Norway shined on their home course in Lillehammer, Norway with Sjur Røthe posting the fastest time of 36:3.0 minutes in the 15-kilometer individual start freestyle, followed closely by teammate Didrik Tønseth (+6.0). The Norwegians claimed six of the top-ten spots. Russia’s Denis Spitsov took the third podium position, finishing 28.6 seconds back.
In his first distance World Cup race of the season, Switzerland’s Dario Cologna placed fourth (+38.3).
“It feels amazing,” Røthe told the International Ski Federation (FIS) about his race. “I didn’t know that I was fighting for the victory, I just heard I was fighting with Didrik. I didn’t know it was for the victory until the last 5k. But I did everything I could and I kept a high speed the whole way, so I’m really satisfied.”
For North America, Alex Harvey was the best finisher in 17th (+1:20.5). His fellow Canadians Andy Shields took 61st (+3:08.4), and Russell Kennedy placed 64th (+3:17.0).
“I just had bad legs,” Harvey told FasterSkier in the mixed zone after the race. “I felt good in the warm-up, but racing I couldn’t climb.”
When asked whether his podium finish in yesterday’s sprint may have left him fatigued today, Harvey replied, “Probably, but it felt like in the warmup and in my morning jog, I didn’t feel that fatigued. I am missing something in distance right now, it was kind of the same in Kuusamo. So hopefully a couple races will help to bring the base level a bit higher.”
Harvey also noted that the course conditions played a role in his race day sensations. The weather and lack of natural snow added another layer of challenge. Rain and warm temperatures eroded the 5k manmade loop exposing wood chips, pebbles, and the ground below. While course officials worked to preserve the snow, they could not maintain the firm base that the course started with.
“It was really soft, the corners and everything,” said Harvey. “So it was hard to kind of rest the legs … you see on the results it was good for the lighter guys. Sjur, Didrik, and Spitsov are some of the lightest guys on the tour. So yeah, it was really sloppy skiing, for me it was really hard.”
He added, “That corner heading into the stadium, you can see the pavement at the bottom. So somebody must have hit the pavement.”
The Americans were well outside the points today; Erik Bjornsen of the U.S. Ski Team (USST) finished 43rd (+2:24.5).
Bjornsen, who was disappointed with his finish, commented, “I just wanted to go out there and push as hard as I can and try not to rush things. To find a good pace and be able to keep it. But 3-4k into the race, the legs were just kind of stiffening up. I’m not really feeling the snap and the energy that I’d like to and the climbs are feeling hard. Hopefully, I can figure it out in the next couple of weeks. It would be great to score some points before Christmas.”
David Norris (APU) in 54th (+2:44.5) was the next best U.S. skier. He was the day’s first men’s starter. Wearing bib number one can put an athlete in a lonely and frustrating position in an interval start as it means either skiing alone up front or being passed. But Norris saw it as an opportunity to ski with more experienced racers behind him.
“It was kind of nice to ski alone for a lap and a half,” Norris reflected. Then, different than in the past, some of the guys that were passing me I was able to ski with for a while rather than just trying to catch a ride and blowing up.”
Simi Hamilton (USST), who was the only American to qualify for the sprint heats yesterday, took his race in stride after placing 56th (+2:59.4). “I wasn’t expecting a ton,” Hamilton said. “At certain points in the season, I think I’m capable of putting together good distance skate races, but it’s still early. I’m not reading too much into it, but I thought my pace was okay and it was good beginner racing.
“Late November, early December, you want to be feeling good and racing fast. But, our goal for the season is racing fast in February for World Champs,” Hamilton added. “So I think any result you have this time of year you have to take with a grain of salt… I think it’s okay not to feel your best this time of year”
The course in Lillehammer is always taxing, as it features a four-minute climb, amongst other difficult hills.
“The course is just naturally really tough,” Hamilton shared. “You have that one decent recovery from the high point. But you’re still kind of working down that, doing some cornering. Pretty much everywhere else, you’re working the entire course. You’re either cornering, or it’s a long gradual climb, or a long steep climb, or a short steep climb.”
While today’s results may have been lackluster, the Americans are looking ahead to the races to come.
“I’m going to go out there and fight, but I’m not really sitting in a great position,” said Bjornsen. “I prefer the classic, so hopefully, I can just kind of move up and who knows. Tomorrow is a new day, so hopefully, I’ll be feeling good.”
While he hopes to see continued improvement, Bjornsen’s goals lie later in the season.
“I’m going to try to peak at World Champs,” he said. “And there are three team sprints on the schedule this year. Simi and I definitely want to, before we end our careers, get a podium together. So it’s definitely a goal … We’ve been fifth a few times and sixth, so we’re not that far off. I think on the right day it could for sure happen.”
Hamilton is looking forward to the road ahead as well. He added, “We go to Beitostolen on Monday. I’ll probably ski a relay there which I’m really psyched about. It’s just a 7.5 k in our relays now, so that’s a good skate distance for me. At the same time, I kind of get to use the next couple of weeks to really fine tune my speed for the sprint in Davos. I’ll definitely use the next 10 days to two weeks to get in some really sprint specific workouts.”
The remaining American finishers were Paddy Caldwell (USST) in 67th (+3:33.1), Kevin Bolger (USST) 68th (+3:38.7), Scott Patterson (USST) 73rd (+3:52.3), and Adam Martin (CGRP) 75th (+4:05.0)
In his first racing on the World Cup, prior to Kuusamo Martin had not contested a World Cup, Martin felt optimistic about today’s result.
“I’m really happy just to be here on the World Cup this fall and I’m trying to learn as much as I can,” Martin said. “These are incredibly good skiers and they’re in really good shape, so it’s a good learning experience.”
Not to be forgotten are the impressive results of Britain’s Andrew Musgrave. Norway is practically home now to Musgrave, an athlete feared on the World Cup but also at the annual gathering at the Norwegian National Championships.
He finished the day in sixth place, 45.1 seconds behind Røthe. It’s an impressive result as any considering the deep men’s field here in Lillehammer.
– Aleks Tangen contributed