Marit Bjoergen (NOR) capped a stellar 2011 World Cup campaign, extending her lead on Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) for a clear victory in the World Cup Final mini-tour.
Kowalczyk held her second position, as did Therese Johaug in third – though of the trio, she had to work the hardest.
Bjoergen entered the 10km handicap start event with a 1:14 lead over Kowalczyk, making the outcome a foregone conclusion. Bjoergen’s worst result of the season in a distance race? A fourth in the 10km pursuit a week ago in Lahti, Finland, with a 28 second deficit.
With Bjoergen back on-form in Falun, Kowalczyk stood little chance, and it appeared that the overall World Cup Champion, was content to take second. She eventually lost another 44 seconds to her Norwegian rival.
“Today’s race I enjoyed as I had a too big gap to the lead, but also a comfortable lead to the others,” Kowalczyk said, referring to the 1:20 she started in front of Johaug.
The excitement therefore was limited to the race for third. Johaug headed out on course just 17 seconds ahead of Charlotte Kalla (SWE) with Aino Kaisa Saarinen (FIN), Astrid Jacobsen (NOR), Anna Haag (SWE), and Arianna Follis (ITA) lurking within another 10 seconds.
Follis, always a strong skater, quickly closed the gap on Kalla and Jacobsen with Haag unable to keep pace, and Saarinen beginning her impressive drop through the field, a descent that ultimately reached eight places.
The three women set about chasing Johaug, and steadily made up ground. Eventually Jacobsen and Kalla ran out of steam, and left the challenge to Follis.
The Italian made it within a few seconds of Johaug, but the Norwegian, arguably the best pure climber on the circuit, accelerated the last time up the famed Mörderbacken, and created the space she needed to hold the final podium spot.
Follis posted the fastest time of the day, 7.6 seconds better than Jacobsen who capped a strong comeback season with a fourth for the World Cup Final when she skied away from Kalla over the last 5 kilometers.
The performance was plenty good for Follis to protect her third place in the World Cup overall from Johaug.
Norway had an excellent day as a team, taking spots two through six in the time of the day.
American Kikkan Randall moved up one spot from 17th to 16th with the 14th fastest race.
“This was a huge day for me,” said Randall. “I started the season focused on some top results in a few races and at Oslo, but things are really improving for me. This was a super solid race. I am really excited and I’ve got five more races to go.”
Today Randall was 56.9 seconds behind Follis and 4:39.7 in back of Bjoergen in the overall World Cup Final.
With the result, Randall locked up 10th in the overall World Cup standings, the best-ever by an American woman.
Her teammate Holly Brooks also moved up today. Brooks passed two skiers, was caught by none, and with two skiers withdrawing before the start, she advanced from 37th to 33rd.
In her first World Cup mini-tour, Brooks saved her best for last. Her time for the day ranked 25th, 1:32 down on Follis.
Perianne Jones (CAN) hung tough after slipping back following a 12th in the opening sprint. She completed the Tour, placing last, but she did beat two women in today’s race.
The event concludes the World Cup season. Kowalczyk took home the overall World Cup title as well as the distance cup, while Petra Majdic (SLO) captured the sprint cup.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.