Rogla, Slovenia – Marit Bjoergen (NOR) won her first World Cup sprint since 2006, defeating Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) on a snowy day in Slovenia.
Kowalczyk had the upper hand in qualification, posting the fastest time, 1.5 seconds up on Evgenia Shapovalova (RUS), and 3.5 ahead of Lina Andersen (SWE) in third.
But Bjoergen, who qualified 4th, won when it counted, capturing her second sprint podium of the season.
“I’m happy with my victory today,” said Bjoergen. It was 5 years ago when I last won a classical Sprint. It was a tactical race today and I managed it well. The sprint course was one of the longest and very demanding.”
The victory moved the Norwegian star into the overall World Cup lead, 30 points ahead of Petra Majdic (SLO). Majdic was 3rd today.
“I’m happy to be in yellow [World Cup leader’s bib] before Christmas. I will go home after this weekend and prepare for the season highlight – the Olympics. I will not compete in the Tour de Ski, so my next World Cup race is in Otepää.”
Kowalczyk was satisfied with second, saying, “It is superb to be on the podium. It was a nice tough race – the track was demanding not only because of the profile but also due to snow conditions and the strong wind in the open areas.”
Majdic, racing a World Cup on her home soil for the first time every was thrilled with the day.
“I am excited about my place here in Rogla! Before the race I was hoping for top 10 and now I am on podium, which is great. Sprint is always very tricky. You have to ski smart, tactically correct and of course fast – which is sometimes hard to combine.
“There were many fans supporting me and I did not want to disapoint them. ”
She needed to dig deep in the finals, moving up after a slow start. “The finals were very dificult for me. Right after the start I was at the last position and I had to laways catch up the rest of the field. I had to fight really hard until the last uphill.”
Kikkan Randall (USA) was 38th, over three seconds out of the heats.
“Unfortunately I didn’t have the speed to qualify today, I ended up 38th, a few seconds out of the top 30. It’s disappointing to miss out on another chance to ski in the classic sprint heats, but I just haven’t found my classic sprinting form yet,” Randall told FasterSkier.
“This was one of the more challenging sprint qualifiers I have ever raced. It was –16 C when we woke up this morning (I think it warmed up a bit before the start), it was snowing, they just groomed the course 45 minutes before start so the tracks were really soft, it was windy, and the course was over four minutes long.”
“She said she felt a little flat,” said USST Coach Justin Wadsworth. “And when Kikkan says she is a bit flat, she tends to be pretty far off the pace, and on a course like this, if you are off, there will be a lot of distance skiers getting in ahead of you.”
But Randall will have a chance for redemption tomorrow when she will start the 15km mass start. “Conditions are predicted to be the same as today so it’s going to be challenging. I am looking forward to the chance to race head to head in a distance race!”
And she was happy to see teammates Andy Newell and Kris Freeman have strong days. “It was great to see Andy ski so well. He dominated the qualifier and skied really strong in the rounds. The distance skiers had just a little more gas in the final, but Andy was in there the whole way. Freeman was impressive as well, just narrowly missing the top 30.”
Sara Renner (CAN) finished one place ahead of Randall, leading the Canadian team. She was two seconds out of qualifying. Teammate Chandra Crawford, was back in 55th. Crawford prefers freestyle sprints, and has been performing better in shorter races.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.