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Ben Ogden was going to risk it . . . This season, the young American skier has made a rapid push in World Cup sprints, twice racing to the verge of finals in Beitostolen and Davos. In boot throws, final sprints, pushes big and small he has come to understand the agony of inches. When he lined up for today’s Stage 5 Classic Sprint in Val di Fiemme, Italy, Ogden knew the trial was here again. Standing at the starting line of another World Cup sprint semifinal, he looked to his right and saw Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, this year’s leader of the Tour de Ski. Klaebo seemed all but guaranteed to win today: he has never lost a Tour de Ski sprint. Never. And he has done so with the careful mix of easy tactics and better-than-anyone finishing sprint that has become his signature mode of racing. Ogden’s options were clear: he could either let this heat fall into that familiar, Klaebo-dominated mode—well-worn and always with the same result—or he could try and blow it up.
Ogden chose the latter. “[If you] go crazy hard [in the semi-final] all you have to do is make the top four,” he said in post-race comments. The field left the stargint line at a slow pace; Calle Halfvarsson (SWE), Simone Mocellini (ITA), Johan Haeggstroem (SWE), and Sindre Bjoernstad Skar (NOR) allowing Klaebo to settle in. Ogden simply said, “Alright, I’m at least going to try.” Soon after the starting tracks were behind him, Ogden scrambled to the front, unleashing everything he had. He opened up a gap on the field; in a sign that Ogden had taken the field by surprise, Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo quickly scrambled through the pack to catch up. As they began striding up the only true hill on the Val di Fiemme course, Klaebo broke into his signature run. He was having to work for it; Ogden had caused a rift. “When we rounded the top of the hill, I looked back and it was just me and the king,” said Ogden. “That’s when I thought that maybe it could work.”
The bulk of the Val di Fiemme course is a long, gradual downhill, culminating in a sharp left at the end of a small rise. In a final push, Klaebo made it through that the gap first, and order was restored after the chaos Ogden had caused: Klaebo first into the finals, followed by Halfvarsson and Simone Mocellini (ITA). Ogden lost a 4th place sprint to Haeggstroem for the final lucky loser spot, which would go to the 3rd and 4th place finishers from the heat Ogden had taken out so fast.
After an early stumble in this semifinal, Sindre Bjoernstad Skar (NOR) had watched this most exciting heat from the best seat in the house (the back of the field), saying of the tactics that Ogden had, “Tried to rob the bank, and forgot the money.” Ben Ogden: American outlaw.
“Johannes [Klaebo] gave me a fist bump,” said Ogden. “Calle [Halfvarsson] just said, ‘You’re crazy,’ but I’m going to keep trying everything. You have to try everything.”
Men’s Sprint Final: Klaebo on Top Again
Klaebo delivered that fist bump on his way to the Final, where it seemed his trial in the semi-final had made a lasting impression. As the starting tracks gave way to scrubbed snow, Klaebo moved to the front of the pack, uncharacteristically controlling the race from the beginning. It almost seemed like an afterthought as Klaebo sped through the stadium for the win, followed by Halfvarsson 2nd, and Mocellini 3rd.
Cyr to Finals with Americans by his side
What stood out during the day’s racing was who filled in the gaps. Next to Klaebo in the Final was a Canadian—Antoine Cyr—challenging for a podium for the first time since Alex Harvey had wound down his career with a 3rd place finish in Lillehammer, 2018. In progressing to the Final, Cyr had lined up in both the quarterfinal and semifinal alongside Zak Ketterson (USA) who had advanced to World Cup sprint heats for the first time. Ketterson said in post-race comments that he was determined to not let that milestone dictate his racing. “My plan was to not be timid at all.”
Indeed, both Cyr and Ketterson controlled their heat through the early going, avoiding a stumble that tripped up the highest qualifier in the heat, Frenchmen Jules Chappaz. Ketterson looked to lead into the stadium, but made a mistake going into the sharp left on the last hill. “I got caught up and lost all my speed going into the stadium,” he said, referring to a moment where he moved to the inside and found Italian Francesco De Fabiani claiming that track. Cyr stayed out of the fray, and was able to show an impressive finishing sprint to win the heat. Ketterson’s race, in retrospect, showed early signs of the tenacity that Ogden would later demonstrate. It was a promising indication that the Minneapolis native could potentially join the ranks of Americans challenging at World Cup sprints.
In the semifinal, Cyr again led in the early going alongside another North American, JC Schoonmaker (USA). The pair were challenged by Frenchmen Lucas Chanavat, who quietly executed a perfect push into the stadium and got out in front of the field to take the first spot. That left Schoonmaker and Cyr to sprint for which nation would put a man into a World Cup sprint finals again. Schoonmaker started out with the advantage in the stadium sprint, but it soon became apparent that Cyr had the edge. He passed Schoonmaker 10 meters from the finish, and made his first World Cup Final, the first for a Canadian since that 3rd place for Harvey in 2018.
The skiing of the North American men was a factor that shook up the Tour de Ski Overall standings, too. Until today, this year’s Tour had remained deceptively close. Despite Klaebo’s dominance through all stages—winning every race—his overall lead was slim due to bonuses and his own racing style. Federico Pellegrino (ITA) and Paal Golberg (NOR) were both less than 15 seconds back from Klaebo for the yellow bib, with Pellegrino looking to close with a sprint today. Instead, Pellegrino found himself in a quarterfinal sprint with JC Schoonmaker, and there is no other way to write it; Schoonmaker outsprinted the Italian. Golberg too, found himself in a heat with the other Canadian qualifier on the day, Graham Ritchie, and Ritchie’s aggressive tactics led to a bunch sprint that the World Cup Overall Distance leader just couldn’t master. With skiers occupying the 2nd and 3rd overall placings out in the quarterfinals today, Klaebo had an open opportunity to seize a gap of over a minute (the winner received a 60 second time bonus in the Overall today). He did just that.
Thus, the story on the day was North Americans advancing through the World Cup in their own distinctive way. In the cold and snow of the Italian Alps, they seemed to display a spirit, a tenacity, a dynamism usually associated with the deserts and dust of movie westerns. Through good, bad, and even ugly they pushed forward, shaking up this year’s Tour de Ski, and the World Cup too.
Stage 5 Results
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.