The Tour de Barents, a “mini-tour” modeled on the Tour de Ski is halfway done with a small, but elite field battling for the overall title. The event consists of four races in the Barents region of northern Nroway and Finland.
Racing action began on Wednesday with a 5/10km individual start classic race. Finnish World Cup star Sami Jauhojärvi (FIN) skied to an impressive win in the men’s race, besting fellow Finn Mikko Koutaniemi by over a minute. Frenchman Jean Marc Gaillard was 3.3 seconds behind Koutaniemi in 3rd.
Tour de Ski champion Lukas Bauer (CZE) finished 4th and Norwegain Odd-Bjoern Hjelmesset was 7th. A total of 17 skiers started the race, mostly Finns.
In the women’s 5km race, Riitta-Liisa Roponen (FIN) posted a 15 second victory over Norwegian Kristin Stoermer Steira. Pirjo Murnanen (FIN) took 3rd, just .3 seconds behind Steira. Katerina Smutna (AUT) was 4th, +40.5.
“I’m happy with second place, but I was a little heavy on the last lap,” said Steira. “Roponen seems strong enough for the overall victory after today’s demonstration. But it was incredibly fun to be racing so close to home . There were lots of spectators and the atmosphere was phenomenal.”
On Thursday Tour participants took on a 10/15km freestyle mass start.
Roponen and Steira quickly skied away from the field, opening a 15 second gap by the 2.5km mark and ultimately cruising to a 52 seconds gap. Roponen took the victory in a tight finish battle, edging Steira by .2 seconds.
Kamila Rajdlova (CZE) bumped Murnanen down a spot, claiming the final podium step.
“It’s only just over 15 seconds up to Riita and I have not given up. Tonight’s race was better than yesterday,” said Steira after the race. “Riita and I ran hard from the start. We got an early gap to the others and took turns.
“It was a good effort for me, but huff. This is an important training exercise ahead for next winter.”
For all intensive purposes the men’s race featured two fields – the elite, and the second tier. The top 6 crossed the line within 7.8 seconds, while the rest of the race came along a full minute back.
Gaillard skied clear of Martin Bajcicak (SVK) for a 1.5 second victory on the 6×2.5km race. Lari Lehtonen (FIN) was 3rd, +2.3 and .5 seconds ahead of Bauer.
Italian Fulvio Scola bounced back form a tough race on Wednesday to place 5th, +3.0. Jauhojärvi couldn’t hold the finish pace and ended up at the back of the lead pack, +7.8 seconds, but still holds a commanding lead in the overall.
The Tour de Barents continues on Saturday with a classic sprint, and concludes Sunday with a 8.8/13.2km handicap start.
To qualify for the overall title skiers must complete all four events, but racers can start fewer racers. For example Hjelmesset only competed in the first day.
In addition to the main Tour, there is also a Junior Tour. Junior skiers participate in the same race schedule, but race separately (with the exception of the individual start).
The first Tour de Barents was scheduled for April 2009, with races in Russia, Finland, and Norway. But there were doubts that the Russian organizing committee would be able to meet financial commitments, and the Tour was postponed until this spring. There are no races in Russia.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.