Valdidentro, Italy – Kikkan Randall (USA) posted her best result of the season, finishing sixth in the 1.4km freestyle sprint. Petra Majdic (SLO) won the event, capturing her fifth victory of the season.
On a newly created course at the Nordic Center in Vadidentro Majdic skied away from the rest of the A-final. Pirjo Muranen (FIN) was second, 2.6 seconds in back of the tall Slovenian. Local favorite Magda Genuin (ITA) rounded out the podium.
With the victory Majdic cemeted her spot at the top of the World Cup sprint rankings. With a 264 point lead over Muranen, and only 250 points left in the remaining three sprint races, Majdic is officially the overall sprint winner.
“Last year I had to fight until the end to win the Sprint World Cup,” said Majdic. “This year I got it already in the middle of the season, it is great! But I still can’t believe it. At the moment I’m skiing like I am flying. Everything is easy and everything is going well. The whole season is awesome. Everybody is asking me now about Liberec, but to be honest, I don’t think so much about it. I just enjoy skiing and I will see what comes out of it in my races in Liberec.”
The three women on the podium were also the top three in qualification, with Muranen and Majdic swapping places.
Said Muranen, “I am very satisfied with my race and I think I am in good shape for Liberec. I felt good during the race and in the A final I tried to relax and ski as well as possible. I am not afraid of Petra, but today she was the strongest and she had good skis as well – so she is the right winner.”
Randall started the day on the right note, qualifying in 10th, her best performance of the season. She was 5.17 seconds behind Muranen. But Randall was unwilling to settle for strong qualification, attacking hard in each of her heats.
“I decided to really test myself out today and took the lead from the start in both my quarterfinal and semi-final heats,” Randall said.
And the strategy worked as she advanced through a deep and talented field to reach the A-Final. 63 women competed, including just about all the big names.
In the first quarterfinal Randall took an early lead and opened a gap with a strong attack on the big climb. Top qualifier Muranen was able to close and take the heat victory in the homestretch, but the two women were well in front of the rest of the field.
Randall applied the same strategy in her semi-final, taking the early lead and attacking on the big climb.
“In the semi-final I had another good start and took the lead leaving the stadium. Even though there was a strong headwind on parts of the course, being in the lead allowed me to control the pace and attack when I was ready. I think I was able to string out the field again over the top of the big climb and easily qualified for the A final. I was feeling better and better every round.”
And so on to the A-final, matching up with Charlotte Kalla (SWE) and Arianna Follis (ITA) as well as the eventual top-3. This time Randall was not able to get into the clear out of the start.
She describes the race, “I got boxed out around the first turn but stayed calm and waited for a moment to move up. I went wide going up the big climb and worked my way up into third. I had a chance to go into second but decided the draft would be better for the downhill. Petra is a really good glider and got away on the downhill, but Pirjo was right in front of me and I felt really good. As we went up and around a hairpin turn however, I got a little close to the inside and hit a ridge left by the groomer. It threw my weight back and after a couple desperate attempts to stay up, I lost my balance and fell down. There was a second before anyone came by, but I couldn’t get up fast enough. The rest of the field carried their momentum over the top and I was too far back to catch anyone.
“Until the fall, I was in a solid position for the podium, with a really good chance to race for second. It was a total bummer because I was still feeling really good. While a podium would have been awesome, at least I know my race shape is finally back, and that really gets me fired up for Liberec!”
With the World Championships just around the corner, this performance bodes well for Randall’s chances. She will race the 10km classic and both the individual and team sprint events in Liberec.
After becoming the first US woman to win a cross-country World Cup race last season, Randall has struggled to find her top form this year. Early in the season she suffered a streak of bad luck resulting in a number of crashes. And when she kept her her feet, she appeared to be missing the top gear necessary to challenge for the podium. All that changed today with a performance that puts the rest of the World Cup on notice that Randall is still one of the top sprinters in the world, and should be considered a legitimate contender for a medal in Liberec.
Concludes Randall, “the season up to this point has been disappointing and every weekend I’ve been waiting to feel fit and strong. Finally today, I felt ready. My biggest goal going into this season was to go after a world championship medal and now I feel confident that I will be ready for that challenge.”
While Randall was the only North American to advance to the heats, she was joined in the race by a number of others.
Daria Gaiazova led Canada in 39th place, 1.5 seconds out of the top 30. She was closely followed by Laura Valaas (USA) and Shayla Swanson (CAN) in 43rd. Morgan Smyth (USA) was 49th, Perianne Jones (CAN) 52nd, Liz Stephen (USA) 57th.
Former DU and US SuperTour Champion Karin Camenisch (SUI) claimed the final spot in the heats by .04 seconds. Camenisch was eliminated in the quarterfinals, moving up to 25th.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.