Lillehammer Men’s 20km classic (with video): Pål Golberg First in Viciously Tight Race, Schumacher 17th


Race: Men’s 20-kilometer mass start classic, Lillehammer, Norway

Is there embedded video you can watch? Yes, but enjoy it while you can, as I’m getting reports that takedown notices have been (not unjustifiably) lodged with YouTube on the grounds that these videos are copyright-violative. But for the time being, try this:

What happened at the front of the race: Race recap coming in a second. But first, take a look at two images that will help inform your reading of said recap. The first is an excerpt from the homologation certificate that should/would have been used for the second part of today’s race, if snow conditions had permitted the race to be held as a 20km skiathlon as originally planned. The second shows the course profile that was actually used today, for all six laps of the 20km classic that was ultimately held.

Screenshot from FIS homologation certificate
Screenshot from FIS homologation certificate

There is a lot of math in the article on the women’s race, held over the same course, that explains how these courses are different (hint: the latter one is easier). As just one example, while climb-per-kilometer is a somewhat brute-force metric for evaluating how a course skis, the first of these contains 40.5 meters of climb per kilometer, and the latter 31.3; that’s a pretty big difference.

As one last example of how a course like this manifests at the highest levels of the sport, keep in mind that 43rd place in Friday’s men’s interval-start 10km skate was within one minute of the podium.

Today’s race was even tighter, over twice the distance. 10th place was only 3.9 seconds back of the win. 20th place was 7.4 seconds back. 30th place was 10.1 seconds back. There have been tighter margins in sprint quals. Gus Schumacher was 6.6 seconds off the win, over 20 kilometers, a 3.19-FIS-point performance that is by a substantial margin the best FIS-point result of his career (lower numbers are better). And was 17th. So it was pretty tight out there.

What does a race that looks like this on the results sheet look like on the ground? Here is one more image for you to consider.

photo: screenshot from broadcast

Note the race clock time stamp at the bottom right of this screenshot from the broadcast: 47:07.6. Pål Golberg’s winning time today was 48:14.5. This is what the field looked like slightly over one minute from the finish. Yes, the head-on shot may foreshorten things a little, but any way you slice it, that’s a lot of athletes all still skiing together, 19.5 kilometers into a 20km.

There’s maybe not too much to say about the race other than that, honestly. Through one lap, 20th place was 3.8 seconds back of first as the whole pack skied together. Through two laps, it was 7.9 seconds. Through three laps, 5.1 seconds — halfway through the race, the top 49 athletes, in a field of 64 men on course, were still within 10 seconds of the lead.

Fast forward to the start of the final lap. 20th place in this race was still just 3.4 seconds off the lead. Gus Schumacher was 14th. Zak Ketterson was 46th, but there was an ominous red down arrow by his name in the live results suggesting that he had lost 18 places in the last kilometer, so take that 46th with a grain of salt.

The red arrow is bad.

Fast forward to the end of the final lap (second slide in post below). Swedish athletes Jens Burman and William Poromaa gamely attacked, but were swallowed up by the vermillion amoeba of Norwegian suits. Golberg flashed the race tactics that have made him the current overall World Cup leader, appearing in the lead of the race at just the right moment as the finish drew near. Golberg opened up a (small) gap which he kept to the line, taking the win in 48:14.5. He was followed by countrymen Sjur Røthe and Martin Løwstrøm Nyenget in second and third.

Second slide here has video of the finish.

Behind them there was chaos and carnage, 30 of the fittest men on the planet doublepoling for the finish at high-L5 pace, points and prize money and prestige on the line. When the dust settled, eight of the top men were Norwegian, alongside two Swedes. Schumacher was 17th, 6.6 seconds off the win. Hunter Wonders was 31st, but was also only 10.5 seconds back of Golberg.

What else happened for the Americans: Zak Ketterson was 45th (+55.8), after an ill-timed fall his penultimate time down the course’s main downhill. He was roughly ten seconds ahead of Ogden in 46th (+1:06.5). Scott Patterson was 57th (+1:40.7).

What do the athletes think about today? A superb question. We have many answers for you.

Here’s Gus Schumacher, in written comments to multiple media outlets:

“It felt really good; it’s been a while since I was stringing together good races, so to be getting better and better every time I put a bib on is huge for me. Today particularly was a chaotic race, with no big separating features on the course, so the pack stayed together the whole race. Even so, the feeling of being able to be proactive closer to the front than reactive near the back was a good feeling, and is a product of feeling good and having good skis, so I’m stoked about it! If I could do it again, there are some different decisions I’d make in the descent in the last 2km, but overall I’m really happy with the strength and energy I had today.”

This is a bad thing to see in your post-workout stats. (Photo: Zak Ketterson Insta story screenshot)

Here’s Zak Ketterson, in written comments to Nordic Insights:

“You’re definitely right about [it being an] easy course with no real opportunities to create separation. For my race personally, I was actually within 5 seconds of the leader (firmly in the lead pack) with about 3.5km to go in the race when I went down super hard on the fastest downhill part of the course, absolutely faceplanted and took some time to get up. This took me out of the race immediately and I skied the last lap alone. So that sucked, obviously as I was in the hunt for a really good result. I think the key was trying not to waste energy on little moves because the pack just stuck together regardless. Were it not for my fall I was super happy with how I executed the race. Shit happens, basically.”

Thoughts in my head [at the moment of his fall] went from “wow, I’m still with the lead group and have lots of energy left, I think this can be a career best result” to being facedown in the snow moments later.

And here’s Scott Patterson, in an email to Nordic Insights, speaking to what he called on Instagram “a tough weekend for me”:

“A tough weekend is a decent summary. Friday’s skate had a few good signs, but lots that still needs to be improved. Today was a little more of a disaster. I think it was a combination of factors including a overly stressed with the chaotic nature of the race, not quite on top form, and struggling a bit with slower skis. I typically haven’t excelled during period 1 on the world cup so it doesn’t feel like doom and gloom. I’m just building a little more race fitness and shedding the summer/fall/early winter training load. I think my fitness is good even though not every race shows that so far.”

What’s next? Following back-to-back three-race weekends to start the season, some of the athletes have now contested six races in ten days. There will be more of the same next weekend, when the World Cup heads a few hours west to the bucolic small town of Beitostølen; races resume on Friday with a classic sprint. Saturday will be a 10km interval-start classic. Sunday will be the second-ever 4 x 5km mixed relay, an event in which the U.S. is so far undefeated in World Cup competition.


— Gavin Kentch

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  1. Spectacular reportage! Why no mention of Musgrave’s antics? Just one line to acknowledge it and the can of worms it represents. “Vermillion amoeba” I love it!

    • Fair question. The totally honest answer is that I was sprinting through coverage yesterday to get out the door to meet friends to go skiing. That absolutely doesn’t justify it, clearly, but that’s the honest answer as to why I scrimped on details a little. You’re right, though; I frankly found the races pretty boring, and Musgrave, for better or worse, certainly deserves credit for being not-boring. Thanks for pointing this out.
      — Gavin

  2. The reduced course profile – which you rightly highlight – goes a long way to explain why the Scot was temped to go without kick.

    No criticism intended, BTW. The coverage and analysis were top notch. I was genuinely curious about why you left out that juicy detail. Hope you had a good ski!

    • No, all good. If I had the article to write over again, and/or were writing not under time pressure, it should clearly go in. And it was a great ski, thanks. I’m still figuring out how to (a) write up two race articles then (b) get out the door during daylight hours, but it was nice that at least (b) happened yesterday.

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