Even though we saw a great performance from Kowalczyk and some more magical moments from Northug, today’s races were highlighted by the Finnish skiers in my eyes. They skied hard and with intention. Sure, they didn’t win the race, but they sure changed how the results list looked with their intentions out on the course. While Saarinen and Heikkinen stand out, there were also great efforts from Kuitunen, Jauhojaervi, and Nousiainen. Nousianen’s effort will go un-noted for the most part as he ended up 24th; however, he was at the front of the chase pack and pushing the pack with a little over 1km left in the race chasing down Heikkinen and Vylegzhanin. The Fins managed to put four racers in the top 14 of the women’s race and if you watched the races, you’d have to say they deserve it.
Kowalcyzk’s skiing today was typical for the Pole, put on the hard hat and grind out the result (and prove me wrong along the way). She was on a mission today and pushed the pace as soon as she got to the front of the race and continued to inflict pain on the others. She make quick work of her deficit and with in there was a lead pack of 3 Majdic, Kowalczyk, and Korosteleva by 1.5km. The three looked comfortable enough but with the chase pack gaining on the leaders, Kowalczyk began to turn the screw at 4km and Korosteleva was dropped to the approaching chase pack lead by the Fins Kuitunen and Saarinen.
The lead pack became 5 (Kowalczyk and Majdic joined by Saarinen, Follis, and Stormer Steira) due to some hard work from Saarinen with 4.5km left; however, with all of Saarinen’s hard work, Kowalczyk was the one that was still dictating the pace. By 7.5km, Majdic was finally dropped by the lead pack. She was able to hang on to Kowalczyk for a while, but it appeared that she was rather laboured today. In the post-race interview she explained that she had many problems today…
it was a very tough race from me. From the begining I was not feeling well. My upper body was not working properly. I noticed that in the first uphill. I had also problems with my technique. Paticularly to race straight and keep my head up. When Justyna caught me I was fighting a lot to stick to her. I managed this in first two laps. The 3rd one was over my possibilities today. I had to stay behind. To race against Justyna it is always dificult. My waxing team is the best but even them they make small mistakes and I could not rely on my skis in the uphills…
With 1.5km left Follis showed signs of weakness and started to tail off the lead group which was reduced to Kowalczyk, Saarinen, and Størmer Steira. With only a kilometer left, Kowalczyk put in a decsive kick over the top of the final hill and gained a 10m gap over the Fin and Norwegian going down into the stadium. She was able to keep that minimal lead into the straight stretch and it was enough to ensure her the victory.
1. Justyna Kowalczyk
2. Aino-Kaisa Saarinen
3. Kristin Størmer Steira
Notes: There were strong races from Marianna Longa who started in 35th today but finished in 9th and Kuitunen seems to have found her legs again as she posted a very good race and now sits in 4th overall. On the Canadian front, Renner had a great race today and moved up to 21st overall.
With so many athletes starting so close together, today’s race was more a mass start than a pursuit. Northug was caught by the the rest of the pack at the 3km mark and did what he does in mass start format; settles into the pack and goes along for the ride. Teichmann and Bauer came to the front of the pack and dicatated the pace. It seemed a little too leisure (relatively) as the pack bunched up with the top 60 within 25 seconds of each other. It looked as though the same old story was going to be written again, but something happened which we first saw by Alex Harvey in Trondhiem last year, a breakaway from the pack by Matti Heikkinen.
It’s seems the athletes are finally catching on that they can’t afford to wait for the final sprint because they’ll most likely lose to Northug. The small Fin broke away from the pack around 6.5km and opened up a decent lead. It was up to 14 seconds at the halfway point of the race. It seemed that there was some anxiety in the pack as we saw the likes of Emil Jönsson sift to the front of the chase pack and start to keep Heikkinen in check.
Heikkinen’s worked seemed to have some reward as the main group was broken down from 60 to 25-30 by 11km. The pack was slowly reeling in Heikkinen but going up the hill to the 13.5km Vylegzhanin put in a sprint and tried to take on Heikkinen himself. The Russian naturally caught the Fin, but wasn’t able to initially shake him off. Coming into the finishing straight it was a five horse race. It looked a though Vylegzhanin might be able to hold of Northug as he came up on the Russian’s left side. It wasn’t until 10-15 meters until the finish line that Northug used the God-like double poling power to inch ahead of Vylegzhanin to once again deny the Russian of a victory. Northug only beat him by a boot or so and left it really late. I thought that Vylegzhanin had the victory, but that wasn’t the case today.
1. Petter Northug
2. Maxim Vylegzhanin
3. Matti Heikkinen
Notes: The Canadians had a great race today with Kerhsaw leading the way with a 10th place and showing no signs of the bronchitis he had over the Christmas break. Babikov also climbed the results ladder to jump 28 places to 23rd overall. Harvey is in 27th and only 32 seconds off the pace. Grey had a good start to the race but faded and now sits in 51st overall but is in good company with Jonnier right behind him and the likes of Alypov, Frasnelli and Newell right above him in the ranking. Emil Jönsson had a phenomenal race today for a sprint specialist in a 15km skate. He managed to hold his own and even take up the front of the pack a couple times and ended up in 11th place. The big movers on the men’s side were Jauhojaervi and Filbrich who moved from 64th and 62nd to 7th and 8th overall respectively.
I’ll be back later today with some in sight to tomorrow’s sprint, but for it’s time to get some eye shut.
Talk to you in a bit.