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There’s Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, and then there’s everyone else: that’s what was proven in Sunday’s 10 k Pursuit at the Tour de Ski in Val Mustair, Switzerland.
There were the usual darts, pushes, and pulls in the Men’s pursuit field that started in an order derived from yesterday’s individual skate sprint results. Eyes were on which Norwegians—Paal Golberg, Hans Christer Holund, Didrik Toenseth, and Sjur Roethe—would shoot through the pack after finishing down in yesterday’s rankings. Iivo Niskanen (FIN) was sure to do what he does best: classic ski. The American Ben Ogden would look to hold onto a strong position for the Americans.
That all did happen, but it all happened in a different frame from that of the race leader. Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo started with a seven second gap on Federico Pellegrino, and then just kept it. There wasn’t any bunch sprint at the end, there wasn’t any jockeying on the race course, there was just Klaebo, putting pole plant after pole plant into the Swiss snow, eclipsing an entire field of the world’s best, gliding across the finish line with a 10 second gap, and then looking back. For a moment in the finishing pen, Klaebo just leaned on his poles. Skiers fought and threw themselves across the line to gain a place. They collapsed in heaps. They staggered through the back-pats and high-fives of post-race camaraderie. Klaebo was just there, the setting sun casting a shadow over his shoulder that may well have been an eclipse over the entire the field. He eventually made his rounds, shaking hands and offering congratulations. But there was a moment where it seemed that the athlete who’s spent his career charging towards skiing history—he tied Petter Northug for Tour de Ski stage wins with his 13th today—couldn’t help but sense the extraordinary place he occupies.
Men’s 10 k Pursuit
Golberg is still the Overall Leader of the World Cup this year after Klaebo’s absence through parts of Lillehammer and Beitostolen in Period I; if Klaebo is to re-take the overall lead, he will need to wrestle it away from Golberg’s top form. After an 8th place finish yesterday, Golberg started 20 seconds behind Klaebo, with the sprint specialists of yesterday placed between them. Through the early-goings of the 10 k pursuit, the main chase pack held firm with the top sprinters of yesterday. Most notable among them was Federico Pellegrino, who started in Bib 2 today and had a comparatively small seven second gap back from Klaebo at the start. Pellegrino never challenged Klaebo, but he did remain off the front of the chase group that included Richard Jouve (FRA), Michal Novak (CZE), and Sindre Bjornstad Skar (NOR) for much of the first half of the race.
Golberg, wearing bib 9, had started out in the front of what quickly coalesced into the main peloton of the race in the first couple of kilometers. This pack was where the main action that will set the Tour de Ski up for its latter stages took place. The skiers that will be looking forward to the 10 k/20 k combination of races in Oberstdorf for Stage 3 and Stage 4, and who can look behind at the Stage 1 Sprint wishing they had a bit more punch, weaved their way through in this main group to set themselves up for stronger starts in the racing to come. That included Simen Hegstad Krueger, who moved up from 18th to 4th place on Stage 2, Martin Loewstrom Nyenget who moved from 42nd to 6th, Hans Christer Holund from 48th to 9th, Didrik Toenseth from 25th to 10th, and Iivo Niskanen from 57th to 14th. Notably, some Americans were able to make similar jumps further down the pack, with Scott Patterson moving up from 94th to 59th and Hunter Wonders moving up from 80th to 53rd on the day.
At around the 4.5 k mark, Golberg started to make his move from this main group to the chase group containing the sprint specialists Jouve, Novak, and Pellegrino. No one followed the Norwegian, and Golberg’s joining the chase group seemed to transform it from a chase group to the Golberg group—with some of the best lead-out men in the World. Over the second half of the race, Golberg controlled the chase pack as he fought to reel in Klaebo. His pace-setting soon broke Jouve and Novak, but with the persistent and ever-inspiring grit that has defined his season so far, Federico Pellegrino stuck onto Golberg’s every move. As the kilometers stretched out, that little fact began to grow in its importance, as the two skiers closed in on the finishing sprint; back in Pellegrino’s realm.
When Golberg and Pellegrino did enter the stadium for the final time, they were locked in next to each other. Everyone in the stadium, including the victorious Klaebo, could turn and be treated to a genuinely exciting sprint for 2nd where Pellegrino moved out from behind Golberg, put in a kick, and then saw the Norwegian somehow counter. A boot’s throw from both skiers initially looked as if Pellegrino had been successful, but upon review, Golberg was given the 2nd place nod, as Pellegrino hung on to claim a 3rd place podium finish in a distance race. Something that is worth italicizing for its novelty at this point in the sprinter’s career.
The Italians kept the finish line exciting from there as well, with Francesco De Fabiani soon coming into the stadium in battle with American Ben Ogden. Ogden started 13th place on the day, and had kept his position in the main pack well as the powerhouse distance skiers of the World Cup sought to move to the front of the field today. De Fabiani and Ogden came into the stadium looking for 17th place, and were willing to go all out for it right to the line. In the end, the Italian won this round of the boot throw, and Ogden came away from two days of racing in this year’s Tour in 18th place. “For many Americans the threshold for an average race is starting to change,” Ogden said. “That said, we are still hungry and place emphasis on the process rather than the result. That way through thick and thin we are still learning and getting better every day. Everyone here has long term goals well beyond the top 30 and I am really proud that many are making forward steps.”
The Tour de Ski gets its first rest day tomorrow, as the circuit travels from the Swiss side of the Alps to the German side in Oberstdorf for Stage 3: 10 k Individual Start Classic. The sun has set on Val Mustair, the shadows cast on the skiers all clumped together and entangled but for one: the solitary figure of Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, looming large.
Tour de Ski Men’s 10 k Pursuit: Full Results
Previous Coverage of this year’s Tour de Ski: Stage I
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.