The German team around Johannes Rydzek and Eric Frenzel fought back and took a double victory in the third competition of the Ruka Tour. Rydzek crossed the finish line first, beating his teammate by 0.6 seconds. Eero Hirvonen delighted the crowd with another podium result, 1,9 seconds behind Rydzek.
After a dramatic crash on the last uphill, it looked like Akito Watabe had lost his Ruka Tour victory but the Japanese courageously finished the race as eleventh. As it turned out, he won the Ruka Tour by eight points in the end, as his opponent Espen Andersen finished only sixth.
In the morning, the jumping round had a fantastic final with the last athletes delighting the crowds with long jumps and a lot of action. Maxime Laheurte captured the pole position for the race with a fable jump of 145 meters and 154.2 points, even though his happiness was dimmed by acute pain in his knees, an old problem for him that flamed up today. Espen Andersen kept his chances for the Ruka Tour overall win intact with the second-best jump of the day, 144 metres. 151.6 points meant a time disadvantage of ten seconds on Laheurte.
Watabe, was also well set up with 141 metres and the fourth position, +0:21 seconds behind Laheurte. Mario Seidl was among the best jumpers again with rank three, 142 metres and a time behind of 20 seconds. However, the first four athletes were not in an undisputed position as a group of fast skiers had formed around the one minute mark: Antoine Gerard, Johannes Rydzek and Olympic Champion Jørgen Graabak started +1:02, +1:07 and +1:10 behind the leader Laheurte and had their eyes set on the leaders. Overall World Cup winner Eric Frenzel had a decent but not great jump and started into the race with a delay of one minute and 27 seconds.
For the race, this starting order meant that Espen Andersen (136 points in the Ruka Tour) had win and had to have help of someone to push Akito Watabe (160 points) to the third position, if the Norwegian wanted to re-take the yellow bib of the World Cup leader and the Ruka Tour win with a prize money of 15.000 CHF.
In the end, the race played out in an entirely different way. It started with Laheurte, Andersen, Seidl and Watabe forming a leading group quickly but with Watabe still impeded by his injury, the group was not able to hold the pace high enough to keep the fast pursuers at bay. Even though there were still 25 seconds separating the group at the 5 km point, one lap later, the leading group had expanded to eleven athletes and included Graabak, Rydzek, Gerard, Braud and Mäkiaho. The reigning Junior World Champion was the first to drop off and on the last lap, the fight for victory was on in earnest.
As the group came down the last descent, Jørgen Graabak fell and skiing right behind him, Watabe had no chance to avoid a crash. The Japanese even lost a ski in the process and had to scramble to pick it up and attach it again. Even though all seemed lost, pursuer Espen Andersen was not able to capitalise on Watabe’s misfortune as he only finished sixth. With a total of 176 points, he held exactly 8 points less than Watabe’s total tally of 184 after his eleventh place finish.
Ahead of the drama, Johannes Rydzek turned the tables of yesterday’s misfortune and crash and powered up the last uphill, taking the lead and finishing first. Eric Frenzel showed an amazingly strong performance on the track (second-fastest cross-country time). He finished second in the big group, Eero Hirvonen continued his dream weekend with another podium result in third rank.
Maxime Laheurte dropped to rank four, Antoine Gerard finished fifth again, Seidl, Graabak and Maekiaho completed the Top Ten, a career-best for the Finnish Junior World Champion.