There was no shortage of action in the men’s 1.3-kilometer freestyle sprint on Sunday as 24-year-old Federico Pellegrino fought his way to his first-ever World Cup win and Italy’s first victory in four years.
The Italian sprinter took charge in the last half of the men’s final in Davos, Switzerland, and earned the win (and his sixth World Cup podium), while Russia’s Alexey Petukhov slid across the finish line to snag second ahead of Norway’s Finn Hågen Krogh in a photo finish for the podium.
“It’s a great day. I have been working for the World Cup victory for so long,” Pellegrino told FIS after the race. “It feels amazing to reach this goal. I hope that my victory will help the Italian Cross-Country team to good results.”
With his best World Cup results coming at altitude, Pellegrino rocketed to first in last weekend’s freestyle-sprint qualifier. He went on to place 11th exactly a week ago after finishing sixth in his semifinal.
On Saturday amid fast conditions with an ample amount of manmade snow, Pellegrino advanced to the final as a lucky loser — the fourth man in a fast heat — and ended a slow start to the season for Italy. The young Italian was last out of the gate, but quickly made up ground to put himself in third by the first turn.
Petukhov led early, up and over the first hill, where Pellegrino sat in second. The Russian accelerated in an effort to drop him, but Pellegrino hung close. By the time the last climb on the second lap rolled around, the Italian made his move — surging past him and creating a large gap on Petukhov and the rest of the field (with Norway’s Krogh and Sondre Turvoll Fossli, and Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson and Emil Jönsson) before the final turn into the straightaway finish.
Petukhov gained ground back on the descent into the stadium with fast skis, and Krogh came like a bullet from behind through the last turn to challenge Petukhov to the finish.
While Pellegrino edged Petukhov by 0.24 seconds in 2:19.36, the Russian slid across the line two-hundredths of a second ahead of Krogh for second place — his second World Cup podium this season.
“Last week, I was also in the final but I chose the wrong tactics,” Petukhov told FIS, referencing his fourth-place finish last Sunday behind three Norwegians: Krogh in first, Anders Gløersen in second, and Eirik Brandsdal in third. “Today I did everything right but my legs felt little bit heavy. I was able to close the gap on Pellegrino, but the finishing straight is so fast I could not beat him.”
After winning last Sunday’s sprint, Krogh advanced from the back of the pack to the podium in the final meters after struggling to stay with the pack for most of the final. Krogh admitted that the pressure to perform affected him during the race.
“It is always tough to come back on the course where I have won. I felt the pressure, and it is good to be on the podium,” Krogh said to reporters after the race, explaining that he didn’t manage to get himself a very good position.
“I had a not-so-good start, and I had to find a good position in the field. I gained some places in the uphill and I gave it all in the last corner,” he said, adding that he was very happy to make the podium.
Fossli had the fastest qualifying time in 2:17.43 and advanced easily through the heats, but fell short in the final and ended up fifth (+1.43), behind Halfvarsson in fourth (+1.01), who was ninth in the qualifier. Jönsson finished last in the final (+11.02), but had the fourth-fastest qualifying time. Krogh was third in the qualifier, Petukhov advanced to the heats in 10th, and Pellegrino qualified fifth in the qualifier and won his quarterfinal.
“Today, I beat all the Norwegian guys,” Pellegrino told NRK. “All of them.”
“I wanted this victory with all my strength,” he told the Italian broadcaster RAI, according to a translation. “This victory comes at a negative period for our team, I hope it can serve to raise ourselves. I am very happy because I had not won anything and this time I did.
“I dedicate the success to all those who have followed me since childhood: coaches , physiotherapists and [wax technicians], and all those who were close to me, including my girlfriend Greta Laurent who lack a bit of confidence in this period,” he added. “I hope it’s a good omen. … I hope it is the first in a long series of triumphs.”