Jean Marc Gaillard (FRA) edged out teammate Maurice Manificat at the line to win the second edition of the Tour de Barents, a four-stage mini-tour in the Barents region of northern Europe.
On a unique “final climb” Gaillard teamed up with Manificat to catch overall leader Matti Heikkinen (FIN), who started the day with a 13 second lead in Rovaniemi, Finland on Sunday.
Heikkinen started the freestyle race quickly, but was unable to hold off the two Frenchmen.
“Matti started really fast and I had to wait for Maurice so that we could catch Matti together,” described Gaillard.
Heikkinen was unable to manage the pace. With three rounds of the 4.4km loop, complete with wall-like climb, the course was an unforgiving 13.2k.
The veteran Gaillard chalked up his victory to his years on the elite circuit, saying, “Maurice was probably stronger than me, but maybe experience gave me this victory.”
The margin was just .2 seconds at the end, with Heikkinen coming across 33 seconds later.
Lukas Bauer (CZE) was unable to make up ground despite his strong climbing ability.
“It was really tough,” Bauer wrote on his website. “The uphill around the jumping hills was demanding, and the snow was soft due to warm weather. I skied alone the whole race and realized I could not catch the Frenchmen and Heikkinen.”
Bauer was satisfied nonetheless, saying “I’m definitely happy about fourth place.”
He continued, “I came here to enjoy spring skiing without stress. But whenever I put on a racing bib I want to beat everybody. The atmosphere was great with less stress than at World Cups.”
In her last professional race, Slovenian Petra Majdic lost just three seconds of he 1:12 lead, and easily claimed the victory.
Kerttu Niskanen (FIN) held her second spot, while Krista Lahteenmaki (FIN) overtook Alena Prochazkova (SVK) to take the final podium spot.
Niskanen posted the fastest time of the day.
Her younger brother, Iivo, won the Junior men’s category, a race in which American Will Wicherski finished fourth, just .6 seconds off the podium and 6:08 behind Niskanen.
At the end of the final day, the athletes grouped up for a final lap around the stadium, thanking the crowds and organizers, and also to show their appreciation for retiring athletes Majdic, Pirjo Murnanen (FIN) and Jaak Mae (EST).
Majdic pointed to the camaraderie of the event as one of the high points. Skieres traveled between venues on the same tour bus.