The 17th annual Saku Suverull rollerski race was held on August 16th in OtepÃ¤Ã¤, Estonia. The event generally attracts many of the top World Cup skiers, and this year was no different. 2008 Overall World Cup Champions Virpi Kuitunen (FIN) and Lukas Bauer (CZE) topped a start list that also included 2007 World Champions Aino Kaisa Saarinen (FIN), and Jens Arne Svartedal (NOR). All told 18 top World Cup skiers competed with Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk dominating the women's competition.
Kowalczyk, who finished the 2007-2008 season third on the overall World Cup, won the 10km indivdiual start classic race by 27.6 seconds over Kuitunen. Saarinen took third, +:46, and a strong Russian contingent, led by Ioulia Tchekaleva claimed the next four spots in the 32 woman field.
Three time Olympic gold medalist Julija Tchepalova (RUS), who tried her hand at biathlon last season during a comeback, finished 14th, +2:29.6
After the first 5 km lap Kowalczyk led Kuitunen by 7 and Saarinen by 14 seconds. â€œI caught Saarinen from 30 seconds back during second lap as planned. Then I managed to keep pushing despite being very tired due to the heavy program of this event,â€œ said Kowalczyk. Kuitunen again missed out on victory in this yearly Estonian summer competition, but she was not worried: â€œI have done very little roller skiing this year. Kowalczyk is always strong in the summertime. These victories mean nothing for the winter season.â€
The challenging schedule of events that Kowalczyk referred to began with the sprint qualification at 10:00 AM. Sprint heats began at 11:00 and were completed by 12:30. Racers were back on course at 5:00 PM for the distance races – 10km for women, 20km for men.
In the 1.1km classic sprint, Kuitunen posted the fasted time in qualification, edging Russian Natalia Matveeva by .008 seconds. Kowalczyk placed 5th and went on to the ski through the heats and claim victory. Matveeva took second, teammate Evgenia Shapovalova in third. Kuitunen ended up fourth.
â€œThe win was very important for me because one of my goals for next season is to improve in sprint” said Kowalczyk. Virpi was the clear favorite, but we were better on the finish straight. It was alsoquite a pleasure to beat the Russian girls. I have heard that they have done some special training before this event.â€
In the men's 20km classic, defending Olympic gold medalist in the pursuit, Eugeni Dementiev (RUS) edged Swede Mathias Fredrikkson by 1.3 seconds for the victory. With Alexander Legkov in third and Dimitri Liashenko in fourth, the Russians took three of the top four spots. Defending World Cup champion Lukas Bauer (CZE) was fifth, only 6.2 seconds off the pace.
Pietro Piller Cottrer (ITA), led at the halfway point where difference between 1st and 6th place was only 4 seconds. Dementiev the fastest final lap to take over the lead.
â€œI had hoped that I would not win. After first place here last year, my winter didn’t go wellâ€ smiled Dementiev. â€œSo far this summer we have done aerobic work, and have changed our preparations compared with last year. A lot of cycling and completely different methods of strength training are two examples of changes.â€
Fredriksson, Saku Suverull winner in 1999, was very pleased: â€œIt was a surprise for me to be at the same level as the Russian team in the summer. On the other hand, everything has gone smoothly so far and I have managed to avoid injuries. I have decided to continue for two more seasons.â€
The home nation placed two skiers in the top 7 – 37 year old World Cup veteran Anders Veerpalu in 6th and youngster Algo Karp in 7th. University of Alaska Fairbanks All-American Vahur Teppan, also skiing for the host country, finished a solid 17th, +:47.1.
Teppan was even more impressive in the morning's sprint. He qualified with the second fastest time, .19 seconds behind fellow Estonian Kein Einaste. Teppan went on to finish 7th and Einaste 5th, foiled by a broken pole. Russia took the top two spots, with Nikolay Morilov leading the way over Andrey Parfenov. Jens Arne Svartedal rounded out the podium and Lithuanian Mantas Strolia was 4th.
Svartedal was impressive in both the quarterfinals and semifinals, but Morilov and Parfenov dominated the final. â€œWe took advantage of team tactics and Svartedal was unable to get by. It is always a pleasure to beat the reigning World Champion from Norway,â€œ said the victorious Russian.
Photos of the 2007 Men's Saku Suverull sprint won by Eldar Rnning of Norway:
(Photo Credit: Tehvandi Spordikeskus)
(Photo Credit: Tehvandi Spordikeskus)