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FALUN, Sweden – A day after Marit Bjørgen (NOR) showed uncharacteristic weakness in the 10k classic mass start, she came right back to bury rival Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) and lay claim to the World Cup Final mini-tour and her first overall World Cup title since 2006.
On Saturday Bjørgen was forced to let Kowalczyk and teammates Heidi Weng and Therese Johaug ski away when she couldn’t sustain the pace.
In the same distance, but using skate technique, Bjørgen showed why she is the best in the world this year.
Kowalczyk quickly closed the six second gap to Bjørgen, and the two came into Mördarbacken for the first time with the Norwegian leading the way a few meters ahead.
While Kowalczyk had gained contact, she appeared stressed as the climb progressed, and Bjørgen’s meters increased.
But on the steep pitch of the hill, where Bjørgen ran into trouble in the classic race, Kowalczyk regained Bjørgen’s tails, and the two skied over the top together.
While still early in the race, it was easy to predict the pair pummeling on each other until the finish, where the victor would be decided.
But when Bjørgen reappeared at the base of Mördarbacken for the climb up the first third at the end of the lap, she was all alone.
In a matter of a kilometer of mostly downhill, she had ended the race.
Kowalczyk had not fallen on the descent, but was clearly struggling—the only question was how badly.
While Bjørgen and Kowalczyk were staging their short-than-usual dual, a chase pack of Charlotte Kalla (SWE) and Johaug and Weng had formed up.
Swedish fan-favorite Kalla, has skiing extremely well, and placed second to Bjørgen in the prologue on Friday.
The three women alternated leads with the veterans kalla and Johaug doing most of the work.
On the second time up Mördarbacken, Johaug attacked past Kalla pulling Weng behind.
Cranking a high tempo the two appeared to hold an edge.
But the smoother Kalla put her head down and endured, refusing to lose contact.
Just as importantly, Kowalczyk, who entered the hill 30 meters up, continued to slip back.
The crest and descent were again Kowalczyk’s downfall, and the chasers quickly swallowed her up and left the defending World Cup Champion behind.
The three women came into the homestretch side-by-side.
Kalla would seemingly hold the edge in a sprint, but the two Norwegians refused to go away.
Weng had just enough left to pull ahead for second, and third was decided in a photo finish lunge with Kalla getting the nod.
“I had really good race today,” Johaug told FasterSkier. At every split, she heard Kowalczyk creeping back, and push herself harder.
“I thought 1st and 2nd place was finished when we started,” she said. “But we heard she was tired and Kalla and I worked hard together.”
Johaug said that Kowalczyk seemed to have subpar skis, and that the Pole was having problems with her legs.
Kowalczyk historically had issues, hurting her downhill abilities, but FasterSkier was unable to confirm that such was the case today.
Overall Norway plkaced six skiers in the top-10
Matt Voisin contributed reporting.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.