Alexey Poltoranin (KAZ) put forth an impressive show of strength to take the men’s 1.5 k classic sprint on Saturday in Davos, Switzerland. Hometown hero and World Cup overall leader Dario Cologna (SUI) took second; Federico Pellegrino (ITA) secured the final podium position.
This weekend is a final examination before the world championships begin in Val di Fiemme, Italy, and athletes were keen to test their form leading into the big event.
The course that awaited them was designed by Tor Arne Hetland (NOR), former World Cup skier and sprint coach for the Swiss cross country ski team. The sprint went twice around a loop that featured one long climb punctuated by a steep incline that forced skiers into a herringbone right before descending a twisting S-turn descent into the ski stadium.
Poltoranin announced his form early with the second-fastest qualifying time of 3:22.22, just 0.89 seconds behind qualification winner Federico Pellegrino (ITA).
In the first quarterfinal Poltoranin’s fitness was again evident. He positioned himself alongside fellow front runner Valerio Laccardi (SUI) and strode away in the first switchback, distancing himself from the field.
The track narrows toward the steep herringbone section and the entire field, with the exception of Laccardi and Poltoranin, became tangled and came to a standstill. Poltoranin and Laccardi carried on unscathed, their qualification seemingly assured.
Poltoranin may have easily kept his distance, but Len Valjas (CAN), recovered from last place to outpace Laccardi in the final stretch, utilizing strong double poling technique and good track craft to close down the 20-meter gap that opened up in the initial entanglement.
In the semifinal Poltoranin was superior, if not canny. The heat began with a strong surge from Igor Usachev (RUS), whom employed this tactic in the quarterfinals and snuck through to the semifinale as a lucky loser. This strategy backfired and in the second lap he faded from first to last place. Poltoranin took over, and it was left to Andy Newell (USA) to close him down.
Poltoranin and Newell led into the stadium, but danger lurked in the form of Valjas, whom had timed his attack well, closing down Newell in the final few meters. His surge nearly carried him clear of Newell, who had pulled up and glanced over the wrong shoulder to check on Valjas progress. Newell still reached the line in second place, which left Valjas to hope to qualify as a lucy loser. Fortunately for Valjas, the heat finished in 3:26.5 and was fast enough to secure passage to the final.
The final beckoned, and now endurance overtook pure speed as a factor in the final examination.
The gun went off and Poltoranin shot to the front, shadowed closely by Cologna. As they entered the switchback on the first hill the likes of Newell and Pellegrino cut a hard line around the corner and tried to close down the yawning meters between them and Poltoranin. Already the field was splintered; Valjas seemed to be paying for his earlier efforts in the rounds.
Through the first switchback Poltoranin was already away, and the margin back to the chasers continued to grow. Cologna led the chasers through the stadium and into the climb, trailed closely by Pellegrino and a closing Newell.
Newell regained contact before the final steep pitch before the switchback, but ceded a few meters in the herringbone section and remained just out of touch with the podium.
In the final run in Poltoranin coasted in comfortably with a time of 3:25.7, while Cologna narrowly out-sprinted Pellegrino for a second place finish to please the home crowd. Newell trailed in a few seconds later for a promising fourth placed finish, while Chebotko and Valjas finished 5th and 6th respectively.
This was Poltoranin’s first sprint victory on the World Cup. He’s hopeful he can reproduce this form in five days time in Val di Fiemme at the world championships sprint.
“I am very happy for the victory,” Poltoranin told a FIS correspondent. “I spent 12 days in Davos to train in the high altitude. I feel I am in a very good shape and I hope I can fight for a gold medal in Val di Fiemme.”
Cologna was similarly optimistic after a second-place showing, noting however that next week at world championships is where the results really count.
“It is nice to be on the podium before the home crowd,” he said. “It will be more important to perform well next week. I feel my shape is very good. I think I will take part in five competitions at the world championships.”
Third place finisher Pellegrino was just happy to prove himself on the senior level. “I am very happy for the third place,” he said. “I am happy I have become competitive also in the classic sprint and not only on U23 level. I knew my classic was good enough, I had worked on it a lot during the summer. I hope I perform well in Val di Fiemme.”
With Newell’s place finish today he moves into second overall in the sprint World Cup standings, leap frogging Teodor Peterson (SWE) and Nikita Kriukov (RUS). Newell is 134 points behind Emil Joensson, whom faltered on Saturday in the semifinal.
Cologna solidified his lead at the top of the overall World Cup Standings with the 80 points he collected today. He now has 1,093 points, 119 points clear of distance specialist Alexander Legkov (RUS). Cologna also moved up to fifth position in the overall World Cup sprint standings with 200 total points.