Veteran Claudia Nystad (GER) won the Women’s 2.8km Freestyle Prologue to kick off the third FIS Tour de Ski.
Nystad, a two-time Olympian and holder of three Olympic medals, edged out Italy’s Arianna Follis by 1.1 seconds on a foggy day in Oberhof, Germany. She trailed Follis by 1.4 seconds at the intermediate time check at 1.3 kilometers, but finished strong to claim the victory.
The 30-year old German was sixth in last year’s Tour and her consistent performances coupled with a strong start today make her a legitimate threat for another top-10 finish this year.
“When you win you always feel good! The plan was to not ski to fast in the beginning,” said Nystad. “But I heard directly that I was fast. It for sure helped that I am at home, we have tests here twice a year so I know the hill very well. Tomorrow it is a hard a tough race, and I will do my best. The biggest goal for me is to stay healthy; I desperately want to finish the Tour de Ski”
Follis is looking to improve upon her third place finish in last year’s Tour where she was less than a minute in back of winner Charlotte Kalla (SWE).
Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) and Petra Majdic (SLO) tied for third in the individual start prologue, +2.3 seconds and 5.3 seconds ahead of Marit Bjoergen (NOR) in fifth.
Said Majdic, “free technique is good for me, it is an amazing start of the season, and in four starts I have three podiums. The race was too flat and too fast for me, but I am really satisfied, I had some problems in the last little uphill, but still I am third! My goal with the Tour de Ski is to finish top ten; I must fight every race with the other ladies.”
Added Kowalzcyk, “The track was not so good for me, skating is number two for me, I am best in the classic races. My goal in the Tour de Ski is to be better than last year when I finished 7th.”
This is a good start for both Kowalczyk and Majdic. Majdic, a somewhat stronger classic skier, should benefit from the predominance of that technique in distance events. Kowalczyk, on the other hand, favors freestyle, and will need to continue to post top results in the freestyle sprints to remain in the running.
Reaching the podium is especially important as bonus seconds are awarded to the top three. Nystad ends the day with the Tour Leader’s Bib and a 15 second bonus. Follis gets 10 bonus seconds, and Kowalczyk and Majdic both get 5.
This gives Nystad a 6.1 second overall lead over Follis. Kowalczyk and Majdic are 12.3 seconds back, and Bjoergen 22.6. Tomorrow’s 10km classic pursuit will be based on these overall standings.
Conditions were relatively firm with temperatures around 20F.
In addition to Bjoergen, Tour favorites Virpi Kuitunen and Aino-Kaisa Saarinen, both of Finland, finished 7th and 8th respectively, just under 10 seconds back. Teammate Pirjo Muranen finished 6th to give Finland an impressive three in the top 10.
Canada’s Sara Renner started her Tour off on a strong note, finishing 14th, +16.4 seconds. She now sits 31.4 seconds in back of Nystad in the overall standings. Renner skied a consistent race, moving up throughout. She ranked 20th at the 1.3km mark.
“Santa gave me a cold for Christmas and I spent most of the week in bed so it was a really good result,” said Renner, who added that she thinks the Tour de Ski format is ideal for North American skiers with a number of events in a concentrated period of time. “You have to be in energy conservation mode all the time except when you are racing and focus on your best events. The 10 K classic is one of my strongest events so I am really looking forward to tomorrow.”
19-year old Norweigan Marthe Kristoffersen crashed badly, breaking a ski, and finished 49th out of 51 skiers, +51.2. She completed the race on one ski and is now in a significant hole. Watch video of the crash from Norweigan television here. Kristofferesen was off to an excellent start, tied for 6th at the 1.3km intermediate point with all skiers through.
|8||51||1255665||SAARINEN Aino- Kaisa||1979||FIN||6:26.8|