Norway’s Marit Bjørgen was untouchable again, for the fourth day in a row as she won the 5k classic in Toblach, Italy, and widening her overall gap to 1:34.3.
Bjørgen doesn’t look like she’s planning to slow down. She doesn’t feel that way either, as she tells reporters after the race.
“I don’t really feel particularly worn down after these four races, so that’s good,” Bjørgen said to Norwegian TV station NRK after the race.
Bjørgen had nearly 20 seconds down to Polish archrival Justyna Kowalczyk over the fast 5k course. She was over 10 seconds faster than fellow national team racer Therese Johaug, and 13 seconds ahead of Heidi Weng.
But while reporters and commentators hold Bjørgen as the likely overall winner barring illness or accidents, Bjørgen still doesn’t take anything for granted.
“We are still three races from the top of Alpe Cermis. A lot can happen, and a lot has happened in the last races before,” she said.
“But I’m in good shape and I feel like I’m in a great flow. It all feels so easy, and I haven’t really felt very tired after any of the events in the Tour so far,” said Bjørgen, pleasantly understating the facts.
Sadie Bjornsen was eighth in the 5k classic, earning herself some honorable mention from the Norwegian TV commentators as she progressed through the course.
“Sadie Bjornsen is one to watch among the American girls. She’s done surprisingly well throughout the Tour this year,” they noted during the event.
Bjornsen was excited about her performance as well, as she told FasterSkier in a phone call after the race, “I love 5 k classics, and I was just going to go out there and lay it all out. … I think that I started more aggressive than I maybe ever have. I was constantly getting splits on the course that I was two seconds off from the lead, four seconds off from the lead, so I knew it was a tight race.”
Sweden’s Emma Wiken was close to breaking into the Norwegian domination with her fourth place today, and Justyna Kowalczyk was fifth after posting the fastest time at the 1.7k mark.
At the end of the day, this leaves the usual three Norwegians on the overall podium after four of seven stages: Bjørgen in first, with Weng in second place, 1:34.3 behind, and Johaug in third place, 2:16.5 behind Bjørgen.
All in awe of the queen
Her fellow national team racers are impressed and full of admiration of Bjørgen.
Tour de Ski title defender Therese Johaug, who was third in the 5k today and delivered a much stronger performance today than in the sprints yesterday, has already surrendered the overall title to Bjørgen.
“It’s incredible to watch her ski. She’s incredibly strong. There is nothing we can do about her now. Mom’s in charge,” Johaug said, referring to the 34-year-old Bjørgen as the mother of the team.
Third-place finisher in today’s 5k, Weng is also impressed with her teammate.
“I can’t wait for Bjørgen to be standing at the top of the podium after the final stage,” Weng said to NRK after the race.
“She’s deserved that more than anyone I know,” Weng added.
As for her own performances, which have landed her in a solid second place overall, Weng is more than content.
“I’m just enjoying myself out there, and I’m gaining quite a bit on Therese (Johaug) at the end of the race, so that’s promising,” Weng said after the 5k.
“I’m a bit slow off the start, but I build a lot of steam toward the end. I was really ready to do another lap,” she said with a smile.
Ingvild Flugstad Østberg is now fourth overall in the Tour de Ski, but leaves the Tour after today’s 5k. Her main goal with the Tour was to put in a request for a spot on the relay team that will represent Norway at the 2015 FIS World Championships in Falun next month. She certainly has made herself a hot candidate.
“I feel like I’ve done a lot of good races lately, and I still feel like I have room to improve. But it’s a bit sad to leave here now, it’s so fun to race!”
When Østberg leaves the Tour, Justyna Kowalczyk moves up to fourth place overall, but almost three and a half minute back from Bjørgen. The Norwegian women’s dominance is no coincidence. It’s a combination of endurance, experience, strength, technique and a deep team that lifts the overall performance. That foundation has been laid over years.
Bjørgen willing to sacrifice Falun for Tour de Ski
In the nine-year history of Tour de Ski, Bjørgen has collected nine stage victories, and 21 Tour de Ski podiums. She has 29 Olympic and World Championship medals, she has won the overall World Cup three times, the sprint World Cup four times and the distance World Cup twice. But she has never won the overall Tour de Ski.
Today Bjørgen touched her own Tour de Ski record: The only female skier to have four stage wins in one and the same tour. She did that in the 2011/2012-season, when she was second overall behind Kowalczyk.
After the sprint victory at Val Müstair, Switzerland, yesterday, Bjørgen told reporters she is willing to sacrifice potential medals at the World Championships in Falun, Sweden, next month for the overall Tour de Ski 2015 victory.
“I’m taking that chance just by being here,” Bjørgen said to NRK prior to the 5k in Toblach.
It is no secret that seven races in nine days can take a toll on the body, wear skiers down and leave them susceptible to illness and injuries. It has happened to numerous Tour de Ski athletes before, and several skiers are sitting out the Tour just to avoid the exposure – including Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla.
Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.