Marit Bjoergen (NOR) overcame a 25 second deficit to rival Justyna Kowalczyk (POL), before holding off Charlotte Kalla (SWE) and Therese Johaug (NOR) on the final day of the Ruka Triple.
Bjoergen won the event for the fourth consecutive time, bouncing back from a disappointing classic sprint on Friday, where she failed to advance out of the quarterfinals. But she responded with a second in the 10k classic on Saturday, giving up only another 3 seconds to Kowalczyk, which kept the gap surmountable.
Kalla and Johaug worked together to bridge up to the leaders, and finished second and third respectively, with Kowalczyk falling off the pace to take 4th.
If Kowalczyk has a weakness, it is distance skate races, where she struggles on the gradual terrain. But she held her lead until the 4k mark — in fact Kalla and Johaug caught Bjoergen first, after starting 20 seconds down.
Once the four came together the race dynamic quickly changed, though Kowlaczyk hung tough. She finally lost a step as the quartet approached the final kilometer. After losing contact, she quickly shed ground, dropping 30 seconds before the finish.
Johaug led the charge on the last lap, and was responsible for breaking Kowalczyk. But she could shake neither Bjoergen nor Kalla, both more accomplished sprinters.
Bjoergen was content to let Johaug pull and told FIS after the race that she knew if she could lead up the last hill to the stadium, the race was her’s to lose.
She also recognized that both Kalla and Johaug had expended more energy tracking her down, and would have less in reserve for the final push.
She executed her plan, and held position up into the stadium and around the hairpin into the finish stretch. Johaug, slow through the final corner, had to settle for third.
“I gave all I had at the end of the competition but Marit and Charlotte were little bit better than me,” Johaug said. “I’m happy with the third place.”
Kalla was also pleased with her race.
“I felt strong and my skating technique was good. I tried to keep focused and stay with the others as long as possible,” she said. “Until the last uphill I skied very well. At the end it was tough, I had stiff legs and I was very tired.”
Kalla and Johaug skied the fastest races, with the Swede clocking in 1.3 seconds in front. Bjoergen was third, +19.2, while Kowalczyk’s effort was good for 17th, +1:!5.8.
– Norway took places 2-5 in the time of the day, and had 7 of the 11 fastest races.
– Eleven different nations were represented in the top-30
– American Liz Stephen made up 35 places, climbing from 65th to 32nd.
– Katja Visnar (SLO) headed the other direction, losing 31 spots as she plunged from 28th to to 59th.
– Aino Kaisa Saarinen (FIN) at 34 was the oldest skier in the top-30. She finished 28th.
– Only three other skiers in the race were born in the 1970’s – Claudia Nystad (GER), Katrin Zeller (GER), and Valentina Schechenko (UKR).
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.