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In the men’s Overall World Cup competition, Harald Oestberg Amundsen (NOR) holds a commanding 300 point lead over teammate Erik Valnes. While Amundsen and Paal Golberg (NOR) have a stranglehold in the distance competition, the fight for third is fierce. Andrew Musgrave (GBR) has a 15 point lead over Martin Loewstroem Nyenget (NOR), Simen Hegstad Krueger (NOR) and Hugo Lapalus (FRA). And lurking ready to pounce to redeem an illness-plagued season is Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR) who is only 16 points behind Musgrave. Klaebo would have extra motivation today: with a win, he would become the first man to win 75 individual World Cup events.
Like the women’s event, the men’s format today was changed due to problems with the arrival of timing equipment to a 15-kilometer mass start.
Often, men’s mass start Freestyle races are purely tactical affairs. But today that was not the case as Krueger and Mika Vermeulen (AUT) both put in individual breakaways that the field was unable to match. In a brave solo effort, Krueger ended up taking the victory, Amundsen was second, and Mika Vermeulen held on for third.
American Scott Patterson had a great day finishing eighth. Due to the larger field given to host countries, there were 12 Americans at the start line. Other American finishers were Gus Schumacher 22nd, Zanden McMullen 23rd, David Norris 27th, Peter Wolter 36th, Luke Jager 39th, Hunter Wonders 40th. In his first World Cup start, Michigan native Reid Goble was 44th, Braden Becker 45th, Michael Earnhart 47th, Graham Houtsma 49th, and Ben Ogden 54th.
The top Canadian finisher was Samuel Gary Hendry in 30th. He was followed by Antoine Cyr, 37th, Remi Drolet 42nd, Leo Grandbois 46th, Aidan Kirkham 50th, Xavier McKeever 51st, Scott James Hill 52nd, Felix-Olivier Moreau 53rd, Eamon Wilson 55th, and Adam Heale 57th. Olivier Leveille and Micah Steinberg did not finish.
Men’s 15 k Mass Start Freestyle
The pace at the start was very controlled and skiers stayed together in a large pack with Amundsen, Musgrave and Klaebo setting the early tempo. There were two Bonus Points sprints that had the potential to break up the field. As it turned out, this contrived means of breaking up the field would not be needed.
At the start of the second lap, Vermeulen (AUT) pushed to the front and established a bit of a gap on the field, but the pace was still pedestrian. Nonetheless, he had created a seven second lead over Musgrave. Vermeulen continued to put a gap on the field, and no one from the group chose to pursue him. Whether intentionally or not, Vermeulen was now on a solo breakaway.
At 5.2 kilometers, Vermeulen still held a 5.3 second lead, and none of the leaders deemed it a threat. He was close enough to keep an eye on, and the pack was content to let him set the pace. The breakaway allowed Vermeulen to claim the top bonus points at 6.7-kilometers. After the bonus mark, he continued to hold a five second lead on the field.
But relentlessly, momentum took over and the pack swallowed up Vermeulen with Krueger taking the lead. Sensing that the pack was not in the mood to chase a break, Krueger began to slowly pull away from the pack. By the time they had reached the 8.4-kilometer mark, Krueger had established an eight second lead on the rest of the field which was led by Friedrich Moch (GER).
Krueger’s efforts at a breakaway seemed like a much more legitimate threat than Vermeulen’s had been as he continued to press the pace and stretched his lead to over 15 seconds at 8.9 kilometers. During Krueger’s break, Scott Patterson (USA) had used the opportunity to move into fifth place and was toward the front of the chase pack.
The next bonus Sprint was at 10.5 kilometers and Krueger easily took it as his lead had swelled to over 17 seconds. Could one man hold off the entire pack for another five kilometers? It was a tall order, but Krueger has a history of strong solo performances, and he looked to be in excellent form.
At 11.3 Krueger looked like an unstoppable locomotive. His lead was 22 seconds; it looked like no one would be able to chase him down. Patterson still remained in the middle of the chase group and was fighting for podium position.
By the final lap, Krueger had stretched his lead, and it looked like the pack had given up on fighting for first place and was now jockeying for podium positions. Amundsen moved to the front of the chase group, but it was clearly not an effort to reign in Krueger.
By 12.7-kilometers Krueger had beaten the field into submission. With over a 20 second lead, the race was now his to lose. Another story playing out in the chase group was Patterson’s performance, who was sticking with the chase group in eighth place.
As the field entered the final stretch it was clear that Krueger’s gamble was going to pay off. He still was holding onto his 20 second lead.
As the group entered the stadium Krueger coasted to victory and glanced back to watch the battle unfolding behind him. The pack was surging with Amundsen jumping to the front to take second place and Vermeulen hanging on to third. Patterson was able to capture eighth place, turning in a great day for the American.
In a format that is usually dominated by pack tactics, the script for the men was upended today by Krueger and Vermeulen whose brave solo breaks made for an entertaining race.
After the race Krueger was clearly excited. “It was almost the perfect race for me today,” he said. “After the format was changed, I decided to make it as tough as a race as possible. The last lap I feared I had used a little too much energy.” But clearly, he hadn’t, and was able to turn in a spectacular performance.
At the podium ceremony, the European winners truly seemed to relish receiving Canmore’s signature cowboy hat as a prize; none more than Vermeulen who notched his first podium finish.