Matti Heikkinen (FIN), the World Champion in the 15km classic, finished fourth in the third stage of the Tour de Barents, a classic sprint in Rovaniemi, Finland. The result was enough to push him past Frenchmen Maurice Manificat and Jean Marc Gaillard in the overall standings.
“This was my best sprint this season, but I think I can do better in the future,” Heikkinen said.
Matias Strandval (FIN) won the men’s event ahead of teammate Lasse Paakonen, with Estonian Kein Einaste taking third.
All three men are not competing in the overall Tour, and have not raced any of the other events.
Manificat and Gaillard, neither a sprinter, did not fare poorly, placing ninth and tenth respectively, but with bonus seconds, Heikkinen was able to take over the top spot, and now hold a 13 second lead. Gaillard is second and Manificat third, +24 seconds.
“The French are sure to be strong tomorrow, but also Lukas Bauer is close,” Heikkinen said when asked about his chances in the last stage.
Bauer, one of the best climbers in the world, has owned the final climb on the Tour de Ski. He is 48 seconds behind Heikkinen.
In the women’s race, there were no surprises. Petra Majdic (SLO) won, and has extended her lead in the overall to 1:12 over Finland’s Kerttu Niskanen.
The victory did not come as easily as expected. After dominating the early heats, Majdic was challenged by Niskanen and third place finisher Alena Prochazkova (SVK).
“I think I pushed too hard on semifinals, and I felt tired on final,” Majdic said after the race. She added that she resorted to a tactical approach in the final, a move that paid off.
Niskanen was second in today’s sprint, and held onto her overall spot. Prochazkova third in the sprint, climbed to that same spot in the overall, jumping over Krista Lahteenmaki (FIN).
Just one event remains in the four race mini-tour, the freestyle final climb. Women will race 8.8k and men 13.4k on a brutal 4.4km loop.