Well in certain ways, the races went as expected, Northug won the mini-tour while those athletes behind him fought tooth and nail for every position and that resulted in some unexpected results in terms of the athletes who had the fastest times on the day.
The gap from Northug to Cologna was 12 seconds and a distance which Cologna was very capable of closing. Further back, Legkov was the start of the big group and was 42 seconds behind at the start.
At 1.4km, Cologna had closed five seconds on Northug’s lead and Legkov had already taken nine seconds out. It was pretty clear that Northug had a rather conservative start compared to the others. The biggest mover early on was the Russian Belov who had reduced his deficit by an impressive 12 seconds.
After the first 2.5km, Cologna had caught Northug and the Norwegian immediately moved to the side and insisted on Cologna to take the lead. The stadium also allowed the chasers including Legkov to have a visual aid of how far behind they were of the lead two. A group of five including Manificat, Olsson, Belov, Hellner and Clara had formed and were 40 seconds behind the leaders. The five-some chasing down Legkov dropped Clara and cut the deficit a further six seconds at 3.9km as Hellner continued to keep the pace strong.
Out in the lead, Northug took the lead for a bit and let Cologna draft for a bit and it appeared that they were getting word that the chasers were gaining on them. As they came into the stadium for 5km, the chaser’s times began to stabilize as Legkov continued to ski in no-man’s land ahead of Hellner, Olsson, Manificat and Belov. Further back, Vylegzhanin and Harvey were doing well and moving up the field and had taken out almost 30 seconds out of the lead after 5km.
At 6.4km, the top 20 athletes had splintered into four group. The first, Cologna and Northug in the lead, the second was Legkov who was 24 seconds down, the third was Manificat, Belov, Olsson, Vylegzhanin and Hellner 37 seconds back, then a big group consisting of Rønning, Sedov, Poltoranin, Chebotko, Bauer, Harvey, Angerer and Halfvarsson who were 49 seconds down.
All of Vylegzhanin’s hard work had be nullified as he fell on one of the downhill and went from 5th to 17th. However, the two big chase group has bridged the gap and became one big group of 13-15 athletes at the halfway point of the race.
Northug and Cologna were working well and trading off the lead to maintain the gap on Legkov and the others. Olsson was the athlete to take the lead of the chasers and keep the push on to catch Legkov and his attack was breaking the athletes behind him and a slight gap began to open up.
With 5km left, Legkov started to go backwards and sat 32 seconds behind the lead. Olsson was only six seconds down on the Russian with the other chasers (Belov, Poltoranin, Rønning, Manificat, Sedov and Hellner) a further three seconds behind.
Olsson’s pace was nothing short of impressive and just before 11.4km caught Legkov and took a further six seconds from the lead and was 32 seconds behind, just as Legkov was at 10km. The athletes that were trying to follow Olsson were losing contact with the Swede the longer the race went on. However, coming up the big-hill into the stadium, Rønning’s skis were skiing extremely well and was able to bridge the gap with Poltoranin and Hellner to Olsson and Legkov to make fight for third up to five athletes.
On the final 2.5km lap, Cologna was leading Northug, but the Norwegian wasn’t going anywhere while the fight for third was becoming a test of willpower as Olsson was relentless with the pace as all those athletes continued to race.
The games for Northug began earlier than expected as Northug moved up alongside Cologna at around 13.5km and put in a few powerful double-poles to move ahead of the Swiss man, only to stop poling, basically slow down until Cologna skied past him until and then hoped in behind him and let Cologna continue to lead.
At 13.9km, the pace that Olsson was injecting was apparent as the chasers closed the gap to 24 seconds.
Coming up the final hill, Northug made his move and quickly opened a gap on Cologna to take the Ruka Triple. The battle for third had Rønning make a decisive move and move in front of Olsson as did Poltoranin as the Norwegian and Kazakh athletes came across the line in third and fourth as Olsson and Hellner finished 5th and 6th.
1. Alexey Poltoranin
2. Eldar Rønning
3. Daniel Rickardsson
1. Petter Northug
2. Dario Cologna
3. Eldar Rønning
To be honest, I was impressed with how much of the work Northug did today. I’d say the split was 60/40 Cologna/Northug. Even though Northug moved to the front mainly because he had faster skis than Cologna, but he also led up the big hill coming into the stadium too. It was another good result for Northug and he’s the male equivalent of Bjørgen at this point.
I was interested to see what Cologna would do to try to shake Northug off, but it became apparent that Northug was going nowhere. It’ll be very interesting to see if this pattern of racing continues when the Tour de Ski starts. I really hope to see the other big all-rounders like Hellner and Harvey get into the mix too. Unfortunately, those two were a little too far off the pace when the final race started today.
The real story of the day for me was the action behind the leaders. We got to an amazing performance from Olsson who led the charge for the chasers for much of the second half of the race but just didn’t have enough mustard at the last portion of the race.
A great finish from Rønning who continues his great run of form in classic distance races. I think it’s been over a year now since the last time Rønning finished outside the top 10 in a distance classic race.
Poltoranin also had a great race today and posted the top time. He looked super fluid today compared to the other athletes; it was actually impressive how well he kept his technique together throughout the race. It looked like he was out for a Sunday ski with his long glide and smooth poling. At this time last year, Poltoranin had a great run of form and he won the Davos 15km classic. It’ll be interesting to see if he can continue this form through to the Tour de Ski.
I feel bad for Vylegzhanin today as he was having such a good race until he fell at 6km and it completely took the wind out of his sails. After that he just moved backwards and was unable to regain great form that saw him move up from 23rd to 5th in the first 5km.
Also, Legkov was stuck in between a rock and hard place today. He was probably the only athlete on course today that had no one to ski with for the first 10km. He was doing quite well for the first bit, but it turned out to be a little too much as he started to fade in the final 5km and finished off the podium today in 7th place. I believe that if he had at least one athlete to help him try and close the gap to the lead, he would’ve finished a little higher in the Ruka Triple standings.
Finally, the big movers of the day were Poltoranin who started the day in 25th and finished 4th, whil Hofer tumbled down the standing and went from 10th to 39th.
I’ll be back in a couple days with some random thoughts on mini-tours.