The Falun World Cup weekend is a staple for the World Cup circuit and is usually reserved for the last weekend of the season with the World Cup Finale Mini-Tour. However, this year Falun only gets the race double instead of the mini-triple. The weekend started out with Saturday’s freestyle sprint race.
Coming into today, Bjoergen had won seven of the last 10 Falun sprints so everyone’s money was on the Norwegian and she acted the part in qualifying as Bjoergen was ahead of Falk by the minute difference of +0.08sec and an impressive qualifier from Caldwell who was third fastest in the morning. It’s the fifth time this season Caldwell has qualified in the top 15 for a sprint race. With Randall (qualified 26th) and Diggins (qualified 5th) as the two faces of women’s cross-country in the States, it’s always nice to see a skier like Caldwell rise to the top. Along with those three American ladies, Sadie Bjoernsen also qualified in 17th today so it was a great day for their team in the morning.
On the men’s side, the top spot was earned by future sprint super-star (if he isn’t already) Klaebo. At age 20, he is still in his relative infancy for his time on the World Cup circuit and this is the second time this year he has been the fastest qualifier. The other two sprint races this year he qualified second and third. The only thing Klaebo needs now is experience racing the best of the best to turn those qualifying results into final heat results. The other top qualifiers were familiar names in Pellegrino and Tour-de-Ski demi-God Ustigov. The Norwegian’s were able to take five of the top 10 qualifying spots with all of their skiers on the day qualifying 17th of better.
We’ll pick it up in the semis where the first women’s semi-final had a very strong heat with four of the top 10 qualifiers (Nilsson, Falla, Diggins and Falk) along with experienced racer in Randall and Norway’s Eide. This heat was won by Falla with Randall in second while Nilsson skiing fast enough to grab one of the lucky loser tickets to the final.
The second semi saw Weng ahead of the others and a frantic photo finish between Sundling, Parmakoski, and Matveeva. Unfortunately, Mateeva finished behind Parmakoski by 0.03 seconds which cost her a trip to the finals and a chance to repeat as sprint winner after her victory in Toblach.
The final saw the home country with a good chance of one athlete on the podium as both Nilsson and Sundling were on the start line. They were joined by Norway’s Falla and Weng as well as Parmakoski and Randall. The last 500m of this race was incredibly exciting with Nilsson leading Falla into the home straight, but Falla turned it up a gear and overtook the Swede. It looked like the Swede was beat, but with 50m left started to close the boot sized gap between the two athletes and at the finish line both athlete lunged. Prior to the lunge Falla was leading, but Nilsson timed the lunged perfectly and beat the Norwegian by a toe-nail. It was so close that it took a minute for everyone in the stadium to official here who had won. Rounding out the podium was World Cup Overall leader Heidi Weng.
It was a great result for not only Nilsson but also for Sweden as a whole. How much sweeter does it get to beat a bitter Norwegian rival on home snow in nail-biting fashion? With the win, Nilsson now has three wins in four sprint starts. That’s an incredible start/win ratio and hopefully she can continue this form into Lahti where she hopes to improve on her silver from Val di Femme.
It was another day for the Norwegian men who had five of the 12 semi-final spots. However, it was Pellegrino doing his best to spoil the day for the Scandinavian countries as the Italian won his quarter-final and he would go on to win the first semi-final ahead of Petersen while Taugboel and Krogh were in a photo finish for the potential lucky loser spot but unfortunately for them semi-final two was fastest and thus the two Norwegian’s were done for the day.
The second semi-final was won by Klaebo with Swede Svensson. As with the first semi-final, it was a couple Norwegian’s in a fight for third and fourth with Iversen and Skar and both punched their lucky-loser tickets to the final.
In the final, it was three Norwegians, two Swede’s and an Italian on the start line. With the Norwegian’s and the Swede’s battling it out, Pellegrino sat back and waited to make his move before the final corner into the finishing straight. The Italian performed a brilliant move of track-craft as he slung-shot himself from 5th to 1st and was able to hold off Iversen in another lunging finish to take his eighth World Cup sprint podium.
— Cross Country (@FISCrossCountry) January 28, 2017
With today’s win, Pellegrino moved into a tie for second all-time for men’s freestyle World Cup sprint wins (thanks to @SkiSport365 for that fun tidbit). It’s a pretty impressive feather to put in his cap as he is now tied with Joensson and Hattestad with eight wins. They trail leader Hetland who had 11 in his career.
Tomorrow sees the 30km mass start for the men and 15km mass start for the ladies. It should be fun races to watch as we see Northug return to the World Cup and race for the first time in almost two months.