While Kris Freeman couldn’t quite match his winning performance from yesterday, he made a strong effort in the 10 k skate at Muonio today and was rewarded with a second-place finish, showing impressive consistency early in the season.
“I’m always more comfortable in classic than skate,” he told FasterSkier after the race.
As usual, the women competed first, also in a 10 k race. The temperature had dropped overnight and thanks to the humidity of the last few days, the snow was fast. Competitors also had their first day of skiing in the Arctic sun after several gloomy, overcast races. The sun peeked over the mountain at Olos resort at approximately 11:30 – well after most of the women had finished – but even in the morning, the neighboring hills were lit up in stunning fashion.
With Petra Majdic of Slovenia choosing not to race and Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland staging a protest over the change of race length, it was up to someone else to take the win today. The race had originally been slated as 5 k for the women, and Kowalczyk started, caught Aino-Kaisa Saarinen (who had started 20 seconds in front of her ), put 15 seconds on her in the first lap, and then stopped, refusing to race a second lap of the course.
Who knows what would have happened if Majdic and Kowalczyk had raced, but in their absence, Arianna Follis of Italy skied to a nine-second win over Olga Mikhailova of Russia. Follis looked smooth and effortless on the trails, and spectators weren’t surprised that she took the victory.
Riita-Liisa Roponen of Finland rounded out the podium, 13 seconds behind Follis, and was followed by Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle of Germany and Krista Lahteenmaki of Finland.
Liz Stephen, skiing for the U.S. Ski Team (USST) led the American squad with a 22nd-place finish, a major improvement from yesterday’s classic race. Her time was 1:13 back from the leader. She was followed by teammate Morgan Arritola in 29th place. The first non-USST American was Hannah Dreissigacker of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, who finished 60th.
But just like yesterday, the real excitement for the Americans came in the men’s race. Freeman skied strongly from start to finish, and ended up second, just over seven seconds behind Sergey Shiriaev of Russia. Shiriaev, who finished fourth in yesterday’s classic race, was banned for a doping violation in 2007. Last season season he returned to racing, and represented Russia at the Vancouver Olympics.
Tim Tscharnke of Germany and Alexey Slepov of Russia were just two seconds behind him in third and fourth places.
“Sometimes when I tried to go hard I would kind of spaz,” he said. “But it was a good race.”
Several other Americans had excellent performances. The USST’s Noah Hoffman finished 25th, 50 seconds behind Shiriaev, and Leif Zimmerman of the Bridger Ski Foundation was 0.4 seconds behind him in 27th place. Glenn Randall, also skiing for the Bridger Ski Foundation, finished 36th. All three beat a number of World Cup regulars like Axel Teichmann of Germany and Martin Koukal of the Czech Republic.
Tim Reynolds again led the Craftsbury Green Racing Project contingent, this time with a 79th-place finish.
From here, the U.S. Ski Team is splitting into the World Cup squad and the Continental Cup team. The World Cup skiers will head to Gallivare, Sweden for the opening races next weekend, while the Continental Cup athletes will be driving south to Rovaniemi, Finland, for more FIS races, where they will be joined by the Craftsbury Green Racing Project and the Maine Winter Sports Center group.