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Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR) entered Stage 6 of the 2023 Tour de Ski with a one minute lead over all his closest rivals (a lead that had shrunk after the Pursuit race earlier in the week, only to re-grow after yesterday’s sprints, which Klaebo won in commanding fashion). Today’s 15 k Mass Start event was likely to be one in which Klaebo could excel, given that his form is at a career-high, and that he had already won all five of the prior TDS stages. This race seemed like his race to control, and control it he did.
Throughout the day of racing, Klaebo controlled the pace, controlled the treacherous downhill sections, controlled the pack over the tops of climbs, and controlled the sprint finish to win in 39:59.2. Behind him at the finish line was his primary rival in the chase for the Tour de Ski, Paal Golberg (NOR), followed by Francesco de Fabiani (ITA) who thrilled the home crowd with his third place finish.
North American skiers had another big day, as Antoine Cyr (CAN) narrowly missed a trip to the podium, finishing a split-second behind de Fabiani. Ben Ogden survived a broken pole to finish in the lead group in 19th, only 15 seconds behind the winner.
In addition to Ogden, other American finishers included Scott Patterson 24th, Hunter Wonders 35th, Gus Schumacher 37th, Zak Ketterson 43rd, and Finn O’Connell 55th.
Canadian finishers included Olivier Léveillé 31st, Russell Kennedy 42nd, Samuel Hendry 46th, Remi Drolet 54th.
Men’s 15 k Classic Mass Start
Didrik Toenseth (NOR) and Calle Halfvarsson (SWE) set the pace in the early kilometers, marked by Klaebo who moved to the front on downhills where his wax—and Halfvarsson’s—seemed to be gliding the best. William Poromaa (SWE) moved to the front on the climb at 2.5 k. Klaebo and Halfvarsson let him go, but none of the other contenders were willing to chase. Ogden stayed near the front while Poromaa led, making sure that he’d be in a good position when the Swede was finally caught. Ultimately, the field re-collected Poromaa, and all returned to moderation for a while.
Even at a moderate pace, there was enough carnage to keep the field on it’s toes. Ketterson lost both a pole and a ski on the most significant downhill (gliding down the slope with one ski on his right foot, and the other ski in his left hand). He managed to regroup and get back in the race.
Ogden also suffered a broken pole in a high profile moment that was concentrated on by many journalists after the race. “Actually, Johannes kicked it off around a corner,” Ogden said. “It was okay; I got a fresh one pretty quick. I had to use a little energy to catch back up, but it wasn’t bad.”
Ogden continued: “I got a pole from one of our coaches, but all kinds of different people were offering it to me: Swiss coach, Norwegian coach . . . that was cool.”
When asked if the broken pole was Klaebo’s fault, Ogden laughingly responded, “No, It was probably my fault . . . I’m the one that’s skiing with my [stuff] going everywhere! He was involved, but that kind of makes it cooler for me! He’s the King.” Ogden added, jokingly, “He’s trying to get back at me for yesterday.”
As the race continued, the field began to take interest in the time bonuses available at 8.5 kilometers. Halfvarsson led out the intermediate sprint, but Klaebo accelerated to claim the 15 second bonus (with Halfvarsson settling for 12 seconds). The bonus extended Klaebo’s lead to just over a minute. After the bonus sprint, the pace settled for a time, only to increase again as the finish line approached. With one kilometer remaining, Klaebo strategically clogged the front at the top of the hill, forcing Simen Hegstad Krueger (NOR) and Poromaa to accelerate into the lead. Once Klaebo was in their slipstream, the matter was all but settled. Klaebo chose to ski an extraordinarily wide line on the downhill, carrying tremendous speed into the flat before the last bump where his signature slingshot occurs. Predictably, he shot past Poromaa like the Swede was standing still. Golberg jumped into Klaebo’s slipstream, but was only able to double pole behind him through the finish line for second place. Cyr secured fourth place (.1 from the podium) by rocketing past Halfvarsson in the finishing straight, only narrowly losing to de Fabiani in the battle for third place.
Antoine Cyr’s recent successes put the team program of Nordique Canada in a very flattering spotlight. Coach, Robin McKeever commented: “As a former athlete for 12 years on the NST, I always felt we had our best success when the team worked together to take on the world rather than working against each other even in an individual sport. Anyone who has bought into this concept, I believe has reaped some serious benefits in their individual success.
Going into Sunday’s final Tour de Ski stage on the Alpe di Cermis, Klaebo leads by 1:02 over Halfvarsson, 1:14 to Golberg, 1:27 to Pellegrino, 1:45 to Krueger, and 2:10 to Toenseth.
Ogden’s place finished 19th moved him up into 9th place in the overall standings, though it will be tough to preserve his top-ten position with so many good climbers just behind him in the overall standings.
Of Klaebo’s dominance,Ogden offered a racer’s perspective: “We’re witnessing history. I consider myself lucky to be a part of it at all. In the sprints people just seem to let him have his way, but he’s earned that. One day, he’s gonna get tired and the fellas are gonna get a taste of it, and he’s gonna have to check the rearview mirror. But it wasn’t today, it wasn’t yesterday, and it probably won’t be tomorrow. Someday, that’s gonna happen, and it’s going to be sweet for whoever does it.”
Until that day, we’ll continue to marvel at all that Klaebo does.
Men’s 15 k Classic Mass Start RESULTS
John Teaford—the Managing Editor of FasterSkier — has been the coach of Olympians, World Champions, and World Record Holders in six sports: Nordic skiing, speedskating, road cycling, track cycling, mountain biking, triathlon. In his long career as a writer/filmmaker, he spent many seasons as Director of Warren Miller’s annual feature film, and Producer of adventure documentary films for Discovery, ESPN, Disney, National Geographic, and NBC Sports.