Today saw the start of the distance races with the first point A to B race of the Tour. It was pursuit style so there were expectations of great battles and tactics on the course. The results of this race would determine the overall classification of the Tour. Simple concept: win the race and you become the Tour leader.
From the very near the beginning, it was a lead pack of five consisting of Hellner, Northug, Teichmann, Østensen, and Cologna. A chase group of three formed including Kershaw, Heikkinen and Gaillard. Shortly after starting up the climb after the 12.7km check point, Østensen began to struggle with the pace and was subsequently dropped from the lead pack.
At the Ospitale time check at 12.7km, the top four were still together with Heikkinen and Gaillard still gaining only 19 seconds back while Kershaw and Østensen were finding it hard to hang on to the Fin and Frenchman. While the likes of Angerer, Jauhojärvi, and Harvey were loosing a lot of time (1:18, 1:55, and 1:49) to the leaders and slipping down the leaderboard, Babikov was making rapid gains as he hopped from 26th to 16th gaining 37 seconds. By about the 15km mark, the Heikkinen and Gaillard caught the leaders and that group grew to six strong. While the old chase group splintered, the new one had taken shape with 11 skiers who was about 40 seconds back at the next time check, but slowly gaining on the leaders.
It was the same standings at the 23.2km time check for the top 18 while everyone else was losing more and more time. The same came be said at 27.2km. It was like they were figurines traveling down the track at the same speed from 12 to 32 kms. Rather boring for the spectator.
Just after the 32.8km check, things started to get interesting. It seems that the athletes have wizened up to Northug’s tactics and with about 3km left, Hellner thought it was go time. He broke the pack into only three will Northug and Cologna able to hang on. Coming into the home striaght Hellner, Cologna, and Northug were three abreast, and you knew the inevitable was going to happen…again. Northug put in a 100m sprint and eased to the victory with Cologna in second and Hellner in third. The other race was with the main chase pack as they came fast and furious across the line with Curdin Perl having a great race ending in 7th. The fastest time of the day had to go to Babikov who gained 1:12 and 25 places which puts him right into contention being 37 seconds down in 9th overall.
1. Petter Northug
2. Dario Cologna
3. Marcus Hellner
Notes: Today saw 20 more men drop out of the Tour, most of them were sprint specialists. Notables included those mentioned in yesterdays blog and Newell, Fredriksson, Kozisek, Pasini, Strandvall, and Lassila. That leaves the men’s field with 62 strong out of the 88 that started back in Oberhof. The Canadians had another great day with Babikov leading the way. After Kershaw’s strong start, he failed to stick with Heikkinen and Gaillard and fell back what eventually became the main pack. He looked much more comfortable there and was able to ski a very good race, ending up in 17th only 48 seconds off the lead. Harvey also had a good race and now sits in 21st. After a couple poor races, George Grey make a huge jump today, going from 55th to 34th overall.
The start of the race saw Saarinen hold a very comfortable 25 second lead over Kowalczyk and almost 30 seconds on Majdic. Shortly into the race, Kowalczyk, Majdic, and Follis clumped up and had the same mind-set; chase down Aino-Kaisa Saarinen. They worked very efficiently as a threesome and soon enough they had caught the leader at around the 5km mark. Shortly after becoming a foursome, Majdic attacked but ultimately amounting to nothing as the others reeled here in.
Not much happened for a while with the athletes taking turn leading and controlling the pace. About 2.5km from the finish, the fun began with Majdic attacking again. This time she was successful and opened up a 20-30 meter gap on the others. However, it was too early as Majdic lost what she gained on the final hill coming into the stadium as Follis and Kowalczyk swallowed up her advantage. Follis overtook Majdic for the victory while Kowalczyk challenged the Slovakian for the second place but ended up in third. Saarinen was unable to hang on and she now sits 27.6 seconds adrift of the lead.
1. Arianna Follis
2. Petra Majdic
3. Justyna Kowalczyk
Notes: Like the men, more sprint specialists dropped the Tour in favour of training. Those included Prochzkova, Ingemarsdotter, Brodin, and those mentioned in yesterday’s blog sans Johaug. She is still in the Tour despite me reading an article incorrectly. For Canada, Renner had another good race as she gained six positions to 23rd overall.