Nobody was surprised to see Marit Bjørgen atop the leaderboard after the second stage of the Ruka Triple in Kuusamo, Finland today.
The Norwegian star was the last to start, thanks to her win in the classic sprint yesterday, and had all the information she needed to beat her competitors – not that she needed it. Over just five fast kilometers, Bjørgen racked up a sizeable lead and cruised across the finish. It was a stark contrast to the earlier finishers, who had sprinted for all they were worth and collapsed immediately.
The refreshing thing about Bjørgen, though, is that even if she dials it back in the last hundred meters and still wins by more than ten seconds, she’s humble and gracious, smiling and raising her arms as she crosses the finish line for each win.
In comments to the press, the star – who picked up her 50th World Cup win with the victory – attributed her performance to good skis from the Norwegian wax techs. She also said that the final stage of the triple, a classic pursuit, would be difficult because “the other girls are getting stronger and stronger all the time, and they’ll try attack me but l just do my best and see the results after finish line.”
That’s a pretty notable lack of swagger coming from a woman who is literally entering uncharted territory: she recently passed Bjørn Dæhli and taken the all-time win record. Bjørgen doesn’t seem to be slowing down, and will likely further obliterate Dæhli’s tally by the end of 2012. After that, who knows how many more wins she will rack up, but one thing is for sure: nobody will touch her record, whatever it is, for years and years. Especially if they can’t get a single win as long as she’s competing.
With Bjørgen holding the top step of the podium hostage, a number of other talented women are left fighting for the remains. Charlotte Kalla of Sweden and Vibeke Skofterud of Norway finished second and third, repeating the podium that fans have seen in each of the World Cup races so far this season.
“I could get used to being on podium,” Skofterud joked to the press.
The 31-year-old has added two distance podiums to a collection that was previously quite small; the last time she collected a top-three finish in a World Cup that wasn’t a sprint or a relay was here in Kuusamo two years ago.
“It’s strong, it’s fun and it’s really well-deserved,” Bjørgen said of her teammate’s finish today when talking with NRK, the Norwegian state television station.
But despite the winner’s kind words, Skofterud indicated that she didn’t want Bjørgen to get too comfortable at the top. She’s willing to go as far as working with non-Norwegians in an attempt to take her down in the pursuit tomorrow.
“We have to work together with Kalla to chase Bjørgen,” she said.
A Resurgent Jacobsen
Her teammate Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen – who won the World Championships sprint back in 2007 as a twenty-year-old – was the story of the day and sat in the leaders chair for the majority of the race, ultimately winding up sixth, 27 seconds behind Bjørgen.
Jacobsen was plagued by injuries in 2007 and then suffered from a horrific biking accident in 2009; she’s also a medical school student, something that would seem crazy in the U.S. but is completely unheard of in Norway. Jacobsen had some strong performances last season, including tenth overall in the Tour de Ski, a bronze medal in the sprint at World Championships, and a fifth place overall finish at World Cup Finals.
At the end of the season, she considered leaving the sport – but then decided to stay through the next Olympic cycle, focusing this year on the Tour de Ski and the overall World Cup rankings, where she hopes to finish in the top three.
But Jacobsen finished 12th in the 10 k in Sjusjøen and 74th in yesterday’s sprint. As part of an incredibly dominant Norwegian women’s team, her results didn’t cut the mustard and people wondered whether she was devoting too much time to her medical studies and not enough to skiing.
That changed today. The seventeenth starter, Jacobsen floated up the steep hills of the Kuusamo course with fluidity and a high tempo. At the 3.1 k timecheck, she demolished the previous lead time, which had belonged to Liz Stephen of the U.S.
It took another 61 starters for anyone to be able to beat her time, and while they tried, the television cameras kept panning to Jacobsen happily ensconced in the leader’s chair, actually looking rather bored.
Other Notable Performances
Therese Johaug of Norway finished fourth, just one second away from the podium.
2011 World Cup overall winner Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland finished fifth, and didn’t have the form she has shown in some past competitions. While it probably didn’t keep her off the podium, she had a tough time in the last few hundred meters – she needed to pass Canada’s Dasha Gaiazova, but tried to take the inside line around a corner and couldn’t squeeze through. She didn’t appear to have tracked Gaiazova, so it’s not clear that the Canadian did anything wrong, but Kowalczyk’s poor strategy may have cost her a few seconds.
Riika Sarasoja-Lilja of Finland finished seventh, her second-best World Cup performance to date and her first distance top-ten.
22-year-old Norwegian Marthe Kristoffersen also had one of her best World Cup races to date, finishing eighth, just ahead of teammate Kristin Størmer Steira.
A North American race report will follow.
Full results (pdf)