Virpi Kuitunen (FIN) attacked early and often and picked up valuable bonus seconds on her way to the victory in the Women’s 10km Classic Mass Start in the Tour de Ski action in Val de Fiemme, Italy.
Kuitunen set a strong pace early, putting on a big push at the 1km mark and stretching out the field. She passed the first intermediate point at 3.3km in first, gaining 15 bonus seconds. She was closely followed by Petra Majdic (SLO) and teammate Aino-Kaisa Saarinen who picked up 10 and 5 bonus seconds respectively.
“The tactic was to start with full speed. In the 2nd lap I had some problems with my back and I decided to only fight for the victory and not for the bonus seconds,” said Kuitunen. “I will have some massage today. I was kind of surprised by the back problems today – the track was great and I usually do not have issues in classic.”
Justyna Kowalzcyk (POL) who started the day in 6th was the only other skier to maintain contact with the top three. Norweigan Kristina Stoermer Steira led the remainder of the field in 5th place, 13 seconds behind Kuitunen.
Majdic, who had excellent skis, took over the lead on the second lap, and claimed the 15 bonus seconds, with Kuitunen and Saarinen gaining the remaining 10 and 5. Kowalczyk could not maintain the pace and slipped back to the main pack.
As the leaders exited the stadium on the final loop, Kuitunen attacked again, retaking the lead, and pulling away from Majdic for a 13.8 second victory. Saarinen held on to third, ahead of a hard-charging Marianne Longa of Italy.
Marit Bjoergen (NOR) a contender for the overall title, struggled early, sitting in 17th at 3.3k and 15th at 6.6k, finished strong, leading the main back in and taking 5th, +33 seconds.
With the early break, the top three took all the available bonus seconds – 40 for Kuitunen, 35 for Majdic and 15 for Saarinen. With her strong performance, Kuitunen retook the overall Tour lead from Saarinen, and is now 31.7 seconds in front. Saarinen is second, 17.4 seconds ahead of the third place Majdic.
“I felt totally blessed today, when I took of my glasses before the start, my teammates could see that I did not feel very well. I normally need to start slower, but I survived the first lap. I had super good skis,” said Majdic.
“In the last lap I started a little bit slow and Virpi was strong today. For tomorrow I will try to survive and climb up the hill. I hope I will smile in the finish tomorrow.
“Overall I have had a much better Tour de Ski this year. The first year everything was new and last year I lost it in the beginning. This year I tried to focus race by race.”
Majdic took over the Tour Sprint ranking lead from Saarinen. No Sprint seconds will be awarded tomorrow, so if Majdic finishes the race, she will win the Sprint title.
Bjoergen is most likely out of contention for the overall victory as she is now +1:36.2. Reaching the podium, however, is not out of the question. She will start tomorrow’s Final Climb 47 seconds behind Majdic, and is a stronger freestyle distance skier than the tall Slovenian.
Kowalczyk needed a strong performance today in order to challenge for the podium. She finished 15th and is not in a good position entering the final event. She is a strong classic skier and it would not be surprising to see her slip further in the standings. She is currently 6th overall with excellent skater Arianna Follis (ITA) just 11.4 seconds behind.
Sara Renner of Canada continued her consistent skiing, finishing 12th. In distance races (including the prologue), Renner has finished 14th, 14th, 11th and 12th, while in the sprints she has been 23rd in both events. She is now 12 overall and within striking distance of the top-10. Therese Johaug (NOR) is less than 2 seconds ahead in 11th and is not as strong a skater as Renner. Riita-Liisa Roponen (FIN) is 10th, 5.1 seconds ahead of the lone Canadian woman in the Tour.
“Sara keeps trucking along, is upbeat and positive and consistently good,” said Dave Wood, team leader, Canadian National Ski Team. “She is working hard and is very close to her old level.”
Renner will have a number of strong skiers starting behind, the closes being Steira of Norway, 21.3 seconds back.
Last year proved that much can change on the last day of the Tour de Ski. Kuitunen started the day with a 40 second lead on Charlotte Kalla (SWE). She maintained most of the cushion throughout early rolling section of the course before Kalla gobbled her up and skied away for the victory.