By Ryan Sederquist
Johannes Klæbo won his fifth straight Tour de Ski race in Friday’s classic sprint, becoming the second person to open a tour with five straight wins (after Sergei Ustiugov in 2016/2017). The real story in Val di Fiemme, however, was that Ben Ogden finally provided a visual representation of what “skiing like an American” actually looks like.
In the semifinal, Ogden found himself in front of the great Norwegian twenty seconds into the race. Instead of doing what everyone else seems to do these days, falling in line behind the man who has won more than 50% of the World Cup races he’s entered, Ogden bolted.
“You just go crazy hard and all you gotta be is top four and get in that final, which is like, my goal,” Ogden said regarding his fearless tactics.
“They were kind of slow in the beginning and I was just like, ‘alright, I’m just going to do it, I’m going to try’…and I tried. And I went as hard as I could, got to the top of the hill and looked back and it was just me and the king, and I was like, ‘maybe this can work.’”
Seeing an athlete — an American man no less — spearhead what hopefully becomes a new “we-don’t-have-to-cower-in fear-and-let-Klæbo-dictate-everything” movement was by far the most dramatic and exciting component to stage five. Even if it didn’t pay off.
“I paid the price at the end but I don’t know, I stand by it,” Ogden said.
Ogden held the lead at the bottom of the sweeping right-hand turn 750 meters into the race, but he slipped ever so slightly on his skis at the bottom, swiping critical speed going into the punchy rise before the field entered into the stadium. Klæbo, who hasn’t made a mistake descending on skis since he was in diapers, deftly moved around the gutsy American, as did Calle Halfversson of Sweden — who showed surprising composure, and probably the second best doublepole (the winner of that goes to Antoine Cyr of Canada) throughout the day.
The Norwegian won the heat in 2:37.91, nearly seven seconds faster than the winner of heat two, Lucas Chanavat. The gap exemplifies the Prefontaine-esque move by Ogden, who finished in fifth in 2:40.17, out of the lucky loser spot by less than two-tenths.
“This was a unique course and a unique situation for me,” Ogden said. “You know, I had a lot of energy and I know that maybe some people were a bit tired, so you know, I might not try it again too soon but I don’t know. I’m going to keep messing around. I’ve tried four times — eight times — and making errors doing other things. I try to ski smart and I don’t make it, I try and wait til the end and I don’t make it, I try and go early and I don’t make it..so you know you have to try everything and see what works.”
He won over the appreciation of several in the heat, including Klæbo, who gave him a fistbump. Halfversson summarized the efforts with, “You’re crazy,” and Skar likened it to an attempted bank robbery, “except he forgot the money.”
“I like that you know, because I think that describes it pretty well,” Ogden laughed.
Ogden’s performance — he wound up ninth overall – was just part of yet another exciting day for U.S. men’s cross-country skiing. JC Schoonmaker finished seventh, getting outsprinted by Antoine Cyr in the homestretch of the double-pole friendly course that truly favored those with fast skis and timely positioning going into the stadium.
“The skis felt great today,” Schoonmaker wrote to Nordic Insights. “Our entire staff did such an amazing job keeping things running smooth today with limited techs and coaches and a bunch of athletes. They are the best of the best and I’m so grateful to have them on my side. They deserve some massive kudos. For the distance race tomorrow I’m pretty excited to get another race in! Distance racing hasn’t been going super great for me recently but I still really enjoy it and I’m looking forward to another chance.”
Zak Ketterson, known more for his distance skiing, qualified 15th and finished in 17th overall.
“It was a lot of fun,” Ketterson said. “I think when it’s a tour, you just have to go into every day with an open mind and I had some tough races in the previous few stages, so, just went into today with no expectations and just tried to execute a good race and it ended up going really well,” he said after making his first sprint heats.
Ketterson charged into the front fearlessly.
“My plan was to not be timid at all; just go in and be aggressive and take up a lot of space,” he said. “And I felt like it was going really well until the last turn of the course. I made a tactical error and sort of lost all of my speed into the really fast downhill finish.” The Northern Michigan University product wound up fifth in his heat, won by Antoine Cyr.
In the final, Klæbo was flawless again, winning his World Cup record 34th sprint victory, double that of the individual in second on that list, Federico Pellegrino, who had a disappointing performance, getting eliminated in the heats. It was Klæbo’s ninth win on the season. Listing his non-wins in classic sprints, across his entire career, goes like this: second in Ruka in 2018 (celebrating what appeared to be a win), 2020 and 2021, second in Drammen in 2017; 11th in Lillehammer in 2016; third in Ruka in 2016; and 15th in Drammen in 2016 — his first-ever World Cup sprint.
On Friday, Klæbo dispatched the field on the undulating upper section, holding the lead at 60 km/hr through the sweeping hill and then into the stadium, where a steamrolling Halfversson ran out of real estate to place second and Simone Mocellini gave the Italian fans something to chear about with his second-career podium finish in third.
Finishing outside the heats for the U.S. were Kevin Bolger (31st), Gus Schumacher (38th), Finn O’Connell (47th), Hunter Wonders (61st), and Scott Patterson (63rd).
The Tour de Ski continues with a mass start 15-kilometer classic on Saturday, with the women going off at 11:45 CET (5:45 EST) and the men at 13:30 CET (7:30 EST).