Two weeks after claiming her third Tour de Ski title, Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) shows no signs of slowing down. A day after winning the classic sprint, Kowalczyk, racing in her preferred classic technique, took a page out of Axel Teichmann’s book, mirroring the notoriously slow starter’s strategy and dominating the second half of the 10km individual start in Otepaa, Estonia.
Marit Bjørgen (NOR) was runner up for the second time this weekend, with teammate Therese Johaug placing third.
Kowalczyk and Bjørgen staged an epic battle in the 2012 edition of the Tour de Ski, each winning four stages to set up a showdown for the final climb.
Kowalczyk skied away on the Alpe Cermis, and then out-double poled Bjørgen in Saturday’s classic sprint in Otepaa.
The early kilometers of today’s race appeared to represent a swing back to the Norwegians’ favor, however.
Johaug led at both the one and 2.5 kilometer time checks, with Bjoergen in second, but over the next 2.5k Kowalczyk turned the race around in a major way.
She took over the lead, putting over 18 seconds on Johaug and eight on Bjørgen, and did not slow down. Another kilometer extended her lead on Bjørgen by nine more seconds.
Bjørgen slowed the bleeding over the remainder of the race, but to no consequence. She ended up 21.9 seconds behind Kowalczyk with Johaug 40 back.
Estonia has become one of Kowalczyk’s favorite stops on the World Cup circuit—she now has five victories in the past five years, including four in the 10k classic event in Otepaa.
Her slow start was no accident as she executed her pre-race plan to perfection on the extremely challenging course. The steep hills suit Kowalczyk’s strengths and she took advantage of the opportunity to continue closing Bjørgen’s gap in the overall World Cup standings.
With World Cup period II coming to an end, Bjørgen is just 62 points out front, and with the Norwegian planning on racing at National Championships next weekend, Kowalczyk will have the opportunity to take over the lead in Moscow.
Bjørgen said she was satisfied with her performance.
“I kept good technique today but Justyna was in a little bit better shape than me,” she said.
Johaug also was happy with her race and said she tired in the second lap when she lost her early lead.
The top three have been a regular fixture on the podium this season in distance races, skiing at a level a stride ahead of the rest of the field.
Johaug is third in the overall World Cup after joining Bjørgen and Kowalczyk at the top of the ski world last year when she won the 30k at the World Championships in Oslo, Norway.
The trio also held the podium last year in this event, with Bjørgen on the top step.
Charlotte Kalla (SWE) finished fourth, +58.7, and Astrid Jacobsen (NOR) gave Norway three of the top-five, 3.7 seconds behind Kalla.
– Jacobsen placed 5th on her 25th birthday
– Norway, Sweden and Finland combined for 12 of the top 14 spots
– Maria Ridqvyst (SWE) skied the opposite race to Kowalczyk. She was 5th at 2.5k, but slipped to 13th at the end.
– Tracks were firm and fast, but the steep hills mad for plenty of herring-bone.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.