Still feeling a bit like fish out of water on faster-than-normal rollerskis, U.S. Ski Team members Kikkan Randall and Liz Stephen jumped in anyway Friday, the second day of the Blink Festival in Sandnes, Norway.
After both cautiously approached the start of yesterday’s 7.5 k climb, where Stephen finished third and Randall was sixth, Randall decided to go for it in the 10 k criterium-style mass start. She ended up fifth, about 15 seconds behind winner Marthe Kristoffersen and three of her Norwegian teammates.
Thursday’s winner, Therese Johaug was second in a sprint to the finish on the relatively flat, 750-meter loop course, and Heidi Weng finished a few seconds later in third. Another Norwegian, Maiken Caspersen Falla, beat out Randall for fourth. Bettina Gruber of Switzerland placed sixth.
In a Skype interview from Norway, Randall said she lost some energy on the sixth lap when she sprinted for a preem money bonus about halfway through the race.
“I didn’t quite get it,” she said. “I came around the outside and I think Marthe Kristoffersen was able to hold me off but I made a push for it . After that the pace accelerated a little bit and my legs were a little blown out by that sprint. I kind of lost touch with the leaders on that and it took me a couple laps to get my legs back, and then unfortunately I wasn’t in a position to fight for a win anymore.”
Regardless, she was happy with the way things went from the start.
“After yesterday I decided I needed to be more aggressive,” Randall said with a laugh. “I made sure I went off the start as quick as I could and tried to get in a good position. A couple times, girls were trying to work their way into the train and I just tried to hold my spot, and luckily I avoided any problems.”
Stephen finished 13th, 52 seconds behind the winning Norwegian trio. When contacted by FasterSkier after the race, she wasn’t sure what place she had come in, but knew she started out too conservatively. At one point, she said she was last, but passed several people to climb back into the mix.
“I’m not going to lie, I was terrified going into this race,” Stephen said. “The whole rollerski, poles, wicked-fast skis, pavement … I was stressed out. I was going to try to be ballsy, but it didn’t work that way so I was just kind of letting people go by and do their thing and played my catch-up game, which I actually really enjoy but it’s not the fastest way to race.”
Tomorrow, her plan was to go all out.
“There’s no laps to pass people,” Stephen said. “If you are in the back for the first lap, you’re going to be in the back for the end of the first lap also. I need to just get a little better with my stressed-out-ness so tomorrow will be better, I hope, for me.”
Randall said the format of the rollerski festival is new to them both, and they’ve been adjusting to racing on faster rollerskis. With a 90-degree turn about 20 meters from the start on Friday, Randall said it’s been exciting.
“I can already tell that if we come back and do this next year, just having the experience of doing it once will help us out tremendously,” Randall said. “It’s cool for us to interface with the World Cup field at this kind of mid point in the summer so we can kind of see where we are.”
On Saturday, the Blink Festival wraps up with sprint racing. The women start with quarterfinals then semifinals, both of which entail one 750-meter lap with the top three moving on – and the final will be two laps.
The reigning World Cup sprint champion, Randall was primed for those races.
“I wish I would’ve had a little bit more in my legs after that preem sprint to hang with those guys [today], but tomorrow will be fun,” she said.
* * *
At the front, Kristoffersen was thrilled to win the sprint against Johaug and Weng, who had gone 1-2 in the hill climb the day before.
“I have to admit it looked a little bleak coming into the last straight,” Kristoffersen told Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. “I thought that Therese had too much, but I couldn’t give up without a fight.”
Johaug had the same assessment of the finish.
“Actually, I thought I’d take it all,” she told the paper. “But Marthe obviously had an extra gear.”
It was all Norway, all the way in the men’s race as well. After 15 k of racing, the field was still tightly packed; Oystein Pettersen’s 3.1-second victory was one of the larger margins among the top ten. He beat out teammates Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Pal Golberg, with Switzerland’s Joeri Kindshi just missing the podium by 0.2 seconds. The entire top-20 were separated by only 15 seconds.
It’s not surprising that Pettersen, who contests almost exclusively sprints on the World Cup circuit and teamed up with Petter Northug for Olympic gold in the sprint relay in Vancouver, won the field sprint, but he usually isn’t so close to the front in a distance race.
But if the rest of the racers were surprised, Pettersen himself wasn’t.
“I’ve actually always done well in Sandnes,” he told Aftenposten. “I felt I could not betray the audience that cheered for me at every point along the way. It’s amazing what they do here in Sandnes.”
— Chelsea Little contributed reporting
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Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.