Norway takes the first two places on the podium in the team sprint; Bolger and Schoonmaker ski in 9th place – FasterSkier.com
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In the wake of the arrival of the American women behind the Swedish duo and the first two places on the podium yesterday, Maja Dahlqvist and Jonna Sundling, the men’s team of JC Schoonmaker and Kevin Bolger lined up to contest the final of the sprint by Freestyle teams on the track in historic Dresden, Germany.
“Together again,” Bolger wrote in a post-race email. “We teamed up 3 years ago when JC came for his first World Cup and didn’t ski very well at the time, but to be able to team up again and advance to the final after a very good half. final was great today! He skied really well all weekend and I’m so impressed with his appearance so it made the day really fun!
Six quick laps each, eleven rallies in total, on a flat, fast 0.65 mile urban loop with minimal recovery means flooded legs and tight races. Like a series of intervals of just over a minute with equal rest, athletes take a cautious start, increasing fatigue while minimizing the risk of accidents and equipment failure to decide the race, rather than fitness and tactics. As the number of laps remaining decreases, the pace steadily increases, like a bottle rocket, until the critical point comes in the final laps and the leaders explode up front in an effort to take control of the result.
As expected after a lap that lasted just over a minute, the entire field of ten teams remained very tight at the halfway point. Thomas Larsen and Even Northug’s Norway II team spent time up front, realizing quick surges at the start of each stage to restore their position.
After the 6th round the team scored with Great Britain on one side and the Norway I team from Sindre Bjørnestad Skar and Håvard Solås Taugbøl, on the other hand. Alexander Bolshunov’s Russia I duo tagging Gleb Retivykh, Italians Francesco di Fabiani and Federico Pellegrino, and French Richard Jouve and Lucas Chanavat were still very present.
At halftime, the Americans remained in contact at the back of the peloton while Bolger touched Schoonmaker in 9th (+2.0).
At the start of the 9th round, Bolshunov moved forward to take the reins of Russia I, with both Norwegian teams and Jouve responding quickly to his pace, while Italy and Great Britain worked hard to maintain the contact. This flurry set the tone for the final three laps.
As Retivykh tried in vain to let go Taugbøl and Northug on lap 10, the chasing peloton begins to lengthen. While all kept in touch with the leaders, Great Britain began to look out of the race for a win, with Italy and France remaining a podium threat in the fourth and fifth. The teams behind cleared up quickly.
In Bolshunov’s final lap, he took off from the front, skiing powerfully through his legs with an aggressive lean forward, carrying momentum between each push. While the early laps, rounding the tight corners, seemed cautious and calculated, the men turned the degrading corners, losing no speed as they pushed into the straights.
Starting on the last lap, Northug accelerated past Retivykh, skating hard on the first roll to regain the lead from Norway II. With their feet quickly rounding the first curve, Norway II seemed in control as Norway I and Russia had yet to give up the victory. Italy and France remained on their heels, always in position for the podium.
Entering the final hot curve, Taugbøl attempted to throw the Norway I slingshot into the lead, but the tactics were thwarted by Northug’s close-in speed and power. Standing to pump his fist in the air, Northug crossed the finish line for the win in 14: 19.34, while Taugbøl narrowly edged a Retivykh at the end of the race to climb on Norway II, Norway I (+0.42), then Russia I (0.62) for the podium.
“It was amazing,” Northug told FIS on the finish. “We struggled a bit in the semi-finals, but in the final we did everything right. Thomas sent me first on the last lap and that was the plan. It was good.”
Speaking about the experience of racing with Northug, Larsen praised his partner and the Norway II team’s place ahead of Norway I on the podium.
“It’s fantastic, he’s an unbelievably good skier,” said Larsen. “He hasn’t had that many World Cup chances so far, but now he’s showing with yesterday and last week he’s showing he’s one of the best in the world. I think it was a dream team today, and it’s cool to be the underdog and to win at home. “After a last quick step by Pellegrino to keep his side in the field for the top three, Italy was next on the line, narrowly missing the podium in fourth (+0.78), with Chanavat bringing the team back. France I in fifth place (+ 1.21). Knowing that he was no longer in a position to make the top three, Briton Andrew Young relaxed in the home stretch, crossing the finish line in sixth (+3.84), followed by a considerable gap with the following riders.
After losing contact in the final laps, Schoonmaker brought the American team back to the line in 9th (+11.36).
“Dresden is a really fun event,” Bolger said after the race. “I think that’s something a lot of us World Cup skiers like to mix things up!
Bolger explained that he and Schoonmaker “just wanted to stay out of trouble – and try as best we could to put ourselves in a position where we could attack when we needed to… I was hoping for a more tactical final, but he seemed like Bolshunov. had a different plan and really cranked up the pace for my leg the whole time which hurt a lot, but I think it makes it really fun and competitive!
Offering an overview of the team’s tactics and their experience in the Final, Schoonmaker provided the following comment in a post-race email sent by road.
“I would say our main strategy going into the final was to conserve energy while staying in the first half of the field so that we can match all the moves made later in the race,” said Schoonmaker. “It seemed like everyone had the same plan in mind so it was difficult to make it work. We were a little too far away to shake things up when the pace picked up in the second half of the race. In Dresden it really seems like it’s a question of being in front, as the passing is just difficult on a short, narrow and twisty course. It’s a super fun format with short turns, but also very demanding!
In semi-final B, Luke Jager and Logan Hanneman skied 10th (+10.96), with the Canadian duo Russell Kennedy and Graham Ritchie not far behind in 12th (+14.91). Neither team qualified for the final.
Despite a weekend absence in Dresden, Norway Johannes Høsflot Klæbo currently leads the overall World Cup and sprint standings. Klæbo is around 150 points ahead of Sergey Ustiugov (RUS) overall and 60 points ahead of Taugbøl in the sprint.
Leading the American men, Schoonmaker sits 11th in the sprint standings with 112 World Cup points and 20th overall. Schoonmaker is also the second under-23 skier, behind Russian Alexander Terentev by 219 points.
Ben Ogden also ranks in the top 30 in the sprint, placing 23rd with 46 points. Ogden is 4th on the Under 23 list, with Gus Schumacher 20 points behind in 7th. Luke Jager sits 13th out of 21 athletes on the Under-23 list, followed closely by Zanden McMullen, 16th. The future of American skiing looks bright.
After a holiday break, the race continues with the Tour de Ski, which kicks off in Lenzerheide, SUI on December 28.