The 2010-2011 Tour de Ski is underway in Oberhof, Germany, and defending champion Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) seems to have picked up right where she left off.
Kowalczyk took just 6 minutes and 39 seconds to complete the 2.8 k freestyle prologue, .5 of a second ahead of Charlotte Kalla (SWE), while Astrid Jacobsen (NOR) was third, 4.8 seconds back.
As a result of the win, Kowalczyk receives a 15 second time bonus, while Kalla receives 10 seconds and Jacobsen 5 seconds.
With the final slot on the start sheet, Kowalczyk took full advantage knowing how her competitors had fared, and ski through falling snow and a technical downhill to take the stage win.
Kowalczyk, who has played second fiddle to Norway’s Marit Bjoergen all season, looks to take advantage of the dominant Norwegians absence from the Tour de Ski. Kowalczyk sits second in the World Cup overall behind Bjoergen, and needs to make up 171 points to take the lead.
The 2.8 k prologue distance is a difficult event to judge – it happens rarely at any level in skiing, and it is considered too long for sprinters, but too short for distance specialists. Kowalczyk has proven quite effective – in her three previous prologues, she has recorded a victory, and two third place finishes.
Kikkan Randall (USA), the sole North American woman taking part in the Tour de Ski, is off to a quick start, as she finished 16th, 13.3 seconds behind Kowalczyk.
Randall is taking on the Tour de Ski for the first time this year, and in an interview with FasterSkier, Randall described her first experience with the Tour as “short, sweet, and hard.”
Randall, who is celebrating her birthday today, was pleased with her race, calling it her “best prologue yet.”
“You have to go out fast like a sprint qualifier,” Randall said of her strategy for the prologue, “But you can’t go out too fast, because there is still plenty of racing to do after the three minute mark.”
Oberhof is a notorious World Cup venue for having fickle weather, and Friday was no different – during Randall’s warmup, she encountered light rain, and by the time she started, it had turned to snow, but not enough for it to affect her racing.
Recovery is pegged as one of the most crucial aspects of the Tour de Ski, and Randall is going to benefit from having a massage therapist on site, making sure to get in her ice bath, and refueling well after each race.
And while Randall would like to celebrate both the New Year and her birthday this evening, she is going to play it safe instead. “With races back to back the next three days, I don’t think I will be ringing in the New Year at midnight,” she said.
Randall will start Saturday’s 10 k classic pursuit with a 28.3 second deficit to Kowalczyk.