As most expected, Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) took her six second lead in the 10km classic, and ran it with, dropping the hammer from the get go, and leaving the competition to fight for second.
The handicap start event (as FIS) likes to call it, is actually a true pursuit, with skiers starting based on the results from the previous day. With her victory in the Tour de Ski prologue, and the accompanying 15 bonus seconds, Kowalczyk was in position to do what she does best – go hard at the front.
Charlotte Kalla (SWE) starting in second, may have had a shot to close the gap in a skate race, but with classic the prescribed technique, she quickly became part of an impressive chase group.
Despite the fact that there were as many as four starters a second, the race actually spread out rather quickly. By 1.4 kilometers, Kowalczyk held a 15 second lead and the main chase group consisted of Kalla, Petra Majdic (SLO), Aino Kaisa Saarinen (FIN), Astrid Jacobsen (NOR) and the surprising Krista Lahteenmaki (FIN).
With new snow falling, the best chance to catch Kowalczyk was during the first of the three laps, but the chasers were unable to take advantage.
At the 4.4 kilometer time check Kowalczyk had increased the gap to 22 seconds. Saarinen had taken over the lead of the next group and as the halfway mark approached she turned up the heat.
But each split confirmed the inevitable – this was Kowalczyk’s race, and the only question was how much time she could add to her overall lead.
The race for second continued to evolve, with Italians Marianna Longa and Arianna Follis, Russian Yulia Tchekaleva, and Norwegian Theresse Johaug fighting to bridge up to the main chase pack.
By 7.5 kilometers they had made contact, even as Saarinen continued to drive the pace. Majdic, clearly missing her top gear, struggled to hold on.
The race entered the final large climb. Lahteenmaki moved up to front of the pack, along with Saarinen and Longa, while Kalla finally faltered, unable to find the little bit extra to get over the top with the leaders.
Coming into the stadium it was Lahteenmaki in the lead, a position she maintained to the finish. She was closely followed by Longa and Saarinen, with a small gap to Majdic, who bent quite a bit, but never broke.
Kowalczyk’s victory was no surprise, but 20-year-old Lahteenmaki turned some heads.
The 2010 World Junior Champion in the 5km classic was hardly intimidated, despite having just 13 World Cup starts under her belt. She is now second overall in the Tour, 32.5 seconds down on Kowalczyk. Longa is third, another eight seconds back.
Overall the top-10 women are all within one minute of the lead, and with up to 60 bonus seconds available in Sunday’s sprint, tings could still change in a hurry
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.