progresses, but classic always seems to come a little slower for me. Today’s result is one of my best classic races outside of World Championship and Olympic races so I am pleased with that. My goals for the season are focused on the longer events around World Championships and Holmenkollen, but it is nice to see that I have decent form and pace in 20km races as well and feel that I’m still moving up.”

Scott Patterson (USA) leads the chase pack during the 20 K classic mass start Sunday. Patterson finished in 12th place, the top American on the day. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Ogden began his racing day clad in the Green Bib of the best young (U23) skier on the World Cup. Ogden would finish 37th, relinquishing the Green Bib to William Poromaa (SWE) after the Swede’s double podium weekend in Les Rousses. The U23 standings —1) Poromaa, 840 points, 2) Ogden, 744 points, 3) Friedrich Moch (GER), 720 points—set up what is likely to be a season-long battle in the young skier competition. That is notable in that it helps explain Ogden’s choice to skip the U23 World Championships currently happening in Whistler. Ogden would be the first American to win the young skier competition (which became an independent classification in 2014-15). Gus Schumacher (USA) took 2nd place in the young skier competition during the 2020-21 season.

Ben Ogden—wearing the Green Bib of U23 World Cup Overall leader—on his way to a 37th place finish. Ogden is locked in a tight battle for the best young skier competition with William Poromaa (SWE), who finished third and claimed the right to wear the Green Jersey next week. (Photo: NordicFocus)

In post-race interviews, Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo indicated that it was a “lot of hard work coming into this weekend, so it feels good to end it with a win.” There may have been a hint on where Klaebo is headed as the calendar turns from January to February this coming week. A month out from World Championships, it’s notable that Les Rousses happened in the middle of the last chance for athletes to put in a bigger block of training before tapering into Planica. While the best skier was off his game for the first part of the weekend in Les Rousses, he came away from the weekend with a win. A win is a win, of course, but with a deliberate eye towards Planica, it might just mean something more for the Norwegian. Even on a course capable of reducing the dynamic beauty of skiing to a plodding waddle, the world’s best skier could push through towards grander, bigger things to come.

Men’s 20 k Classic Mass Start RESULTS

Men’s podium (and a French fox) at Sunday’s 20 k Mass Start Classic in Les Rousse. 1st) Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR), 2nd) Iivo Niskanen (FIN), 3rd) William Poromaa (SWE). (Photo: NordicFocus)

Ben Theyerl

Ben Theyerl was born into a family now three-generations into nordic ski racing in the US. He grew up skiing for Chippewa Valley Nordic in his native Eau Claire, Wisconsin, before spending four years racing for Colby College in Maine. He currently mixes writing and skiing while based out of Crested Butte, CO, where he coaches the best group of high schoolers one could hope to find.

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