Russian skier, Alexander Bolshunov made history today during the Holmenkollen 50-kilometer classic mass start race. With his victory, Bolshunov became the youngest person and the third Russian to win the storied Holmenkollen 50 k. Bolshunov finished today’s race in 2:23:49.8 hours.
For Bolshunov, who comes off a World Championships during which he won four silver medals, this was his fourth World Cup win of the season. The victory on Saturday reinforced Bolshunov’s lead in the World Cup distance cup rankings and he leapfrogged Norway’s Johannes Høsflot Klæbo for the overall World Cup lead. Bolshunov has amassed 1,230 points to Klæbo’s 1,181. Klæbo placed 38th in Saturday’s race.
Bolshunov spoke about the end of the season and how he is approaching these finals races with a FIS reporter after the race, “At the end of the season, it is a necessity to show his best results each race and to fight in each race until the end and hopefully everything will be done.”
The race featured no solo attack that could break away from the A-list of distance specialists. The lead was tossed around a number of times and for the first half of the race, Norway’s fans were treated to a 30-plus deep train of skiers engined by Sjur Røthe, Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Emil Iversen. But the ebb and flow of the 50 k allows skiers to sit in the pack, buy their time, conserve resources, then pounce.
With 10 k to go, Russian skiers moved to the front, and began dictating the pace. At 1.6 k remaining, a Russian foursome consisting of Maxim Vylegzhanin, Andrey Larkov, Bolshunov, and Ilia Semikov were defining the flag waving rights on Norway’s holy-grail of ski loops.
The race came down to the finishing stretch with Bolshunov charging into the finish, double poling all the way, and out sprinting his teammates to take the win. Vylegzhanin placed second and his teammates, Andrey Larkov and Illia Semikov, came in third and fourth respectively.
This was the last World Cup race for Vylegzhanin who is retiring at the end of this season; this was his 24th podium in his career, but his first this season.
Vylegzhanin spoke to a FIS reporter after the race, via a translator, “Of course it was a pleasure to see all the people coming to see me and congratulate me on the finish line and after the finish. The Russian team is very strong, we got all four places and we have many young potentials here who are proof that the Russian team is a very strong team. I started here at Holmenkollen in 2007 with the 7th place and since then I was getting 4th, 3rd, 2nd and actually it’s my best place to compete here.”
Those skiing in the back of the well defined lead pack only began dropping off during the last 3 k. At that point, the Russians ramped up the pace and only Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby, and Canada’s Alex Harvey were able to hang tightly connected to the Russians.
The top 11 finishers were dominated by Russia and Norway. Russia took the top four spots as well as the tenth spot and Norway went 6, 7, 8, 9 and 11. Harvey was the only skier to break this pattern, finishing fifth overall.
Harvey’s fifth place on Saturday matched his career best Holmenkollen 50 k finish — he was fifth during the 2011 Oslo World Chamionship’s 50 k skate. On Saturday, Harvey skied with the lead pack the entire race, sitting in the top 20 until the last 5k when he started making his way toward the front of the pack.
“This year in classic, I never had good feelings really, so today was the first day I felt like I could actually race in classic, “ Harvey told FasterSkier in the mixed zone. “But of course, coming so close to the podium is always bittersweet. But the Russians, I think you could tell, had better skis, better glide. They were struggling on the kick but really high speed, so in the end they were really strong. So it was a really good race for me, but the podium was close, I could taste it.”
He continued on, discussing today’s race pace, “It was a fairly easy pace the whole way. There was a huge group and guys were slowly getting dropped off the back, but there was never a big attack. So for me personally, I was in control the whole time, but I had good shape and pretty easy kicking skis.”
U.S. Ski Team member Scott Patterson finished 19th. This was Patterson’s best individual finish of the season. He skied with the lead pack until the last 3.75k, when he began to fall back.
“This is my fourth time racing Holmenkollen, so I know that pack hangs on and people just start shooting off that back on the last couple laps,” Patterson told FasterSkier in Oslo. “So I figured I’d ski with that pack for as long as I could and hope I had energy for the finish. I think I did pretty good, I was pretty low on energy for that last 3.75, but it worked out pretty well.”
Also for the U.S., David Norris (APU) finished 24th. For the Anchorage based skier it was a career best result on the World Cup. It follows a top-U.S. performance in last week’s 50 k skate at the Seefeld, Austria World Championships. Norris placed 20th in that event.
In Oslo on Saturday, U.S. skiers Adam Martin (CGRP) and Kyle Bratrud (SMS T2) were 31st and 40th respectively. Ben Lustgarten (CGRP) did not finish the race.
Holmenkollen is a unique experience for races, with crowds, snow sculptures and bonfires lining the entire race course. It is essentially an end of season party for athletes and spectators alike.
Norris commented on the atmosphere, “This is a highlight of the season. The crowd is so loud up top, and it’s so awesome to be here.”
Harvey also appreciated the spectacle of the event, he told FasterSkier, “Having a little party is good for the sport, it make for good images. When the legs are screaming, to hear so much noise, it’s like you stop thinking for a bit, when you’re so exhausted, it kind of keeps you going.”
Racing continues tomorrow in Oslo with the women’s 30 k classic.
-Aleks Tangen contributed