Norway’s Therese Johaug notched her fourth individual World Cup win of the season on Saturday in Lahti, Finland, skiing to a comfortable 10.8-second win in the 15 k skiathlon. She won a the 10 k pursuit race there last year.
Johaug led a top-four Norwegian sweep; Marit Bjørgen led the chase pack to finish second, Heidi Weng notched her first career individual World Cup podium in third and Kristin Stoermer Steira was, once again, fourth.
Just before the transition from the 7.5 k classic to 7.5 k skate, Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland fell on a sharp curve, falling back from second place to 47 seconds behind her contenders. She ended up eighth, and Bjørgen took the World Cup lead by 38 points. She stared the day 14 points behind Kowalczyk.
“I must say I was lucky today,” Bjørgen told NRK. “The classical part felt a little heavy and I had to go my own race. It loosened over time.”
She credited her team for helping her, especially Johaug, who tested Kowalcyzyk in the classic portion.
Johaug’s gap was 20-plus seconds at one point early in the skate portion of the race, and though a trio of compatriots worked together to chase her down, she managed to hold them off by a sizeable margin. Her small stature and quick tempo let her seemingly fly up the gradual climbs that twice culminated in bonus checkpoints. Johaug won both, adding 30 points to her 100-point victory.
“I am in good shape these days, apparently,” Johaug told NRK. “I like the trails here. They are hard and fit me well. I felt I was on a roll all the way and took control along the track.”
The chase group of Bjørgen, Weng and Steira remained unchanged for the second half of the race. Steira attempted a move past Bjoergen on the final climb, but ended up being no match for the latter’s closing speed and slipped back into wooden-medal territory for the umpteenth time, 2.5 seconds behind Weng in third.
“It is great there are other strong girls in the team,” Johaug told FIS News. “We push each other on training and that is the reason we are here today. … It is also great Heidi claimed her first podium today.”
Johaug said she’d do her best to make sure Bjørgen held on to the yellow leader’s jersey at the World Cup finals in Falun, Sweden, in two weeks.
Kowalczyk made a run at the podium, hanging onto the front of the race in the classic portion, but began to falter after the switch to skating and never recovered. The Norwegian chase group quickly dropped her, and three more skiers eventually passed Kowalczyk before the end. She finished 52.6 seconds behind Johaug.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.