Norwegian Martin Johnsrud Sundby took off like a rocket on Friday and never looked back. The 29-year-old Norwegian had a 32 second head start in the 5th stage of the Tour de Ski, a 35 k freestyle pursuit race, and he took full advantage of it.
Taking place on a tough point-to-point course starting in Cortina, Italy and finishing in Toblach, Italy, the course strongly favored pack racing. The course consisted of one long uphill to the halfway point followed by one long downhill to the stadium area and 3 k of gradual rolling terrain to finish off the day.
The long gradual downhill section raced considerably faster in a pack, but Sundby decided to race his own race and ended up with a lead big enough to secure the win, 58 seconds ahead of the field. He was aided by the relatively slow pace of the men in the chase pack, all of whom seemed unwilling to lead and unbothered by the large distance between them and the Norwegian. Petter Northug (NOR) bested the rest of the chase pack for second place (+58.2) in a sprint finish, with Alex Harvey coming in third.
After starting the race, Sundby quickly extended his lead to over a minute ahead of the pack. Skiing alone and controlled, he had a good idea of where the rest of the pack stood. He said he had plenty of splits from his coaches letting him know how big his gap was, but that the effort definitely took a toll on him. He told FIS News,
“I went with a pace I thought I could hold for the whole way. For sure I was trying very hard and now I am extremely tired.
“Now it’s [time] to recover for tomorrow.”
Sundby’s win was his first stage victory of the Tour, and his third podium.
Behind him, the race was most notable for the controlled pacing of the chase pack and the dramatic jump up the overall rankings for a few skiers.
Johannes Duerr of Austria, was one of these. Starting in bib 34, 2:12 back, he quickly moved up the field to gain the chase pack midway up the uphill portion of the course. He maintained his position with the lead pack and, in fact, led much of the way due to the other skiers’ reticence to ski at the front.
Moving through the finishing stretch, Duerr and Harvey briefly tangled. Duerr broke a pole, but still ended up sixth overall, with the fastest time on the day. This race could put him into contention for a podium finish, as Harvey is planning on leaving the Tour after Saturday’s 10 k classic race.
Northug showed his famous finishing strength, surging to the front of the chase pack coming into the stadium to move up to second place overall in the Tour. Before today, he was sitting in fourth place, but is now in good position coming into the final races of the seven day set.
It remains to be seen, however, if anyone will be able to touch Sundby’s 1:15 lead on the rest of the field.
Calle Halfvarsson of Sweden fell back from second place to fourth in the overall rankings, while Russian Alexander Legkov moved up from seventh place to within striking distance of the overall podium in fifth place. Both sit six seconds back from the podium.
Along with Duerr, Noah Hoffman (USA) also had a dramatic day. Starting in bib 69, 3:27 back, he surged to gain a large pack right before the crest of the course and skied to the second fastest time of the day, ending up in 27th overall (+3:07).
Tomorrow’s race is a 10 k classic individual start race for the men and could shake the results up a bit. With predicted temperatures around freezing, and a large storm blowing in, waxing will be tricky.