Kuusamo, Finland – Aino Kaisa Saarinen (FIN) skied to a convincing 13 second win in the women’s 10km classic. Her last World Cup victory came exactly a year ago in this same event.
Saarinen led the overall World Cup for a good portion of the season last year, before stumbling down the stretch, and finishing third She is off to a good start this year, and is back in the driver’s seat. Skiing before a home crowd, Saarinen didn’t take the lead until the 7km mark, dropping Russian Irina Khazova to second. Over the final two kilometers, Saarinen put 11 seconds on the Russian, and claimed her third career World Cup victory.
“I felt really good during the entire race,” said Saarinen. “Our waxing staff did a great job as usual in Kuusamo. I’m very happy with my race and happy that so many friends where here supporting me.”
For the 25-year-old Khazova, this was the first time on the World Cup podium. Her previous best was a 10th last weekend in Beitostolen.
Third place went to Norwegian Vibeke Skofterud, one of the early leaders. Winning at 3.1km, Skofterud slipped briefly to 4th, before bringing it home, 1.6 seconds out of 2nd,f or her second top-5 result of the young 2010 season. Skofterud was dropped from the National Team, but appears to have regained her form.
“We have tough tracks here and demanding downhills, that fits me. I changed my training a lot because my goal was to to make it back onto the National Team this year. I trained on my own with my own coach and it has worked out well.”
This was Skofterud’s first podium finish in two years.
Marianna Longa (ITA) was 4th, 8 seconds off the podium.
Kikkan Randall (USA) posted the best distance result of her World Cup career, finishing 18th, a 30 point race. Randall was less than three seconds out of 14th, and 26 seconds from the top-10.
Like Kris Freeman in the men’s race, Randall paced well, starting conservatively, and hammering the last 5km. At 3.1km she was in 30th, and at 8.1, she was still only 23rd.
“Yesterday was a real disappointment for Kikkan. She had been preparing so well and has obviously made huge progress in the classic sprint and it just didn’t go well,” USST Head Coach Pete Vordenberg said. “So she was really looking for redemption today and came through with her best distance race ever. She paced it really well.”
Randall’s previous best result was a 21st in the 10km skate last week in Beitostolen. Her top points race prior to today was a 43 point effort in this even a year ago.
Liz Stephen placed 59th and Morgan Arritola 70th for the US.
“The younger girls, Liz and Morgan, are just continuing to add more and more strength and get more races under their belts,” Vordenberg said.
Both Stephen and Arritola finished strong, moving up several places in the last 3 kilometers.
The Canadian women were unable to salvage the weekend for the team. Sara Renner, after difficult travel to get to Finland, finished 39th. Sprinter Chandra Crawford was 64th.
Crawford may have been one of the bright spots for Canada on Sunday despite her final result. A sprinting specialist, who has not raced in more than a year, team officials are working on her conditioning.
“We need to get Chandra some harder aerobic conditioning and I think she was a positive for us today,” said Team Leader Dave Wood. “It takes time but her shape is coming. Even sprinting events are aerobic and we need to build that up with her.”
Kristina Strandberg (SWE) of XC Oregon finished just behind Arritola in 71st.
Russia placed three skiers in the top-10, the best of any country.
Favorites Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) and Petra Majdic (SLO) finished 7th and 6th respectively.
Racing continues next weekend in Germany. Many athletes are expected to skip the sprint weekend, and focus on training in Davos, Switzerland.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.