With her 10th-place finish in the Ugra Ski Marathon in Siberia, Russia, on Saturday, American Holly Brooks was third overall in the 2015 FIS Marathon Cup, only 15 points short of first overall.
“Today I fell a bit short of a season-long goal but hey, that’s part of the sport,” APU’s Brooks said in a comment on her Facebook page, explaining that she was just missing the power in the tough spring conditions in the freestyle race this weekend. Originally slated as a 50 k, the course was shortened to 30 k due to warm conditions.
“It was tough skiing out there: deep, dirty slush and a relentless ‘tropical’ headwind,” she wrote. “When I tried to apply the gas, it was like trying to drive a car on an empty tank. Today I felt as if I was a corpse on skis, as it turns out that 500k of racing and four months of ‘living on the road’ away from home was a bit too much for a strong finish.”
Brooks had been leading the overall FIS Marathon Cup going into the Ugra, but only had a narrow 4-point lead to Tatjana Mannima of Estonia, and a 51-point lead to Aurelie Dabudyk of France. The 26 points netted from her 10th-place finish were not enough to hang onto the lead. Mannima won the series with 496 points after placing fifth, while Dabudyk rode a strong second-place finish in the race to pass Brooks in the rankings as well. Dabudyk finished with 484 points and Brooks was third with 481 points overall.
Mannima also won the series in 2012-2013. Brooks’ third place is the top North American result in the overall FIS Marathon Cup to date. Now she is looking forward to come home to Alaska.
It was defending Ugra champion Ekaterina Rudikova of Belarus who took home the race win by almost a minute, clocking in at 1:19:46.4, while Dabudyk of France finished in 1:20:42.9; Antonella Confortola Wyatt was third. Brooks crossed the line in 1:27:38.9.
Her win was not without controversy. Women do not have their own starting waves in FIS Marathon Cup races, but are not allowed to work with men to set the pace or block for them. Some alleged that Rudakova did just that.
“I was accused of having pacemakers at the race and it made me mad and gave extra power,” she told FIS. “I wanted to prove [to] everyone that I can win. It really gave me good motivation throughout the whole race. The course shortening did not affect me, I had lot of power in me and could have gone on. Next year I maybe try to win the overall FIS Marathon Cup.”
And that wasn’t the only drama.
The Russian website skisport.ru reported that the race was poorly organized and that this in fact may have affected the results:
“According to eyewitnesses, the competition took place on a low organizational level. Due to weather conditions, the organizers had to change the route of the race, which failed to prepare properly. The start was delayed, but the most important thing – none of the participants had been warned before the start that the distance was reduced, and instead of accelerating loops and three laps of 15 km, the finish was after three laps of 7.5 km. Many participants… did not expect so much rapid completion of the marathon, and expected another 20 km struggle. Some, like Anton Gafarov, went out for another lap from which they had to return.“
Gafarov, a World Cup podium finisher, and the racer who at the Sochi Olympics became U.S.-media famous after receiving a ski from Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth after breaking one in the sprint semifinals, finished 27th.
The Ugra was also the smallest of the WorldLoppet marathons, with only 400 competitors completing the race.
The men’s race came down to a sprint finish. Swiss World Cup skier Toni Livers won the race in 1:13:39.0, 0.4 seconds ahead of Aliaksey Ivanov of Russia. Evgeniy Belov of the Russian national team was third, finishing in 1:13:51.1.
“The race course was difficult and hard as the snow was very soft,” Livers told FIS. “I saw that some of the athletes had some difficulties. There was a small group for a while and then me and another skier were able to make a gap. We worked well together all along and there were only 2 of us in the end. I was able to cross the finish line in front. It was really great!”
Petr Novak of the Czech Republic had a comfortable lead in the overall Marathon Cup prior to the event, and was able to hold on to that lead even with a seventh place finish. Benoit Chauvet of France was fifth in the Ugra, but beating Novak by two spots in the final race was not enough to snag the overall title. Novak still won by 50 points total, collecting a total of 442 points. Chauvet was second overall with 392 points, and Livers was third with 268 points.