Virpi Kuitunen (FIN) skied to an 18 second victory over teammate Aino-Kaisa Saarinen (FIN)in the 10km individual start classic race in Davos, Switzerland.
Kuitunen, the defending World Cup Champion, extended her lead from .6 seconds at the 6.8km mark with an impressive final push. This was her first victory of the season.
â€œI like the place here. It is my fourth victory here and it seems to fit me well. I tried to focus on the whole course and to put the energy on the right places and not lose too much at the beginning,” said the victor.
Saarinen, who leads the World Cup, ahead of Kuitunen, continued her strong start to the season. She has placed 1st, 2nd and 2nd in her last three races and has not finished outside the top five. She started fast, holding a 7 second lead over Kuitunen at 1.8km, but the gap closed as the race progressed.
â€œMaybe I was too fast at the beginning, towards the end I lost some energy. The race was tough but I’m satisfied with my second place. I will continue to fight to keep the yellow bib and hope for a podium spot in the Tour de Ski.”
Marit Bjoergen (NOR) finished third, moving up steadily throughout the race after a slow start – 16th at 1.8km and 6th at 6.8km. She crossed the line 46.7 seconds behind Kuitunen and just 3 seconds ahead of fourth place finisher Justyna Kowalczyk (POL).
“I was slow at the beginning but then I came faster and faster,” said Bjoergen. “The tracks are great here but it is not easy to ski in this altitude. I will compete tomorrow in the sprint race and then prepare me for the next races in the Tour de Ski.”
Kowalczyk was just able to hold off another Norweigan, Kristin Stoermer-Steira by half a second. The Polish star was also able to maintain her third ranking on the overall World Cup, but now only leads Bjoergen by 7 points. Steira won the mass start last weekend in La Clusaz in dominating fashion.
The top seven finishers in todays race hold 7 of the the top 8 places in the overall rankings. The one exception was Charlotte Kalla (SWE), who struggled to 24th.
Sara Renner of Canada posted her best individual World Cup result since 2006, placing ninth in an excellent performance. Just off the plane from Canada, Renner finished 17th last weekend. She improved on that today, skiing a similar race to Bjoergen, starting slowly and accelerating throughout.
â€œToday I focused on relaxing off the start and skiing big and strong, and I am happy I was able to do that,â€ said the 32-year-old Canmore, Alta. native, who has racked up five World Cup medals and one Olympic medal in her 13-year career. â€œThe next thing is now to get aggressive. I know I’m close again to the podium and that is so exciting.â€
With her father, daughter and nanny cheering alongside the Davos course, Renner clocked a time of 31 minutes 07.2 seconds.
â€œI am a different athlete now and I feel I have few opportunities to race with my family there with me so I really want to take advantage of those,â€ said Renner. â€œIt felt a little like home out here today. We have spent so much time here in Davos and it was a great day.â€
This was Renner's first individual top 10 performance since a 3rd place in the sprint in March of 2006. She also finished 2nd in the 10km Classic in Davos that same year. She missed the entire 06-07 season to have a child, and made her way back last season, consistently placing in the top 30. But today's result shows she is already at a higher level and hopefully bodes well for the run up to the 2010 Olympics.
Conditions for the race were excellent, with blue skies and temperatures in the mid 20's – perfect classic skiing.