In the men’s 15-kilometer freestyle rollerski mass start on the third day of the 2017 Blink Ski Festival in the coastal town of Sandnes in the southwest of Norway, U.S. Ski Team (USST) member Andy Newell constantly held a position in the first group, staying within a few seconds of the leaders. With two laps to go, he was in sixth place, less than two seconds back.
“I felt good about the race,” Newell reflected in an email to FasterSkier. “I was able to ski up in the top 10 or so throughout the race.”
But as the field heard the bell ringing that signaled the final lap, Newell suddenly skied out of the lead group and rolled to the right side of the city course waving his arm.
“Just before the start of the last lap I tried to maneuver around a skier to try to get up into the top maybe 5 or 6 skiers and broke my pole on that guy,” Newell explained. “I only had to ski maybe 100 meters with one pole and got a spare but that was enough to lose a lot of places. I can’t feel too bad, there were a lot of broken poles out there, it was still really fun and exciting and a cool atmosphere.”
After Russia’s reigning Tour de Ski winner Sergey Ustiugov prevailed in a group sprint to finish first in a time of 30 minutes, 29.5 seconds, Newell finished the race in 18th place, 24.1 seconds later. Second place went to Norway’s Sindre Bjørnestad Skar (+2.2), while Sweden’s Teodor Peterson claimed third (+2.9).
In the women’s 10 k freestyle mass start race, Norway’s Marit Bjørgen took her first win of the series in 21:25.8, narrowly outsprinting Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla by 0.6 seconds (a day after Kalla won the famous Lysebotn Opp uphill race by a comfortable 40-second margin). The duo gapped the field about 15 minutes into Friday’s race, after Kalla had caught up to Bjørgen and then took her turn up front. Winning the finishing sprint out of a larger chase group, third place went to Bjørgen’s teammate and defending Sprint World Cup champion Maiken Caspersen Falla, 8.3 seconds out of first.
A day after finishing the Lysebotn hill climb in sixth place, USST distance skier Liz Stephen crossed the line on Friday in 25th (+1:29.2) on the flat city course with 1 k loops that suited sprinters, despite two short climbs over fairly steep ramps.
While the 2016 edition of the festival was marred by some dramatic crashes on those ramps, this time the course remained manageable in cloudy-but-dry conditions, with the field of elite Norwegian and international athletes cheered on by several hundred enthusiastic spectators in the finish area.
Also on Friday, the Blink spectators could watch a number of biathlon competitions, both for various junior age groups and the senior fields.
In a pre-race event dubbed “shooting duels” with the athletes still not on skis, the local fan-favorites prevailed. Norway’s Thekla Brun-Lie won the women’s competition, moving through a series of rounds and cleaning the final in 20 seconds, while her teammate Johannes Thingnes Bø was successful in the men’s shootout, cleaning all targets of the standing shooting stage in a blazing-fast 15.7 seconds for the best time of the day. In a “superfinal”, Bø beat Brun-Lie head-to-head, despite requiring spares and about twice as much time as in the men’s final.
Both skiers made use of their excellent shooting accuracy and speed to win their respective races that followed (no exact distance was given). In the second half of the women’s biathlon mass start, Brun-Lie managed to overtake the Russia’s Ekaterina Yurlova-Percht with two clean standing stages, claiming victory in a time of 13:51.5 with one penalty. The penalty loops required rollerskiing on a traffic roundabout next to the range.
Brun-Lie, 25, is the younger sister of Celine Brun-Lie (a former Norwegian cross-country team member) and a 2011 junior world champion.
France’s veteran skier Marie Dorin-Habert finished second (+8.5 with four penalties), while Brun-Lie’s teammate Marte Olsbu also passed Yurlova on the final lap to place third (+14.3 with three penalties) and Yurlova finished fourth (+18.2 with two penalties).
In the men’s biathlon mass start, Sweden’s Tobias Arwidson held the lead after the first two prone shootings, before Bø and teammate Emil Hegle Svendsen overtook him with two clean standing shootings. While both also hit every target in the final standing stage, Bø managed to do it faster once again, crossing the line first in a time of 17:57.8 with three penalties. Svendsen placed second (+12.3) despite cleaning all four stages, and Lars Helge Birkeland completed the Norwegian podium sweep in third (+21.2 with three penalties).
Unlike in prior years, no North American biathletes have made the trip to Sandnes, Norway, for Blink. The event concludes on Saturday with sprint races for both the cross-country skiers and biathletes.