The biggest theme in todays races was the amount of bonus seconds up for the athletes to gain to increase their lead or decrease their deficit on the other athletes. The women were skiing 10km with three intermediate sprints while the men were doing 20km with six opportunities to grab bonus seconds. Five more women dropped the Tour while seven more men exited including George Grey who abandoned the Tour due to re-aggravating an old lower lack injury after crashing in the 10km race.
A quick pace from the start caught the field out and a lead pack of four…Majdic, Kowalczyk, and Størmer-Steira with Saarinen in no-mans land between the leaders and the ensuing chase group. At the end of the first lap, the first set of bonus seconds were up for grabs and Majdic grabbed then with quite some ease. The 3.3km mark saw a substantial gap open up of 15 seconds from the lead three to a chase group that consisted of the majority of the rest of the field.
Over the next kilometer a combination of the lead three slowing down and some smart skiing from the main pack saw the two merge to one big group once again. The charge to catch up was led by Longa and to a lesser extent Renner. The second set of bonus seconds was dominated by Majdic again but this Sidko got into the mix and took 10 bonus seconds with Kowalczyk picking up the remaining five seconds.
The last lap was frantic as the main group split into a lead pack of four (Majdic, Kowalczyk, Størmer-Steira, and Savialova) and a the main group that desperately tried to keep pace. On the big downhill before the final short up-hill. The pack seemed to re-coil and were once again all together madly fighting for the final 300 meters. The final sprint was madness and Majdic had to out-lunge the Kazakhstan skier Elena Kolomina (What?!) by a boot and a half for the win. Marianna Longa just did enough to hold of top Fin of the day Riikka Sarasoja. It was a great result for Sweden’s Britta Johansson Norgren who ended up in sixth.
1. Petra Majdic
2. Elena Kolomina
3. Marianna Longa
Notes: Not only did Majdic win the race on waxless skis in dominating fashion, but her biggest rivals gave up some precious time. Størmer-Steira’s lack of sprinting prowess as she slipped to 18th in the final 300m while Kowalczyk was uncharacteristically not in the fight at the end and ended up 23rd and 15.5 seconds behind the Slovenian. Aino Kaisa Saarinen was the biggest surprise as she dropped off the pace early on and finished in 28th, almost half a minute off the pace. A huge blow was dealt to the Norwegian women’s side as Vibeke Skofterud was disqualified today as the jury claimed that she skated too much in today’s race. I’m sure the Norwegian team will be furious at the verdict and it’s unclear yet if any further action will be taken to appeal the decision.
The men’s race surrounded one thing: the intermediate sprints. The start of the race was led out by Gaillard and he had a say in the first round of sprint bonuses as he was second and collect 10 crucial seconds. Østensen collected the full amount while Bauer was third.
There were some big team tactics from Sundby and Northug in the second round to sprint bonuses. After capturing the seconds, Northug gave Sundby a “pound” for his good work. All three Canadians were looking strong and traveling in the same main pack when Northug, Sundby and Baurer were swallowed up after their efforts.
The next round of sprint bonuses at 10km saw Bauer, Northug and Babikov break open a big lead over the rest of the field and passed the time check 22.5 seconds ahead of the next skier. Northug confidently and cockily took the point by pulling up beside Bauer and looked at him while doing just enough to “lunge” him at the line to get the 15 seconds. The trio set out of the stadium, but the pace was too much for Babkikov and he sank back into no-mans land and by 11.6km he was 15 seconds behind the lead two but 10 seconds ahead of the chase pack.
With only Bauer and Northug contesting for the maximum you knew who was going to take the next 15 bonus seconds and Bauer knew too. The pace didn’t increase at all and Northug pulled out from behind Bauer with 30 meters left and a couple poles later pulled ahead of the Czech skier. Going out of the stadium, Northug tucked back in behind Bauer and they started back out of the stadium. Northug finally cracked near the top of the big climb out of the stadium and Bauer was able to open up an impressive 19 second lead. It was quite evident that Northug’s wax was failing him and he was stuck in no-mans land.
At the penultimate sprint bonus, Bauer took the 15 with Northug and Cologna collecting the 10 and 5 seconds respectively. Bauer had also increased his lead at the 16.6km mark to 22 seconds on Northug and 42 seconds on the rest of the pack. With only 1.7km remaining, Bauer had secured the victory and was now 40 seconds up on Northug. The pack was breathing down the Norwegian’s neck as they had closed to within six seconds and were going in for the kill. While Bauer wanted to maximize the damage, Northug was desperately trying to keep the pack off so he could capture the last 10 bonus seconds. Northug was caught by Teichmann and
Cologna but was able to hold them off as he took second place while Teichmann took the bronze for the day.
With all the sprint bonuses collected by Bauer and Northug, the Norwegian only came out 10 seconds on top. Due to Bauer’s strong performance, Northug actually lost 21 seconds overall to the Czech skier today. Tomorrow will be very exciting as Bauer only sits 8.3 seconds back of Northug.
1. Lukas Bauer
2. Petter Northug
3. Axel Teichmann
Canada Watch: With Grey out of the Tour, it only left Babikov, Harvey, and Kershaw. Babikov was very strong early on and even got into some sprint bonuses but quickly slipped back into the chase group as the pace that Bauer and Northug set was too fast. He eventually cross the finish line in 25th and 1:38 back of Bauer. Kershaw had a disaster-free race and finished in 22nd while Harvey continued to go about business quietly and ended up a very respectable 13th.
Talk to you later.