By Morgan Hartley and Conner Truskowski
The fourth stage of the Tour de Ski, and this year’s final race in Oberstdorf, Germany, took place earlier Wednesday. The balmy 40-degree weather hosted some icy snow on a short but difficult 3.3-kilometer lap, which athletes completed six times for the 20km skate pursuit.
The men’s race would see Johannes Høsflot Klæbo starting first, attempting to continue his unbroken streak of wins to start this year’s Tour.
Not far behind him, the young American contingent of Ben Ogden (starting 6th), Hunter Wonders (starting 11th), and Gus Schumacher (starting 15th) was looking to make some moves up the results sheet. Scott Patterson, well known for being a longer-distance specialist, would start 29th today, looking to use the longer race to close up to nearer the front of the race.
Klæbo decided to employ his usual pursuit strategy, choosing to pack ski today instead of trying to hold or grow his gap to the skiers behind.
The four other Scandinavian skiers behind Klæbo put in a decent effort and caught him fairly quickly with Andrew Musgrave of Great Britain not too far behind, forming the lead group by about 3.8km into the race. The pace of the first chase group, hosting Wonders and Schumacher, looked to be ferocious as well, catching Ogden by about the 5km mark.
The second chase group, including Patterson, Federico Pellegrino, and Sindre Bjørnstad Skar, was not far behind with Patterson moving up to 18th by 7.1km. By the 8km mark it was, as Andrew Kastning, commentator for this event put it, “one big party at the top,” with all three groups colliding (and possibly colluding?) to take what looked to be a much more relaxed pace than we’ve seen almost all season on the men’s side.
Ogden managed to push his way back up towards the front of the group just before Klæbo started to increase the pace up the hill at the start of the fourth lap, the first of many probing attacks by him and others.
The next big move would come from Sjur Røthe at 12km in, putting in an effort over the hill to put in a brief gap at the front to Klæbo. While the attack may not have generated a sizable gap, it certainly had the effect of stretching out the pack and developing packets off the back again.
The Americans would form a coalition towards the back third of the group, with Patterson, Wonders, and Ogden sitting in 17th through 19th place around 13 kilometers into the race. It wouldn’t be very long-lived, however, with Patterson and Wonders making a move as Klæbo attacked just after 14km, solidifying a smaller group of 22 skiers.
The finish was a tactical game with the pack slowing to a complete crawl at the 17.8km time check, nobody wanting to give the draft off the front for the next hill. Hans Christer Holund would make the next attack at 18.6km, stretching the front out to five Norwegian skiers before Calle Halfvarsson of Sweden and Pellegrino of Italy.
To answer, at 19.5km Klæbo launched an explosive attack up the final hill (see second slide above for video of finish), gapping the rest of the skiers with only Skar and Pellegrino able to come close to answering.
Pellegrino had a great finish stretch, adding to his collection of distance podiums this season and barely coming third behind Skar, who had perfect timing to benefit from Klæbo’s final attack.
In the end, it would again be Ogden leading the American men in 13th after a brief time in 21st, with Patterson close behind in 17th, being the last from the main group to come in, only 7.7 seconds behind Klæbo and 4 seconds back from 10th. Wonders would come home 19th, Schumacher 26th, Ketterson 55th, O’Connell 56th, Schoonmaker 69th, and Bolger rounding out the Americans in 71st. Another great performance from the men’s team with a lot to look forward to in Val di Fiemme.
Looking back at his race Ogden said, “My body was feeling pretty good to be honest, I raced very conservatively and focused on my goal for today which was remaining in the top 15 or 20. I was happy that the pack slowed down for the middle part of the race and the leaders played the tactics game so I didn’t have to worry about being dropped.”
Schumacher commented that he’s still not feeling 100% physically and some slower skis made him expend a bit more energy than he hoped. As usual however, he manages to find the fun and the bright side in his performance for the day, saying it was “Still a ton of fun to be in the mix, especially with this whole team skiing fast!”
Patterson said that he felt like his race played out in two parts, the first being the chase. “I quickly grouped up with others and we were charging pretty hard and trading leads to catch the groups in front of us. It was overall good pursuit racing.”
In his second half, the group phase, he told us, “At that point the pace slowed and it became a game of jockeying for position, not having your equipment stepped on, and trying to move up at opportune times while not wasting too much energy. I kept expecting some of the distance-oriented skiers to try and put in a charge, but it didn’t feel like that ever really happened.”
30-person pack racing has both its benefits and drawbacks. For one, you’re never too far off the leaders with all 28 skiers coming through time checks with 5-10 seconds between them. On the other hand it can be hard to move up with pack skiing at the World Cup level being extremely aggressive. Plus, if you find yourself in the middle or rear of the pack and someone attacks, you could find yourself boxed in and drop positions quickly. It can be especially hard to read the pack on races like these where attack after attack eventually get brought back, increasing the likelihood of attacks happening in new and unusual track locations.
However, if you either read the pack well, or make a chance move at the right time you can be catapulted quickly to the front of the race. This type of racing shows just how professional these skiers are, having to not only concentrate on effort and technique but what everyone is doing around you and ten places ahead of you.
This pack seemed to be more focused on playing tactics, with Ogden, Schumacher, and Patterson all saying the pace felt fairly relaxed. However, who you choose to ski behind at any given moment can have an impact on your race, especially when the pace picks up rapidly at the end.
Patterson told Nordic Insights, “I felt pretty relaxed in the group and was wishing the pace was set a bit faster to shell some of those who were struggling. Racing where it is more about who you choose to ski up the hill behind gets a little frustrating for me.”
Regarding the last several races of breakthrough performances one source inside the U.S. Ski Team told Nordic Insights, “The fellas are really stoked!”
We asked Ben Ogden if this stokage played a part in the team’s success as a whole. He replied, “The USA seems to win as a team, and lose as a team for better or for worse and this TDS is certainly no exception to that. Lots of hype here currently.”
For reasons detailed above and below, there’s hype on this side of the pond as well!
Results: Stage 4 | overall Tour standings