Whistler, British Columbia – Pietro Piller Cottrer led a strong Italian contingent, winning the 30km World Cup pursuit at Whistler Olympic Park. The bronze medalist in the event in the 2006 Olympic Games, Piller Cottrer captured his 6th career win, the most ever by an Italian. Piller Cotter broke from the lead back with under seven kilometers to go, skiing away to a convincing victory. The Italian team used bicycle racing tactics to control the pace throughout the race, and setup the victory. Jean Marc Gaillard (FRA) finished second, and Valerio Checchi (ITA) took third in a mass sprint to the finish.
With the very small field of only 37 skiers missing many of the big European names, the field broke up quickly. By the end of three classic laps (11km) the lead pack was down to under 15 men, five of whom were Italian. With each climb, another skier dropped off, and by the time the racers hit the transition to freestyle, only nine remained – five Italians, two French, a Canadian and an American.
Canada’s Devon Kershaw pushed the pace early, leading at a number of points in the classic leg. Kris Freeman (USA) also pushed the pace early, and was solidly with the leaders at the halfway point. Ivan Babikov crashed hard on the 4th classic lap and found himself 25 seconds behind the lead group. The Canadian distance specialist recovered and began a push to regain contact. he picked up yet another Frenchman on the way, Christophe Perrillat, and the two slowly picked up seconds.
Kershaw was the first skier out of the transition, but the Italians were close behind. They alternated taking the lead, and pushing the pace. An Italian skier would move into first, put on a small burst and open up a gap. Kershaw, sitting in second, would have to respond or risk losing the leader. This repeated as the skate leg progressed. Meanwhile, Kris Freeman quickly fell off the pace. By the end of the first lap he was well off the back of the pack, and a comeback seemed unlikely.
By the 20km mark, Babikov regained contact in an impressive performance that would ultimately give him the fastest skate time of the day. But Kershaw was not faring as well. Still with the lead group, the Italians had succeed in wearing him out, and he dropped to the back and appeared to be barely hanging on. Still, if it all came down to a sprint, Kershaw would have a good shot.
But Piller Cottrer made a big move at 23km, opening a gap immediately. Teammate Roland Clara appeared to respond initially, before backing off. The Italians slowed the pace of the pack, allowing Piller Cottrer to charge away, and set up a sprint for second.
Piller Cottrer cruised to the line, celebrating in the homestretch. Out on the course, Kershaw, who had fallen behind not long after Piller Cottrer’s move, made his way back into contention, before once again tailing off the back on the final climb. The remaining eight skiers – four Italians, three French and Babikov – charged into the finish straight. Gaillard edged Checchi at the line, David Hoffer (ITA) took fourth, Emmanuel Jonier (FRA) fifth and Babikov 6th.
Kershaw came across 10 seconds later in 10th.
“I am really satisfied with my race and especially with the race of the entire Italian team,” said Piller Cottrer. “We all tried to stay in front in the classical part and had great team work. In the classical leg there was a silent agreement to work together, and then the attack started in the skate section. When I made my final attack, my teammates helped by slowing the pace – Thank you to them! – It is fun to race in a team that works so well together. I am happy also because I now have the red bib for the Distance World Cup leader. ”
Piller Cottrer added that it was a shame that Kershaw slid back and was unable to sprint for the podium on home soil. He also commented on the strength of Kershaw in the classic leg, and that the Italians just wanted to control that section before moving in the freestyle.
Gaillard was pleased with his race, telling reporters “It was a tough race, I had to push very hard during it and I am happy that I took a podium spot. I skipped the sprint yesterday and so I saved a bit of energy.”
Checchi, who won his first World Cup last year in Canmore, was thrilled to be back on the podium. “I am very happy today! My favorite country is Canada, I made my first World Cup victory in this country last year in Canmore and now I am back on the podium. Everything is perfect here, the people cheering on the course, the mountains, the volunteers – only perfect!”
The top 30 featured a number of North Americans. 20-year old Alex Harvey (CAN) skied to an impressive 12th place as his father, Olympian Pierre Harvey, looked on from the announcer’s booth. Chris Butler, Dan Roycroft, Brent McMurtry, and George Grey swept places 14-17 for the Canadians. Freeman was 18th, +2:51.9.
James Southam (USA) scored his first World Cup points finishing 22nd. Southam, while pleased with his result, was shooting for the top-15. He described his race as good, but not great. At the halfway point he sat in 17th place. Noah Hoffman, in his first World Cup start, skied a consistent race to finish 25th.
Leif Zimmermann, Brenton Knight, and Lars Flora also finished in the points. taking 27th, 28th and 30th. Flora crossed the line in 31st, but Germans Tom Brunner and Josef Wenzl were both disqualified for wearing the wrong bibs; the two accidently wore each other’s number. Brunner initially finished 30th.
Brayton Osgood and and Matt Liebsch rounded out the US finishers, taking 32nd and 34th. There were 34 finishers in the race.
Conditions were excellent, with temperatures at -4 C for the classic race. The track was hard, and waxing relatively straightforward. As the sun came up over the mountains, temperatures rose, and the race concluded on a perfect bluebird morning.
Racing continues tomorrow with a freestyle Team Sprint.