The only thing that can stop Norway’s Marit Bjørgen from winning her first ever Tour de Ski title is herself.
Entering Thursday’s fifth stage, a 5 k skate pursuit, in Toblach, Italy, Bjørgen had a 1.34.3 advantage over teammates Heidi Weng and a 2.16 lead over defending Tour de Ski champion Therese Johaug. If either Weng or Johaug wanted a chance to catch Bjørgen, the oppurtunities were winding down and they needed to catch her today. Being a pursuit start, Weng and Johaug would have the advantage of being able to see Bjørgen in front of them and could use that to their advantage to chip away at her lead. They just had to catch her.
Unfortunately for them, Bjørgen didnt feel like playing rabbit for on Thurssday.
Today’s course was the exact same course as yesterday’s classic race. Given that fact, there was a lot of oppurtunity to make up time on the descent leading back to the start/finish area. Alternatively, you could really distance yourself from the pack with an effort on the uphill then attack the downhill to take advantage of the fast snow conditions.
Right at the start, Bjørgen used that plan. She attacked the climb and pushed over the top to gain even more advantage on the downhill. Since it was a looped course this strategy would help her increase her time advantage at all checkpoints. In fact, she had the fastest split at every timing section on the course.
At the 2.4 k timing mark it was apparent that Bjørgen wasn’t going to be caught. Her time was 4:34, second place Weng was 1:41 slower, Johaug +2.19. Bjoergen was able to ski the whole race by herself and was never challenged. She earned every time bonus on course as well as earning bonus points for the fastest overall time. At the end, Bjoergen’s winning time was 36:37.9
With first place in Thursday’s race decided, focus switched to the battle for second place between Weng and Johaug. Just like Bjørgen, they were never challenged and skied solo the entire time. Weng had the faster skis on this day, Johaug never threatened her teammate for second place.
Weng crossed the line +1:58.8, Johaug +2:51. Sweden’s Emma Wiken was fourth at+4:20 and Norwegian Ragnhild Haga came in with a strong fifth place, +4:23. Wiken began the day in fifth position but moved up to fourth in the overall standings by overtaking Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland who was +4:46.
As a result of her fifth consecutive Tour de Ski stage win in this years competition, Bjørgen’s lead for the overall title has grown. She now has a 2:03.8 advantage over Weng and a 3:01 advantage over Johaug.
NRK asked Bjørgen if the race for the overall title was secured, “I am only looking for the next hill” she replied. “There are still two races left. But it feels really good. It is good to have a day off tomorrow.”
In her post race interview Weng told FIS reporters that “I felt stiff in the first lap and I was little bit slower. Then I got better with my technique and I could take some seconds on Therese. I need to rest a lot before the final stages in Val di Fiemme.”
Johaug isn’t ready to give up the fight for second place quite yet. She told FIS reporters “I think it was a good race but I could not find the right pace. I am looking forward to going to Val di Fiemme. I am still motivated to fight for the second place on the top of Alpe Cermis. Nothing is decided yet. There are still two competitions remaining.”
The Tour travels to Val di Fiemme, Italy for the final two stages this weekend. Tomorrow is a rest day.