While skiers at the first SuperTour event in West Yellowstone, Montana, were feeling the effects of cold weather this weekend, their fellow skiers on the World Cup in Kuusamo, Finland, faced similar temperatures. The official FIS press release listed the temperature in the northern Finnish town as a balmy -17 degrees Celsius, just under the legal racing limit.
Despite struggling during Friday’s classic sprint, finishing 42nd and failing to qualify, on Saturday Randall bounced back, crossing the line in 17th, around 38 seconds behind the winner of the 5 k classic race, Norway’s Marit Bjoergen.
For Bjoergen, it was the sixth consecutive World Cup win dating back to last season, and she has won all four World Cups so far this season.
Bjoergen edged out rival Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) by 2 seconds for the win, while Petra Majdic (SLO) rounded out the podium.
Kuusamo has become a difficult sprint venue for Randall, as she has failed to qualify in the Kuusamo classic sprint the last two seasons, but she seems to excel at the short-distance race at the Finnish venue. While Saturday was 5 k, the last two times Randall skied 10 k in Kuusamo, she walked away with points – last year she finished 18th, and in 2008, she was 23rd.
Randall described her classic sprint result as “disappointing,” as she had high hopes for a good result to set up the rest of her mini-tour.
“Nothing major went wrong in the sprint, I just didn’t get into a sprinting gear,” she said in an email to FasterSkier Saturday, “My tempo was a little slow and I didn’t get to tap into the fitness and speed I know I have.”
Saturday’s 17th place marks the second straight World Cup distance race in which Randall has secured points, and while she isn’t quite ready to call herself a distance racer yet, she is excited about her growing distance-skiing ability.
“With so many distance races on the World Cup schedule, it makes the season much more exciting when you feel like you’re in the hunt every race,” said Randall.
As for rising star Ida Sergent, the young sprinter is already following close in Randall’s footsteps in terms of mini-tour ability.
In Sargents’ very first individual World Cup start on Friday she finished 33rd, just 1 second out of a top 30 placing, and some valuable experience in the sprint heats.
“I was flat and struggled to get going the whole time, so it was really tough to be that close when I know I could have skied faster,” said Sargent in an email to FasterSkier, Saturday.
Sargent followed her disappointing sprint race up with a “solid” classic on Saturday, finishing 45th in the tightly packed women’s field which saw no fewer than seven women within 5 seconds of her time.
“Normally I struggle when it’s really cold,” said Sargent, “but by starting conservatively I was able to ski into the race. I just tried to ski light and quick on the climbs, which are huge!”
“With her anaerobic and aerobic make-up, 5 k is probably one of her best distances,” Grover said. “She’s had two great days in a row; especially for her first individual start World Cup races.”
Both Randall and Sargent mentioned the extreme cold, and Randall admitted she raced with multiple layers of long underwear under her suit, as well as two buffs and mittens.
Meanwhile, the small Canadian women’s contingent was led by Dasha Gaiazova, finishing 46th in the 5k classic, following up on her 24th placing in Friday’s sprint.
Gaiazova described herself as “satisfied” with her sprint result in an email to FasterSkier; “I am not in my top racing form yet, so it was great to get into the heats,” she said.
“I think it’s been a really good start to the season for her,” said Canadian National Ski Team (CNST) Head Coach Justin Wadsworth. “She said that she was a little disappointed with the tactics she had chosen,” he said in an interview with FasterSkier, “But she’ll learn, she hasn’t been in so many World Cup sprints.”
The only other Canadian woman in action in Kuusamo is Chandra Crawford, who sprinted to 45th place on Friday, and finished 67th in the 5 k classic on Saturday.
While it may seem that Americans Liz Stephen and Morgan Arritola have had two tough days, Grover emphasized that the mini-tour has yet to play to their strengths. “In terms of events, the sprint is their least favorite, and the 5 k is probably second-least,” he said. “The longer the race, the harder the course, the better they will do.”
Grover has no doubt that tomorrow will be the best day of the mini-tour for both women, and will look to the stand-alone result from the day as an indicator of success, as opposed to their overall placing in the event.
Bjoergen now leads the Overall standings, and will start Sunday’s race with a 25 second gap over second place Majdic. Kowalczyk will start 35 seconds behind Bjoergen.
Kikkan Randall sits in 22nd overall, roughly a minute and a half back of a podium position, while Gaiazova is 35th, Sargent 42nd, Crawford 59th, Arritola 78th and Stephen 80th.
Reporting contributed by Chelsea Little