The World Cup starts a week from Friday (!), with a classic sprint in Ruka kicking off the Ruka Triple that has opened the season for the past several years now. Next week’s coverage on this site will largely be devoted to World Cup previews, including a one-on-one interview with Gus Schumacher, highlights from a media call with Jessie Diggins, and, perhaps most usefully, a guide to your various viewing options if you are an American-based ski fan.
Call this article a preview of a preview, then, as we take a look at some high-level racing from last weekend as pro athletes engage in some of their final tuneup races before the World Cup begins. Plus a brief cameo from the Race to the Outhouse #1, in the Talkeetna Mountains above Palmer, Alaska, once again the country’s first ski race.
Classic sprint, classic distance, and skate distance racing in Muonio
Friday, November 11, saw a classic sprint in Muonio, Finland (latitude: nearly 68° N; hours of daylight tomorrow: less than five), enter this year’s results database as the season’s first FIS race. The German women’s team was on site for training and flexed their muscles in qualification, with Victoria Carl qualifying first (3:43.72), ahead of teammate Pia Fink (+.44). Finnish athlete Jasmi Joensuu was third in qualifying, 1.05 seconds back.
At the end of the day Germany put four athletes in the final, but ultimately it was Anna Svendsen of Norway who took the win, a slim 0.02 seconds ahead of Joensuu (see first photo in above post for finish-line lunge). Fink rounded out the podium in third (+1.08), with teammates Carl, Coletta Rydzek, and Lisa Lohmann following some distance back.
Men’s qualifying saw a mix of Norway and Finland at the top of the results sheet. Even Northug of Norway, increasingly coming into his own after finishing eighth in last season’s Sprint Cup, set the pace in qualifying in 3:07.51, a staggering 2.41 seconds ahead of teammate Sivert Wiig over 1.4 kilometers. Juuso Haarala of Finland had the third-best mark in qualifying, 2.99 seconds back. 30th place in the qual was less than 12 seconds out of first, so the field was relatively tight; Northug was just that much faster.
Federico Pellegrino of Italy, one of five athletes in the field with a birth year of 1990 or earlier but the only one with an Olympic silver medal in this event, led the way for the Masters men by qualifying 7th.
Also of note, Xavier McKeever of Canada, 2022 Canadian national champion in this event, was 16th in qualifying. McKeever is currently 19 years old. Rounding out the North American contingent, fellow Canadians Leo Grandbois, Sasha Masson, and Max Hollmann finished 40th, 50th, and 72nd in qualifying, respectively.
The day’s final results saw eight Norwegian men and six Finnish men in the top 14. Northug took the final as well, 0.15 seconds ahead of Sindre Bjørnestad Skar of Norway. Ville Ahonen of Finland rounded out the podium in third, 2.40 seconds back. Håvard Solås Taugbøl, Pål Golberg, and Lauri Vuorinen placed fourth through sixth in the final.
Results: women’s qual | women’s heats and final | men’s qual | men’s heats and final
Saturday brought distance racing, a 10-kilometer interval-start classic for both the men and women.
The headline version of the men’s race is likely that local favorite Iivo Niskanen did not win this event, placing sixth. For perspective, here are Niskanen’s finishing positions in the four 15km classic races that he raced on the World Cup last season: first, first, first, and second. He also won Olympic gold in this event, and was a courageous third in the 30km Olympic skiathlon that starts with this event before transitioning to skate skis.
That said, this could mean anything from “Niskanen is toast” to “Niskanen only knows how to race 15 km classic races, not 10km” (this much seems unlikely) to “Niskanen was training through this race with an eye on the World Cup season proper and/or World Championships” to “Niskanen is actually in superb shape, and his techs just missed the wax today.”
For his part, Niskanen wrote on Instagram following the weekend’s races, “Competition season is open in Olos! The winning column looks zero, but let’s try again in a couple of weeks at Ruka. 😅” according to an auto-translation.
In a likely preview of men’s World Cup distance racing this season absent the Russians, Norway took the top five spots on Saturday. Simen Hegstad Krüger claimed the win in 24:34.9, followed by countrymen Pål Golberg in second (+7.8), Martin Løwstrøm Nyenget in third (+12.1), Didrik Tønseth in fourth (+12.3), and Daniel Stock in fifth (+21.1.). Niskanen in sixth (+21.5) was the top non-Norwegian in the race.
Xavier McKeever led the way for Canada in 46th (+1:43), followed by Leo Grandbois in 52nd (+1:49.2) and Max Hollmann in 60th (+2:08.7).
The women’s race, also a 10km classic, saw the suddenly resurgent German women flex their muscles, with Katharina Hennig taking the narrow win in 28:02.7, 5.2 seconds ahead of Krista Pärmäkoski of Finland. Kerttu Niskanen (+10.5) claimed the first podium for the Niskanen siblings on the weekend, finishing third.
Norway (Anna Svendsen and Silje Theodorsen), Austria (Teresa Stadlober), and Italy (Caterina Ganz) also made the top ten in the women’s race.
Results: men’s 10km classic | women’s 10km classic
Sunday, finally, brought distance skate races. Norway entered a relative B Team for the men’s 15-kilometer interval-start skate, allowing five different nations to be represented in the top 10. Friedrich Moch of Germany, still just 22 (he was second in last season’s U23 World Cup standings), took the win in 33:09.4; he was leading by over 15 seconds after the first of three 5km laps, according to FIS live timing, then sped up over lap two to stretch the gap to 32 seconds at the 10km mark.
Iivo Niskanen was second at all intermediate time checkpoints as well as at the finish, crossing the line 37.3 seconds back to take the weekend’s second podium for Team Niskanen. Martin Himma of Estonia, age 23, was third, 58.2 seconds back.
Xavier McKeever was again the top Canadian in 20th, 1:39.9 out of first. Max Hollmann was 37th and Sasha Masson was 38th for Canada.
The women’s field for the 10-kilometer interval-start skate was likewise marked by some more diverse top-end results, with five different nations represented among the top 10 finishers. Victoria Carl of Germany took the win in 24:35.2, with Kerttu Niskanen in second (+21.0, the weekend’s third Niskanen podium) and Pia Fink of Germany in third (+26.4).
Just out of the top ten, Riitta-Liisa Roponen of Finland was notably 11th, precisely one minute off the podium, after not engaging in serious training this summer. Roponen was born in 1978. She medaled in the Oberstdorf World Championships – not the 2021 Oberstdorf World Champs, but the 2005 Oberstdorf World Champs. Actually, she medaled in Oberstdorf in 2021, too.
Here are results from a 1998 (!) World Cup race that Roponen contested, also in Muonio, that was won by Kateřina Neumannová, with Stefania Belmondo and Nina Gavrylyuk rounding out the podium. Gavrylyuk, who is currently 57 years old, is currently listed in various online databases as a “Russian athlete,” but was previously rather a “Soviet” athlete, as she began her international race career four years before the fall of the Soviet Union.
Results: men’s 15km skate | women’s 10km skate
Uphill racing in Alaska
Saturday also brought the Race to the Outhouse #1, presented by the Mat-Su Ski Club. The club has hosted the season-opening contest somewhere in the Matanuska–Susitna Valley, above Palmer, Alaska, for the past decade-plus. It has been the first ski race on American snow nearly every year in that time.
This year’s course started at the parking lot at Hatcher Pass, then climbed up to Independence Mine State Historical Park. The race course is approximately 3.4 kilometers long, and starts with a 145-meter climb over the first 1.8km. The course is not exactly FIS-legal. It features an eponymous state parks outhouse near the finish line, hence the name. The companion contest, the Race to the Outhouse #2, is held in April to bookend the race season.
While the star power of this year’s race was slightly dimmed by the time trial occurring in Anchorage at the same time, there was still fast racing at the front of the field. Coby Marvin, a 10th-grader at Colony High in Palmer, took the overall win in the skate race with an impressive mark of 13:37.6 on the nearly all-uphill course. His father, Ben Marvin, was roughly 40 seconds behind him for second. Alison Arians was the fastest woman in the skate race; Coby Marvin’s mother, Christy Marvin, was 1:20 back for second among the women.
Jayden Rice, a senior at Colony, took the win in the classic race by nearly 90 seconds, finishing in 15:33.7. Isela Austin, another Palmer junior, led the women in 20:35.1.
The race marked three weeks of race-skis skiing this winter on the trails at 3,500 feet in the Talkeetna Mountains, a relatively late start to this year’s grooming compared to the historical average.
— Gavin Kentch
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