In front of the estimated 105,000 screaming fans that lined nearly every meter of the 8.3km loop Norway’s Peter Northug claimed yet another gold at these 2011 World Championships at Holmenkollen in Oslo, Norway. Russian Maxim Vylegzhanin was the only skier who was able to withstand Northug’s tempo over the final kilometer of the race to finish second. Tord Asle Gjerdalen of Norway finished third to claim the bronze medal.
With a blue sky overhead, temperatures above 40ºF, and dirty snow under their skis 82 skiers started the 50km race in mass on a course that was very challenging, but covered with fans like never before in Nordic ski racing. The warm slow snow and challenging course kept the pace under control as the kilometers ticked away early in the race. The lead pack was very large early on, but lap after lap it kept shrinking. By midway through the race the pack was down to 39 skiers, including all of the favorites as well as Canadians Alex Harvey and Ivan Babikov and the US Ski Teams Noah Hoffman.
The lead pack was soon down to 22 and Sweden’s Marcus Hellner was doing much of the work at the front seeming to push the pace for extended periods, while Northug, who did not look on his best form, enjoyed being in the draft a few skiers back. As the skiers exited the stadium for the last time to tackle the final series of climbs above the stadium before the finish it was Finland’s Juha Lallukka that moved to the front to lift the pace and make his bid at gold. Northug remained in his shadow and as they dropped down below the stadium. Then as they raced up the last significant climb Russia’s Vylegzhanin charged to the front in a move he hoped would capture the gold.
However, Northug was able to match the Russian’s acceleration as they dropped down into the backside of the stadium to climb the final hill. Northug rushed to the front to bring the pace down a notch, but Vylegzhanin countered and pulled back even as they climbed. When they reached the exact location where Northug had made his move in the relay, he went again opening up the decisive margin.
While much had been made of how the winner would celebrate, Northug was clearly completely exhausted as he crossed the line not even able to raise his arms, although he attempted to. As finisher after finisher slid across the line Northug remained on the ground unable to get up.
Harvey, who had been scene as a serious threat, skied much of the race in a similar position in the front pack. He never seemed as if he wanted to position himself too close to the front, but was far enough up to stay out of trouble. However, when Vylegshanin made his move Harvey was left in a group battling for the bronze. The Canadian would end the day in fifth in a time of 2:08:17.
While Babikov, who took the lead during later stages of the race, managed to stay with the lead group until they left the stadium for the last time to ski the final series of hills. The attacks being made at the front of the pack proved to be too much as he took 17th place in a time of 2:08:59.
After experiencing a problem with his pole, Hoffman fell out of contact with the lead pack and ended up skiing the remainder of the race by himself finishing 30th on the day in a time of 2:12:47.
Lars Flora and Tad Elliot skied much of the latter kilometers of the race together ending the day in 39th and 40th places respectively. Flora, who finished in a time of 2:15:42, bettered Elliot by three seconds.