How much did Marit Bjørgen have left and could anybody beat her?
Coming off her incredible 10-kilometer display on Saturday, the 34-year-old Norwegian was a huge favorite to win Sunday’s 1.3 k freestyle sprint in Davos, Switzerland. Last week, the first go-around in Davos, the Norwegians dominated the freestyle sprint, completing yet another podium sweep.
Ingvild Flugstad Østberg won that race and she was out to prove again that her result last week wasn’t because Bjørgen had an off day. However’ Sunday’s course was different from a week ago, with a two-lap, 650-meter course featuring two big climbs and a combination of manmade and natural snow.
There was a lot of ice on the turns leading to some interesting technical downhill turns. In a pre-race interview on Eurosport, American Kikkan Randall said, “The final turn coming into the finish line will cause some spills.” In qualification, there were several of those to reiterate her point.
The first of five quarterfinal races featured Bjørgen — the fastest qualifier in 2:37.59 — Germany’s Denise Herrmann, Italy’s Gaia Vuerich, Sweden’s Linn Soemskar, and Finland’s Anne Kyllönen and Krista Parmakoski.
Bjørgen took a very aggressive outside line out of the start and double poled her way to the front of the pack headed into the first crest. On the following descent, she was able to pull away, taking Vuerich with her. At the start of the second lap, Herrmann was able to overtake Vuerich, who lost her pace heading to the uphill. The battle for second place let Bjørgen pull away easily taking the quarterfinal win in 2:36.62. Hermann was second, +1.90 behind Bjørgen
The second quarterfinal featured Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla, Sweden’s Maja Dahlqvist, Slovenia’s Katja Visnar, Germany’s Sandra Ringwald, Russia’s Natalia Matveeva, and American Jessie Diggins.
At the start, Matveeva dove for the inside line heading into the first climb, but an attack from Falla got the Norwegian out of trouble and up to the front of the pack, followed closely by Visnar, who kept pace with Falla. The pack followed behind but was quickly losing ground heading into the last climb.
On the downhill, the gap between first and second extended, but sitting in third was Dahlqvist who saw an opportunity to catch a slowing Visnar at the finish. Dahlqvist outsprinted the Slovenian in a photo finish for second, one second behind Falla, who won the heat in 2:38.69.
The third quarterfinal featured three Swedes — Stina Nilsson, Hanna Falk and Ida Ingemarsdotter — two Germans, Hanna Kolb and Lucia Anger, and Finland’s Riikka Sarasoja.
Nilsson pushed the pace when the gun sounded followed closely by her Swedish teammates heading up the first climb. On the descent, the icy righthand turn put Kolb in a spot of bother, opening the door for the three Swedish teammates to gather back in front and lead the pack up the second climb. The second descent gave Nilsson and opportunity to open a bit of a gap from Falk her teammate.The Swedish pair crossed the line in first and second, with Nilsson winning in 2:39.71, and Falk finishing 0.15 seconds behind to automatically advance.
The fourth quarterfinal featured Randall and Ida Sargent of the U.S., Switzerland’s Laurien Van Der Graaff, Slovenia’s Vesna Fabian, Norway’s Heidi Weng, and Germany’s Claudia Nystad Germany.
Van Der Graaf took the lead up the first hill followed closely by an in-form Randall. The downhill turn didn’t separate the field like in previous races, and heading back into the second climb it was a six person pack, still led by Van Der Graaff. A podium favorite, Weng was losing pace stuck in fourth headed into the downhill. Van Der Graaff was able to hold everybody else off to win the heat in 2:38.29, followed by Randall, who was nearly caught off guard at the finish by a charging Fabian but was able to sneak by for second (+0.28).
The fifth quarterfinal featured Østberg, Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla, American Sophie Caldwell, Finland’s Kerttu Niskanen, and Slovenia’s Alenka Cebasek and Nika Razinger.
Just like her start from last week, Østberg took a very quick approach to the start and led the group up the hill in first position, while Caldwell followed closely. The two hammered the first 400 meters and built a sizable gap, with Kalla chasing them down in third. On the second climb, Caldwell started to fade as a result of her effort in the first part of the race. Kalla passed her and joined Østberg, finishing just 0.28 seconds behind her. Østberg clocked the fastest quarterfinal time by more than a second in 2:35.05.
The two lucky losers making it into the semifinals were Fabian from heat 3 and Caldwell from heat 5.
The first semifinal featured a lineup that could give favorite Bjørgen her biggest challenge all day. Nilsson, Falla, Fabian, Herrmann and Dahlqvist all lined up alongside of Bjørgen.
The race started off with Bjørgen not taking her usual fast start, possibly waiting to see how it unfolded. As a result, she was fourth up the first climb. In front of her were Herrmann, Falla and Nilsson.
Bjørgen was just waiting for her chance, and an opportunity presented itself on the downhill when Falla stumbled on the icy turn into the finish. This gave Bjørgen room to move into third up the last climb. On the descent, her ski prep essentially got her in perfect position to take the inside line going into the last turn.
With no effort, Bjørgen was able to glide right past Nilsson and attack the corner. After the turn, Bjørgen, Falla and Nilsson were essentially tied heading toward the finish. Falla was in the lead but lost steam and passed by Nilsson a few meters from the finish. Bjørgen closed the last five meters hard and ended up passing Falla in a photo finish. Nilsson’s won the semi in 2:38.96, Bjørgen was 0.15 back in second, and Falla missed advancing just one-hundredth of a second back in third.
The second semifinal featured Østberg, Kalla, Falk, Van Der Graaff, Randall and Caldwell.
As expected, Østberg took a very fast start, surging to the front and out of trouble up the first hill, with Van Der Graaff close behind. Heading into the first turn, Randall lost her footing and took a fall, eliminating her from a shot at advancing to the final.
The leaders attacked heading into the second climb, and Kalla found an opportunity to attack Østberg on the downhill and eventually passed her when Østberg let up a bit into the corner. Kalla was able to hold her off to the finish, winning in 2:36.7. Østberg was second, 0.64 seconds behind, and Randall finished fifth, almost 12 seconds out, to end up ninth overall.
The two lucky losers came from the second semifinal as a result of pace Østberg set. Falk and Van Der Graaf advanced.
This set up an incredibly fast final with two Norwegians — Bjørgen and Østberg — and three Swedes — Nilsson, Kalla and Falk — and Van Der Graaf. The question was, how much energy did Bjørgen have left?
Just like her previous heat, Bjørgen initially sat back without losing site of Nilsson, who took the lead to the first hill. Bjørgen took a wider line and positioned herself next to Østberg. The pair led up the hill and stayed together down the backside and into the first turn.
At the end of the first lap, Bjørgen outpaced Østberg and lead up the hill. Nilsson was third up the hill, but Østberg lost all of her energy trying to match the pace Bjørgen set up it. Nilsson passed the second Norwegian before they got to the top.
Bjørgen knew Østberg was suffering, and attacked, taking Nilsson with her. The 21-year-old Swede tried to match Bjørgen’s pace, but simply couldn’t. Bjørgen easily skated away and across the finish line for yet another World Cup win in 2:35.86. Nilsson placed second, 0.55 seconds later, and rounding out the podium was Østberg, 1.12 back in third.
Kalla finished fourth (+2.31), Falk followed in fifth (+5.3) and Van Der Graaff was 12 seconds back in sixth.
In her post-race interview Bjørgen said she “didn’t feel so good in my semifinal so it was a surprise to feel so strong in the final. I am happy to win both races this weekend and I am looking forward to the Christmas holiday and to prepare for the Tour de Ski. “
This was also Nilsson’s first-ever skate podium and third individual podium, which she “was so excited about.”
“I executed my tactics as I planned,” Nilsson said. “I wanted to attack on the last climb. I wanted to be closer to Marit but she was too fast. “
Heading into the holiday break Bjørgen in the overall World Cup lead has a 321 point advantage over her teammate Therese Johaug, who did not race on Sunday.