Defending World Cup Champion Virpi Kuitunen (FIN), and last year’s Tour de Ski runner-up, edged Norweigan Marit Bjoergen in the Women’s 10km Classic Pursuit in Oberhof, Germany.
Kuitunen started in 7th place, 24 seconds behind Claudia Nystad (GER) who slipped to 16th. The Finnish star raced in a pack with her teammates Aino-Kaisa Saarinen and Pirjo Muranen, as well as Bjoergen. The group quickly closed on the leaders, setting up Kuitunen’s strong charge to the finish over the last several hundred meters. Team tactics did not play a role according to Kuitunen.
“We did not have a team tactic,” she said. “Maybe it is an advantage for me that we stayed together and could avoid accidents. I told Marit that we have to avoid accidents in the sprint in Prague, like we had last year, and ski for the bonus seconds instead.”
Bjoergen finished 2.2 seconds back in second place.
“My tactic was to stay behind the Finish girls. At 2 km I was behind them and could ski a very good race. I had really good skis today, especially in the up hills. The skate sprint is good for me so I hope I can get some bonus seconds and have a good race. My goal is to be on the podium for the Tour.”
Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) finished third, an excellent performance for the skier who prefers the classic technique. She started the day in third and turned in the 4th fastest time of the day, behind Kuitunen, Bjoergen, and Saarinen. She is now 6.2 seconds in back of Kuitunen overall.
“It was a fast start of the Finish and it was a hard race for me. I do not remember anything from the last 3 km. Tomorrow will be very hard for me, but I will fight for a good position.”
Overall there was much less turnover than in the men’s race. Therese Johaug (NOR) moved up 13 places, from 26th to 13th. Her teammate, Kristin Stoermer Steira matched the improvement, climbing from 29th to 16th.
Sara Renner of Canada started the day in 14th place, and improved one place to sit in 13th heading into tomorrow’s sprint. Renner’s 10km time was the 14th fastest.
“The pace was fast right off the beginning for me today and I was in the top-10 for the first two loops, but then had no legs for the third lap. I fought really hard today,” said Renner after day two of the nine-day grind. “As an athlete, you have to give it your best effort out here everyday and can’t leave anything out there. I hope to find my sprinting legs for tomorrow.”
Renner is returning for her first full season on the World Cup after taking the post-Olympic year off to have daughter Aria. The five-time World Cup medallist skied a condensed schedule last year as part of her road back into elite racing form.
“I am getting close to my Torino shape but feel I have another step to go to get there,” said Renner, who is enjoying the thrill of racing against the world’s best athletes again. “I have a whole knew perspective and enjoyment for life on the road now, and appreciate the opportunity to have another shot at this.”
Racing continues tomorrow with a skate sprint in Prague, Czech Republic.
|SAARINEN Aino- Kaisa
|SACHENBACHER -STEHLE Evi