Oslo, Norway – Norway may be taking criticism for a lack of depth on the men’s distance team. Behind Petter Northug, the talent is considered “mediocre,” which means in Norwegian terms that there is no one else who can consistently place in the top-10.
The women, on the other hand, have held up their side of things, today turning in a dominating performance to sweep that podium in the historic Holmenkollen 30k.
The freestyle race was missing just two top skiers who could have broken up the Norwegian trio at the top – Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) and Virpi Kuitunen (FIN).
Bjoergen broke away with in the last 500 meters to claim her third consecutive World Cup win since the Olympics – and fourth if you count the relay in Lahti. She was followed across the line by teammates Kristin Stoermer Steira and Therese Johaug, both of whom won Olympic medals in the relay, and have skied very well since the beginning of February.
The race stayed closely packed for the first 8 kilometers, before a group of 10 skiers moved off the front. The chase pack regained contact 3k later, but as is often the case, skiers began to slowly drop off the back.
At 15km the pack was just seven, and not long after Stoermer Steira attacked hard. Bjoergen and Johaug went with her, but no one else attempted to follow.
The three worked together and quickly opened up a gap. By 20k, they held a 26 second advantage on the chasers, a margin that spread to over a minute.
Stoermer Steira’s move was well timed as Charlotte Kalla (SWE), a pre-race favorite, was off the back of the pack, perhaps due to a ski change.
Kalla worked her way back up, and even made an impressive attempt to bridge the gap with less than 5k left to go. It was too little too late, but she did fracture the remnants of the pack, and skied clear to 4th place.
Bjoergen made her move before entering the stadium charging hard and dropping both Steira and Johaug. Steira was able to close back on Bjoergen entering the stadium, but the Olympic Champion’s sprint prowess was too much to overcome.
“We created a gap around 15 kilometers,” said Bjoergen. “I knew I was a slightly better sprinter than Kristin and Therese, but I was very tired on the top of the climb, and Kristin was still holding so I had to push hard all the time.”
Johaug noted that the team discussed strategy during the race, and worked together to pull off the sweep. She faded at the end, but still earned her second podium of the season, both coming in the last week.
“On the last uphill I was really exhausted but it was so fun to race with these girls,” she said.
The Norwegians opted to change skis early on, a move Steira credited as an element of their success.
“We made a clever choice with our service staff after first round. We had better skis than those who did not change, and glide was just great.”
Bonus World Cup points were awarded three times during the race. The Norwegian triumvirate claimed all but 15 – Riitta-Liisa Roponen (FIN) won the first intermediate sprint at 8k.
Despite Bjoergen picking up another 110 World Cup pints, Kowalczyk is officially the winner of the overall World Cup for the second year running.
Bjoergen, focusing on the Olympics, skipped the Tour de Ski and several other World Cup weekends, taking her out of the running. She does still have a shot a 2nd, with Petra Majdic (SLO) done for the season.
Bjoergen was also awarded the prestigious Holmenkollen medal, given to the top skier in Norway. The medal is not given every year, and was lasted presented three years ago.
“Marit Bjørgen was awarded the medal for her success over time and her ability to fight her way back to top form after…The award has not been given out every year, but this year it is awarded to a very worthy candidate,” said chairman of the Norwegian Ski Association, Ole Anker-Rasch.
Racing continues in Oslo on Sunday with a freestyle sprint.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.