Marit Bjoergen may have been down on Saturday, suffering her first distance defeat of the World Cup season, but she bounced right back up to claim the victory in the women’s classic sprint in Lahti.
At this point an off day for the Norwegian star means any place below the top spot, and with 10 wins in 14 individual World Cup starts this season, such occurrences have been rare.
It was another Norwegian, however, who set the pace in the qualification round. Astrid Jacobsen set down a blistering time of 3:37.81 on the 1.4 kilometer course, over two seconds ahead Aino Kaisa Saarinen (FIN).
But when the head-to-head action started, it was all about Bjoergen, who qualified almost four seconds back in fourth. She won both her quarterfinal and semi, and both lucky losers came out of her heats.
In the final she easily skied clear of field, avoiding trouble on the 90-degree corner that wrecked havoc all day, causing numerous crashes. Jacobsen came across in second, claiming her first World Cup podium since her stellar 2008 campaign.
Petra Majdic (SLO) came back on Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) in the homestretch to take the third. Kowalczyk overcame icing klister that required her to run for part of her semi, and snowplowing so fierce, that according to Norwegian television station NRK, she almost came to a full stop.
Majdic moved to the top of the Sprint Cup standings, jumping over American Kikkan Randall, and Arianna Follis (ITA), who placed sixth. Majdic is just seven points ahead of Follis, and Randall is still in the mix, 29 points down.
“It was not the best day today,” Majdic said. “I nearly fell in the qualification and I had problems all the way through the heats. I couldn’t wake up and I was not focused enough.”
Randall entered the day leading those rankings, and few gave her much of a shot of holding on to the red bib worn by the Sprint Cup leader. But she turned some heads with an impressive run in qualification. Her fifth place would be a strong performance in skating, but demonstrated a new level of classic speed.
Coming off a career-best distance result of 11th in Saturday’s 10km pursuit, Randall was unable to capitalize on her strong first run, placing fifth in her quarterfinal, and ending the day in 21st.
“I had a few slips on a steep uphill and lost a bit of time,” Randall said after the race. “Then I couldn’t rejoin the group on the downhill.”
Randall said she was frustrated not to be capitalized on her current strong fitness, but is still in a good position to maintain a top-3 Sprint Cup finish.
There is just one sprint event left on the World Cup schedule – the classic city sprint in Stockholm, Sweden. Since the race is part of the World Cup Finals mini-tour, only half points are awarded. If Bjoergen, who is currently fourth in the Sprint Cup, wins the race, Randall would need to finish 19th or better to stay on the podium.
To move up in the rankings, Randall will need help from Majdic or Follis, namely an early exit.
Holly Brooks, the only other American to start, just missed out on the heats, placing 34th. While she was 12.74 seconds down on Jacobsen, Brooks was a mere half a second from the top-30.
Dasha Gaiazova, Chandra Crawford and Perianne Jones both struggled for the Canadians, finishing 48th, 55th, and 56th respectively.
Kowalczyk has wrapped up the overall World Cup title, but with no major championship event next year, Bjoergen has announced her intentions to focus on the overall and the Tour de Ski – both of which have been the exclusive property of the Pole for the last two years.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.