Men’s 50km: A Perfect Day for Norway
Like the women’s 30km, it was another beautiful day for the last cross-country ski race of the World Championships. Coming into the race Northug was the favourite and just over two hours after the final race of the World Championships started, Northug came across the finish line to collect his third gold medal in the past 10 days.
Early on we saw a host of leaders from Duvillard, Goering, Hellner and Northug. Pavels Ribakovs from Latvia pulled a Kershaw and his ski flew off into the bushes and a spectator retreived it for him so he could continue.
At eight minutes we saw a half-hearted break from Manificat and #30 Jauhojaervi who were able to gain 30 meters on the leaders around 2.5km into the race. I think they were surprised by the lead as they skied side-by-side looking back and talking amongst each other about the lead they had gained. I’m guessing the conversation was about letting the pack swallow them up or staying out in front with the current pace they were skiing. However, the pack sped on the downhill meant that they were now once again together with the field.
The next few kilometers we saw the bulk to the lead skied by Piller-Cottrer with Sodergren and Hellner making brief appearances at the front. Coming into the stadium and the first opportunity for a ski exchange, the Italian opted to go for a new pair of skis which meant the first to break the clock was Japan’s Naruse. There were a handful of athletes to change skis but with the lead pack still quite large, they were able to link up with the back as soon as they started to ski again.
The next lap saw Johnsrud Sudby take the lead with American Noah Hoffman right behind him. The pace set wasn’t too fast, but it was still stretching the field out at the back and after 3km at the front it was Perl and Duvillard to take the lead coming through the stadium at 13.3km. Perl continued to lead until the feed in the stadium and the end of the second lap.
THis time going through the ski exchange, almost every athlete opted for new skis as the race was a third done. Going out on the second lap, there was still 42 athletes in the lead and the leader board was being dominated by the French and Norwegian team as they had all four of their athletes in the top 10.
At the beginning of the third lap, there were familiar faces at the front as Duvillard was dictating the pace with Piller-Cottrer and Perl just in behind him.
The first real attack of the day came from Roland Clara at 18.8km and within a couple hundred meters open up a nine second lead. Behind him, the main pack of 38 skiers did not react at all and allowed the Italian quickly get out in front. Manificat was the man who led the chase, and it appeared that Clara’s attack was half-hearted as he let his foot of the gas and looked behind him wondering where everyone was at 19.6km even though he still had an 11 second lead on the pack. I guess he was more surprised than anything that not a single athlete went with him. It was good to see him enjoying the race though as he looked at the camera on the snowmobile traveling down the hill beside him and blew a kiss to the audience at home.
On one of the downhills we saw Angerer eat snow, but the damage was minimal as he got up and was able to hang on to the back of the pack. At 21.6km, the pack was now 35 strong and worryingly for the Russians, both Glavatishikn and Shiriaev were now off the back and 20 seconds off the lead.
Just outside the stadium, Clara was caught by the pack, but he still continued to lead as he was joined up from by Sjur Røthe.
At 23.4km, we saw a new athlete at the front as Aivar Rehemaa from Estonia decided it was his time to take the lead, but it was short-lived as Sjur Røthe had great glide and took the lead and was joined by Babikov. Going up the hill behind frognersetern, Babikov was joined up front by Bauer who had been really quiet for the first half of the race. As the athletes came into the stadium, we saw one final exchange of the lead as Hellner led the athletes into the feed zone before the third ski exchange.
Once again, the majority of the athletes took advantage of the ski exchange and went in for a short pit-stop. On the third lap, it was more the same; top athletes all in the lead pack that was still quite large.
At 27.9km, it was Babikov who decided to test the waters and injected a little pace up front. Just like Clara’s breakaway at the same point a lap earlier, there was no urgency from the pack as the Canadian began to ski away because he attacked just before the set of downhills and going back down into the stadium, the pack speed reeled Babikov back in. However, Babikov still continued to lead going back out on course as Manificat was have a hard time to keep contact with the lead pack.
Around 31km, it was the Swede Olsson who was next to lead while Røthe shadowed his every move. Coming into the fourth ski exchange at 33.3km, every athlete in the lead pack opted to change skis.
The start of the fourth lap saw the most decisive breakaway yet as Piller-Cottrer went off the front and he was joined by Gaillard. The other athletes recognized this breakaway as dangerous and quickly closed the gap led by Hellner. In addition to closing the gap, Hellner blew by Gaillard and took the lead from Piller-Cottrer and put in an attack of his own. Piller-Cottrer was able to hang on initially, but dropped back while Røthe came through the pack to ski up to Hellner. The injection of pace was hurting athletes and at 35.5km, there was now 25 athletes stick in contact.
Hellner’s pace had now splintered the field as there was a lead three of Hellner, Northug and Chernousov closely followed by another foursome of Clara, Cologna, Angerer and Vylegzhanin. 25 seconds now separated the top 25 athletes.
Coming down the big hill, a lead group of seven formed consisting of the athletes mentioned above while a big chase group worked hard to close the gap and once again the field was together as they approached the stadium. At 38.3km, Hellner was still leading, but the lead group had ballooned again and was 22 athletes strong.
At 39.2km, the lead group was splitting into two distinctive group with 12 in the lead, followed by a chase pack of 10 led by Babikov who were four seconds off the pace. However, the downhills acted as friends for the chasers as they were able to erase the deficit they faced a kilometer beforehand, but Clara was the one casualty and was unable to regain contact.
Hellner continued to lead in the stadium as the athletes came through for their last opportunity to change their skis. Interestingly, while many of the athletes choose to change skis, both Dolidovich and Bauer opted not to and opened up a 10 second lead on those who changed skis. It was only a short time later that the Czech and the Belarussian were once again a part of the lead pack.
As the pack settle, once again it was Hellner to take over from Rickardsson and increase the speed at the front. The pace increase was minimal and at 43.8km there was still 20 athletes in with a chance, but Cologna was now finding the pace too much. Just as the athletes went through the time check, it was Rickardsson to inject some speed and his attack was breaking the leaders and the lead group was down to eight athletes, before Rickardsson let up and wanted to someone else to take over the pace. This meant that the lead group was now back to 12 athletes as Rickardsson had successfully dropped the likes of Bauer and Hellner from the front.
Coming through the stadium for the last time at 46.6km, it was Sodergren leading the way and there were more athletes joining the fight as the top 17 were only separated by eight seconds now.
With only 3.4km left it was time to wait and see who was going to attack first. The first attack didn’t take long as it was Finland’s relay star Juha Lallukka to attack first and at 47.5km he had managed to drop all but seven athletes. The Finn continued to lead up front, but athletes were recovering from the damage by the initially burst and with only 1.6km left, there were still 11 athletes in the main pack and in for a fight for the podium.
Coming down the hill before frognersetern, it was chaos as Dolidovich ate snow as the tail of his ski caught the tip of Gjerdalen’s in coincidental contact and for his troubles he broke a pole in the fall especially taking him out of contention. Moments later the exact same thing happened to Eliassen as the tail of his ski was knicked by Rickardsson’s tip which had the Norwegian on the snow and visibly frustrated.
Ahead of the chaos, it was Vylegzhanin leading down the hill and attacked while Northug and Gjerdalen hung on coming around frognersetern. Coming into the stadium, it was down to Vylegzhanin and Northug for top spot and just like the pursuit, Northug pulled ahead of Vylegzhanin with a couple of poles right before the last uphill at the far end of the stadium. As Northug skied over the hump into the finishing straight, it was his race to lose and this time the Norwegian star was in a flat-out sprint in an attempt to hold off Vylegzhanin who had not given up on the top spot. As Northug came across the finish line to collect the final gold of the World Championships he collapsed into a heap as did Vylegzhanin. In third, the crowd was thrilled to see Gjerdalen take the final podium spot. In the fight for fourth, it was Harvey, Angerer, Røthe, and Rickardsson in a fight and it was the diminutive Norwegian Røthe who edged out Harvey for the wooden medal.
1. Petter Northug
2. Maxim Vylegzhanin
3. Tord Asle Gjerdalen
It only seemed fitting that Norway would win the finally cross-country ski race of the World Championships. While it wasn’t the most exciting (I’d go as far as saying the least exciting race of the World Champs), it was enough for the tens of thousands of fans as Norway incredibly grabbed three of the top four positions. Had someone told me that Gjerdalen would finish third and Røthe fourth, I wouldn’t confidently told them they should lay off the crack pipe and that they were delusional. Fair play to the Norwegians, a fantastic day for the home of cross-country.
A great race for Vylegzhanin to who collected his second silver medal of the Championships.
As for other very impressive finishes, my hats off the Juha Lallukka, this 31-year old Finn has been around for a long time but amazingly has only 18 World Cup starts to his name. Even more impressive is that he has six World Championship starts on his rap sheet which means, if I do the math correctly, 25% of his starts on the world stage, have been at the biggest ski show on Earth! And it’s not as though as he’s performed poorly at World Champs either. Dating back to 2007 in Sapporo his individual results go as follows; 11th, 15th and 8th. Hopefully, he’ll be able to run the season out on the World Cup circuit with the National Team.
My heart truly pours out to Dolidovich today, the 37-year old Belarussian could possibly had his last World Championships race today of his career and the way it ended was tragic. When he went down with less than a kilometer left, he was in third place skiing on Vylegzhanin’s shoulder. He could very well have improved upon his fourth place he earned in the pursuit. I guess that’s the luck of sport sometimes.
On the North American watch, it was Harvey to lead the way as he was in the fight for fourth, but photo finish gave the spot to Sjur Røthe and Harvey had to settle for fifth place today. Next was Babikov who had a ton of TV face time today, but he ran out of juice in the last 2km and settled for 17th.
The Americans were led by Hoffman who also got some TV time in the first third of the race and finished a respectable 30th. He was followed by Flora (39th), Elliot (40th) and nordic combined athlete Billy Demong (51st).
Well the race are over and next weekend is usual business as the World Cup circuit resumes and the athletes head to Lahti for a pursuit and a classic sprint. I’ll be back tomorrow with a full wrap of everything that went on the past 10 days.