Race: Men’s 20-kilometer skate pursuit, Ruka, Finland
Is there embedded video you can watch? Once again, yes. Thank you, Finnish YouTube user!
What happened at the front of the race: Klæbo happened. Johannes Høsflot Klæbo, who took his 50th career World Cup win in yesterday’s classic race, took his 51st win today in relatively predictable fashion.
The man who is the fastest sprinter in the world started today’s skate pursuit race with a 20-second gap over countryman Pål Golberg, perennial bridesmaid, in second. Klæbo skied relatively easy off the front; he let himself be caught by Golberg and several other teammates, content in the knowledge that he would presumptively win any group sprint; he demurred from doing much work in the lead pack, letting others work hard to try to separate themselves from any pursuers; he waited until the final uphill before the finish; he unleashed the jumpskate; that was that. It was a predictable performance, but no less impressive for everyone around him knowing precisely what would happen.
(Go to the second image in the above post and press play. There goes Klæbo — at, it must be said again, precisely the spot on the course that everyone expected him to. The whole pack effectively knew his strategy before the race even started, and they still couldn’t do anything about it.)
Golberg skied strong up the hill, as well as over the entire course before it, for a well-deserved second.
The real drama came in the battle for third. Calle Halfvarsson of Sweden was the third man to cross the finish line, followed shortly by Federico Pellegrino of Italy. But Halfvarsson had taken a wide line up the final uphill, undeniably crossing spruce boughs marking the edge of the climb and so skiing outside of the course. It is debatable whether he actually gained any advantage by doing so, but the text of the relevant rule, ICR 343.6, brooks little ambiguity:
Halfvarsson was ultimately disqualified by the race jury, in a strict-liability interpretation of the rule:
Pellegrino posted to Instagram, in English, “Sorry @chalfvarsson [smiling face with one tear emoji] only few months ago I was in the same situation, is frustrating I know [shrug emoji].” The fourth video in the below post shows Pellegrino going over the V-boards with one ski — arguably because he was forced into that line to avoid a collision — in a previous skate sprint in Lahti.
It was the Italian sprint specialist’s first-ever World Cup distance podium, at age 32, mirroring the late-career distance chops of fellow skate sprinter Kikkan Randall.
Halfvarsson was somewhat less sanguine than the athlete who supplanted him in the results, telling Swedish paper Expressen, according to an auto-translation, “I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong. It’s awful. You are already so disappointed that I don’t give a shit about how they behave. To me, they’re just idiots. They would rather have an Italian on the podium because they think we Swedes and Norwegians are ruining the sport. It is a very strange decision. That I will be deprived of the podium when I do not go a shorter route, it is rather longer.”
The article linked above expands on the ambiguity between spruce boughs, which are more advisory guidelines that an athlete is allowed to cross, and V-boards, which are strict course boundaries that an athlete may not cross. It appears that the jury decided that these particular spruce boughs had the legal status of V-boards, such that Halfvarsson’s disqualification was merited.
“The reason is safety. If we put boards there we risk a crash, it can be dangerous. It has been used for many years. So it’s nothing new,” said FIS Cross Country Race Director Michal Lamplot, according to this article.
What happened for the Americans: Scott Patterson had a strong day on course, starting out in bib no. 51 but consistently moving up throughout the race to finish 14th, 40.3 back of Klæbo. He was followed by Hunter Wonders in 30th (up from bib no. 37), Zak Ketterson in 32nd (negligibly back from bib no. 30), Gus Schumacher in 36th (up from bib no. 45), and Ben Ogden in 50th (back from bib no. 27).
Patterson had the second-fastest time-on-day, 3.7 seconds back of the man who started in front of him in bib no. 50, Simen Hegstad Krüger.
What do the athletes think about today? As always, great question. Uniquely among American ski media, we have answers.
Here’s Scott Patterson, via email:
“My thought going into today was to stick with Simen Krueger as we started at the same time. I figured that he would be strong and a good one to use to move up in the field. The Ruka pursuit is typically a fast paced affair sprinting up the big hills. Skiing a good time requires fairly relentless pressure to move forward and move up. I felt good throughout the day and was able to move well on the hills, but also keep that pressure high over the tops to make the important selections. There was a lot of pack skiing and maneuvering, but I did well to keep slipping through to stay with Krueger. I almost missed his biggest move on lap 5 which narrowed our pack down to 4, but a strong push put me back on. I’m psyched with the day overall and looking forward to more racing in Lillehammer. This weekend’s races showed that I have the fitness right now, but may need to hone in my classic racing a bit more. It’s early in the season and I hope to keep building momentum throughout.”
Here’s Zak Ketterson, via message:
On whether or not his significant experience with NCAA racing (where the 20km was an every-weekend distance for the men) helped with today’s race: “I don’t think the NCAA experience helps that much with this style of race because this was a pursuit rather than just a normal mass start. It’s pretty unique because you have guys who had a bad race the day before but are super good skate distance skiers and can just fly by you, like Simen Kruger. So there’s a combo of good skiers falling back and skiers flying by from behind. It can be really hard to pace it for that reason because the pack you end up in really determines your result.”
On some positive and less positive aspects from today: “I think it was an OK race, but I was really stupid on the first lap. I skied really hard to try to catch the pack in front of me only to end up skiing a whole lap alone which ended up wasting a ton of precious energy that I really wished I had on the remaining 16K. What I should have done was just let one of the fast skiers catch me from behind (Kruger, Patterson, etc) rather than waste a ton of energy on a fruitless move.”
— Gavin Kentch
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