Just days after the Frozen Thunder sprint in Canmore, Alberta, the official European racing season kicked off in Vuokatti, Finland, with classic sprints contested by most of the Finnish national team, among others.
For the women, Mona-Liisa Nousiainen won the 1.5 k qualifier by 2.03 seconds of Anne Kyllönen, with Kerttu Niskanen in third. Nousianen won her first World Cup in January, 2013, but recently married national team teammate Ville Nousiainen.
Mona-Liisa then won her quarterfinal and semifinal before skiing away from the field in the final to take the season’s first win.
“My goal is to stay in great shape the entire season,” she told Finnish broadcaster YLE. I hope I managed to ski a smooth strong season and stay healthy.”
Kyllönen, another World Cup regular, had led the final out of the gate. But after Nousiainen passed her coming towards the finish, she was also beaten out for second place by Katri Lylynpera. Lylynpera was a top-20 finisher at U23 World Championships last season, but this is by far her best national-level result.
“In the final, I had no other strategy than that podium,” Lylynpera told Kestävyys Urheilu, a Finnish sports website.
Niskanen placed fourth, Leena Nurmi fifth, and Aino-Kaisa Saarinen sixth.
Also in the field was Kaisa Mäkäräinen, the World Champion and two-time World Cup Total Score winner in biathlon. Not used to racing classic, Mäkäräinen qualified in ninth. She made it to the semifinals of the sprint but then placed sixth in her heat.
“I’ve done sports for so long that I might as well go embarrass myself,” Mäkäräinen told the Ilta-Sanomat newspaper a few days before the race. “I’ve never skied before a classic sprint. I’ve been doing hours of rehearsals for it now… The aim is to get a good workout sprint.”
College of Saint Scholastica alum Anita Kirvesniemi placed third in her quarterfinal and just missed moving on to the semifinals.
The men’s competition was full of drama, with Matthias Strandvall crossing the line first in the final but quickly getting relegated to last place in the heat due to skiing on Toni Ketelä’s skis.
Strandvall had won the qualifier by 0.93 seconds over Anssi Pentsinen.
The jury reportedly relegated him due to an obstruction incident which not only affected Ketelä, but caused Ville Nousiainen to crash; Ville crossed the line 35 seconds after the leaders in the final.
“My tactic was that I saved all the tempo for the end, it is my trump card,” Ketelä told the media; he had made a close finish with Strandvall and Mikkonen. “The jury then decided on what had happened before.”
Juho Mikkonen placed second and Ristomatti Hakola third, with Pentsinen fourth and Nousiainen fifth. Other favorites like Sami Jauhojärvi and Martti Jylhä did not make the final.
Racing will continue on Sunday.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.