Yellow bibbed as the overall leader of the World Cup, out first on Sunday’s 30 k classic pursuit in Trondheim, and Norway’s Pål Golberg starting 34 seconds back: this was the situation Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov found himself in as he pulsed from the start. Thrown into this mix of tension was a helter-skelter mish-mash of weather. On and off again snow, blustery winds, and temps hovering right near that wax tech’s no man’s land of 0 °C.
We are not used to seeing Bolshunov falter. He has been a beast this season having won the Tour de Ski and hammering away from the field solo during this tour’s Stage 4 34 k mass start skate. Those are simply two highlights. But there he was, perhaps humbled by less than stellar skis on Sunday; the big Russian bear faltered.
This was Golberg’s day. By 2.2 k he had nearly halved the gap to Bolshunov. Two k later, Golberg was on the Russian’s ski tails, with Bolshunov’s metaphorical tail beginning to droop between his legs. A Russian down — Golberg on his own solo quest for the win.
For the next 26 k, Golberg’s job was no longer to fend off Bolshunov, but to keep a motivated crew of Norwegian’s from gapping up. We’ll get to that piece of the story in a bit. Golberg won with a polite bow to the crowd in 1:23:51.6. This was the twenty-nine-year-old Golberg’s second win of the season. He won a classic sprint in Falun, Sweden earlier this month. His effort, and lovely skis on a day that saw several skiers stop and scrape ice off their kick zones, earned him the Ski Tour overall win.
“It’s surreal and something I did not expect before the Ski Tour and before the season,” Golberg told FIS after the race. “The crowd started to congratulate me on the third round so I had to stay focussed until the finish.”
Back to the chase – which was really a Norwegian hunt for that Russian bear. We’re going to begin with the hunters: Martin Løwstrøm Nyenget, Simen Hegstad Krüger, Johannes Høsflot Klæbo, Hans Christer Holund, Emil Iversen, and Sjur Røthe. (Imagine having that crew team trialing behind.) Maybe grotesque in their spoils, but certainly dogged in their pursuit, this all Norwegian chase was symbolic of a country’s ability to foster otherworldly endurance talent, and keep them fresh enough to crush the field in a six-stage tour. It was literally a train of Norwegian skiers who had likely been shadowing one another at the elite level since their late teens.
They slowly reeled Bolshunov in. At 13.9 k, the Russian kept a 14-second buffer between he and the Norwegians. Ultimately, this was no catch and release scenario. Bolshunow was swallowed near the 16 k mark. Another three k later, all but Røthe kept pace, the others gapped Bolshunov by nine seconds.
The Norwegians forged ahead, while Bolshunov, digetsing the inevitable, tried to minimize losses. Krüger, known for his skating, took strong pulls in the closing kilometers. He crossed the line in second (+28.9). Holund placed third (+30.1), Iversen fourth (+32.3), Nyenget fifth (+32.9), and Klæbo sixth (+34.2).
Bolshunov settled for seventh place (+1:41.0), ceding roughly 1:10 to that lead Norwegian group, as he lost grip on the Ski Tour overall. His demeanor across the line matter of fact: he unlocked his bindings as he glided across the line, stepped out his skis, then proceeded through the finish area without acknowledging the all-Norwegian scrum in the finish pen.
As for time of day efforts, the fastest time goes to Iversen in 1:21:25.9. Finland’s Iivo Niskanen notched the second-fastest time 10.9 seconds back. Niskanen placed eighth on the stage (+1:48.2). For his troubles, Bolshunov skied the 23rd fastest time, 4:06.7 off of Iversen’s best of day mark.
David Norris led the day for the U.S. ending the day and the Ski Tour ranked 34th (+11:30.7). Ben Lustgarten placed 54th (+19:29.5). The remaining U.S. skiers who began the tour, dropped from competition after Stage 6. They include Logan Hanneman and Kevin Bolger who both have mild colds. Simi Hamilton dropped after Stage 4 with a mild illness as well.
Canada’s Russell Kennedy placed 39th (+12:50.5), Evan Palmer-Charrette 43rd (+14:33.2), Alexis Dumas 55th (+20:12.5), and Ricardo Izquierdo-Bernier 56th.
This concludes the epicness from Norway, as the Ski Tour closes out. Racing begins again in Lahti, Finland next Saturday.