Oberhof, Germany – Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) took over the 2010 Tour de Ski lead with a strong performance in the women’s 10km classic pursuit.
Starting in 3rd, 16 seconds behind Petra Majdic (SLO), Kowalczyk quickly closed the gap. She, Majdic, and Natalia Korosteleva (RUS) formed a lead group of three that skied alone for the first four kilometers. By the 6k mark, Korosteleva had fallen off the pace, and Aino Kaisa Saarinen (FIN) was closing on the leaders.
By the three-quarters mark, the face of the race changed dramtically – with one constant – Kowalczyk. Majdic, struggling with slippery skis, and a tough race in general, could not maintain the pace. Saarinen, along with Norwegian Kristin Stoermer Steira, and Italian Arianna Follis gained contact with Kowalczyk, setting up the final rankings.
Kowalczyk proved the strongest in the finish push, taking the win 2.8 seconds ahead of Saarinen, and 5.7 in front of Steira. Follis held onto 4th, but slipped nearly 30 seconds back.
Majdic struggled to a 10th place finish, 35.7 seconds down on Kowalczyk. At the post-race press conference, she good-naturedly referred to her race as s**t.
“On the first hill, I knew I would have problems. The whole first lap I had to fight to keep my upper body in the right position. I tried to stay with Justyna, and was fighting hard, but on the third lap, my skis just stopped working and I had to go out of the tracks almost all the time.”
She continued, “I had fast skis on the downhills, but nothing on the uphills. It happens though.”
When asked about tomorrow’s sprint, the tall Slovenian said “I will try to take the red [leader’s bib], but Kowalczyk is always Kowalczyk.”
Despite her victory, Kowalczyk did not feel great. “It was not an easy race for me today. The first half of the competition I did not feel well. I felt tired and could not get my pace. When I heard that Saarinen is 10 seconds behind, 5 seconds it was difficult.”
She isn’t willing to look too far ahead, focusing on tomorrow’s sprint. An excellent climber she is less excited about the sprint in Prague.
“I would rather skip sprint in Prague as I like long big uphills. I know there is new course in Prague which is not so flat as last year, but the hill is still quite small. But hopefully I will fight Petra again.”
Sarah Renner (CAN) finished 21st, skiing up from 27th, with the 22nd fastest time.
– Finland placed four skiers in the top-13 with Virpi Kuitunen in 4th, Pirjo Murnanen in 11th and Riita-Liisa Roponen in 13th.
– The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place finsihers today had the top three individual times for the race – Saarinen, Steira, and Kuitunen.
– The youngest skier in the race was 19-year-old Lisa Laresen (SWE). She is in 54th.
– The oldest? Both Sabina Valbusa (ITA) and Olga Savialova (RUS) are 37-years-old.
– 19-year-old Miriam Goessner (GER) who was a member of the silver medal relay team at last year’s World Championships, did not start today. She was 5th in yesterday’s prologue. Goessner is a standout biathlete, and makes that sport her priority.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.