The weather was perfect in Toblach for a very exciting day of racing. It has only been six days since the 11th edition of the Tour de Ski wrapped and there was surely some tired bodies on today’s start list. This was perfectly encapsulated by Ustiogov who appeared to be invincible during the Tour but posted the 70th fastest time in qualifying today. Norwegians took both fastest qualifying times with Haavard Solaas Taugboel and Maiken Caspersen Falla on top of the men’s and women’s qualifying respectively.
Today’s course was fast and tightly contested which meant there were quite a few trips and spills today. This was highlighted by Sophie Caldwell and Kikkan Randall getting tied up in the semi-finals and falling down. This was too bad to see as it seemed the Americans had things going their way with three qualifying for the women. Unfortunately, non of them were able to make it out of the quarters. We also saw Tiril Weng loose out on moving forward as she was also tripped up in the semis.
Jumping into the action for the semis, the first semi had two Swede’s and two Americans. It was Falk who went out like a bat out of hell, but quickly Matveeva took the lead up the first hill. Incredibly, both Americans fell as Caldwell got caught up with the skier ahead of her and did a 180 and took Randall out in the process which left four to fight it out. Up the final hill, Falla made her move and blew past Matveeva to open a little space between her and the field, but they yo-yoed and all four skiers were together going into the finish straight. At the finish line, Falla was able to hold off the charge of the others as it was Falla and Matveeva 1-2 with Falk and Ingemarsdotter right behind. After watching the second semi, it was confirmed that both Swede’s were fast enough to capture lucky loser spots for the finals.
For that second semi-final, it was Jacobsen who led the bulk of the race. However, in the finish straight, the Norwegian lost steam and was over taken by Ringwald who took the lead while Fabjan made a late charge in a very tight heat to take second over van der Graff by 8/100 of a second.
In the finals, Matveeva instilled similar tactics to the semi and took the lead from the gun and up the first hill, but Falk had good skis and glided right past her and led the skiers up the second hill. However, it was Matveeva who carried her speed the best into the hill and overtook the Swede. Going up the final hill it was Falla and Matveeva as the other skiers felt the pain. It turned into a two woman race coming down the final hill and on the finishing straight Matveeva and Falla were neck and neck with Matveeva just pulling ahead at the last second for the win. Falk took third ahead of Ringwald.
As with the American women, it looked like the American men were firing on all cylinders as both Newell and Hamilton qualified in the top 10. It was back in 2015, when Hamilton was runner-up for this sprint course so I can imagine he was gunning to move up a spot today. The nation today with most male qualifiers was surprisingly not Norway who had four, but Sweden who had five.
The amount of jostling between the men compared to the women was remarkable. In some heats, particularly the finals, it appeared that four different athletes held the lead at one point in time during their trip about the 1.3km course. Watching the quart-finals alone, I counted at least four athletes taking tumbles and opening up the door for others to advance. Suffice to say it was a entertaining race day.
Looking at the action, starting with the first semi-final, it was Anton Gafarov who led while the others skied in very tight quarters behind the tall Russian. However, Taugboel and Skar skied tactically and made their move before the final hill to take the lead and continued to hammer up and over to turn the screw. At the finish it was Taugboel in first but Skar barely held off Hamilton and the hard charging Swiss Hediger. It appeared that Hediger might have nipped out a ticket too the final, but left his push just a breath too late.
The second semi-final saw Pellegrino lead from the gun to finish. It was a ballsy way to ski, but in front of the home crowd it appeared to pay off.
In the final there were three Norwegians, an American, a Swiss man and an Italian. It was Hediger who set the early pace which appeared to be pretty recreational going up the first hill as all the skiers were clumped together. Then Pellegrino upped the pace and took the lead. It was a real dog fight on the final hill as Hamilton made his move and moved to the front as the pack went into the final straight. and as the pack came down the final hill it was Hamilton in the lead with everyone biting at his heels. It was neck and neck between Hamilton and Skar as the two crossed the finish line, it took a while to figure out who had truly won since they were so close together. After the official word had come through, it was Skar who had won his first ever World Cup race.
This course has always excited me. The course profile sets up for a lot of close quarter racing which always results in entertaining racing. When watching the race, it was interesting to see how different athletes approached the heats. On one side, there was Golberg who seemed to start out slow and was completely ok with being at the back of the pack. This allowed him enough room to go wide on the corners to sling-shot him around the corners and up the hill which worked magnificently as he moved from sixth to second in the semis in the matter of 10 seconds. Unfortunately for him, the finish straight still loomed and he didn’t have enough gas in the tank to beat his teammate Klaebo.
Opposite to Golberg, there was Pellegrino who was intent on being top two in every heat he was in. With such a congested course with sharp turns, it only took being boxed out at the wrong time to close the door on your chances. This tactic seemed to work for Pellegrino as stormed through the quarters and semis, but just missed out on the podium finishing in fourth.
For the Canadian watch, Harvey qualified 8th while Valjas qualified 23rd, unfortunately for them that’s as good as it got today as both failed to make it out of the quarter-finals. I expect the Canadians to bounce back for tomorrow and put up a very strong fight.
On the women’s side, it was Matveeva picking up her second career World Cup win. The last win was almost 10 years ago, back at the beginning of the 2007-2008 season so kudos to her.
Hopefully the excitement continues tomorrow as team sprints are on the schedule.