Marit Bjoergen (NOR) won the Tour de Ski Stage 2 Pursuit in Nove Mesto today with an incredible burst of speed to catch and sprint past Charlotte Kalla (SWE) in the final straight. Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) took third place, 7 seconds back in what was an exciting contest amongst the best female cross country skiers in the world.
The winner of prologue Kuitunen (FIN) started steadily, holding her time gap over Saarinen (FIN) and Kowalczyk (POL). Kalla, starting 7th, quickly took the lead of a chasing pack, and at 1.5km left the pack behind as she set out to catch Bjoergen, who had started 8 seconds ahead. Kowalczyk caught Saarinen after 2km, and started to pull in Kuitunen, while at the same time Kalla caught Bjoergen. Kowalczyk dragged Saarinen up to Kuitunen, however, all three leaders were soon caught by Kalla and Bjoergen as they hit the stadium at the end of the first 3.3km lap.
Back behind, Ariana Follis (ITA) and Claudia Nystad-Kuenzel (GER), managed to break free from the rest of the pack, and at the 3.8km split were 9 seconds behind the leading five skiers. The next 15 skiers were still within 22 seconds of first place. Follis bridged the gap, but suddenly Kuenzel had disappeared. She emerged back in the main pack, apparently having fallen on a tricky right hand corner which all the top skiers had snow-plowed. At the front, Kalla kept the pace up, splitting the front group into three pairs at the end of the second lap — Kowalczyk behind Kalla; Saarinen and Bjoergen; Kuitunen and Follis. Kalla went clear at the front, while Bjoergen skied up to Kowalczyk — interestingly both wearing the same red suit with white stripes. The other three were swallowed up by the chasing pack of 10 skiers, including young Anna Hansson (SWE) and 2006-2007 Tour de Ski bronze medal winner Valentina Schevchenko (UKR).
Kalla looked strong at the front, holding off Kowalczyk and Bjoergen by 4-5 seconds, and was seemingly on her way to her first World Cup win. The gap came down a little over the last hill and on the downhill, but the victory seemed to be within the 20 year old Swede's grasp. Then with 500m to go Bjoergen stepped out from behind Kowalczyk and started sprinting. The gap to Kalla closed down second by second, and as they topped the last pinch into the stadium the Nowegian was right on her heels. Kalla fought hard and gave it everything, but she couldn't stop Bjoergen from overtaking and claiming the win and the lead in the Tour by a fraction of a second.
Kowalczyk seemed satisfied with her third place, and Kuitunen lead the rest of the pack in 15 seconds off the pace. Rotcheva (RUS) was 5th ahead of Hansson, Valbusa, and Follis. There was only 7 second from Kuitunen back to Skofterud in 14th place, with pre-Tour World Cup leader Jacobssen (NOR) 29 seconds behind Bjoergen in 15th place. Most of the overall favourites are still in touch, with the exception of Majdic (SLO) back in 25th place 1:10 behind Bjoergen.
Tomorrow's Sprint will be exciting. Bjoergen is in good shape and could still be leading heading into the next Pursuit on Stage 4. However, anything can happen in the head-to-head Sprint competition and there are plenty of strong sprinters who can claim valuable bonus seconds. Follis and Mischol (SUI) only need to gain 18 seconds on Bjoergen, which is the difference between 1st and 6th. And Kalla only needs to finish one place ahead…
Related on FasterSkier:
Bjoergen Wins – Takes over Tour Lead