Falun, Sweden – For the second time in a week, the Norwegian women swept the World Cup podium, with Marit Bjoergen, Kristin Stoermer Steira, and Therese Johaug taking the top three spots.
Kikkan Randall (USA) had a career-best distance finish of 14th in the 10km pursuit event.
The impressive Norwegain trio finished in the same order seven days ago in Oslo in the 30km mass start. In that race they broke away relatively early and held position to the finish. Today Bjoergen and Steira got away not long after the transition to skate, and once again battled each other to the line.
Johaug came in 33.6 seconds later at the head of the chase pack.
The relatively short mass start event meant a large pack for the first portion of the race. At the halfway mark, the first 31 skiers were all within 22 seconds of the lead. But Bjoergen and Steira broke things up not long after with a strong move.
By 7.8 kilometers, the pair was 24 seconds clear, and Johaug, along with Riitta-Liisa Roponen (FIN), was 16 seconds in front of the next group.
“After yesterday’s race it is great to be back on the podium,” said Steira. “It was not our day yesterday and we had very bad skis. However, today’s equipment was excellent and it helped me a lot. My strategy was to stick on Marit and help her to create a gap for the victory.”
Added Bjoergen, “I am little bit tired but my body shape was very good. The skating leg was good.”
Randall was in the mix for the whole race, finishing just 52 seconds behind Bjoergen, and less than 20 seconds off the podium. She edged Anna Olsson, who won the Stockholm sprint on Wednesday, in a photo finish for 14th place, besting her previous best distance result of 18th.
Randall battled in the main group the entire race and finished in the large pack, 6.5 seconds behins Evi Sachenbacher Stehle (GER) in 5th.
Overall World Cup leader Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) struggled to 12th today, allowing Bjoergen to take over the World Cup Final lead.
Bjoergen is very confident heading into the final competition. “Tomorrow I will start with a 50 second advantage. It will not be easy for Justyna to catch me. If she succeeds, I believe I will be faster in the finish. Tomorrow it’s my 30th birthday and I think I am in best shape and best years of my career.”
Olsson is 3rd in the overall Finals standings, 1:44 behind Bjoergen. Her teammate, Charlotte Kalla is just a 3 seconds back in 4th with Steria right on her heels.
Randall moved up to 16th overall and is closely packed with a number of other skiers.
The World Cup Final and the 2010 World Cup season comes to a close tomorrow with the handicap start freestyle race. Kowalczyk has secured the overall World Cup title, and barring a major mishap, Bjoergen will pass Petra Majdic (SLO) to take second.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.