World Cup racers in the Cogne, Italy 10-kilometer classic individual start enjoyed blues skies and sunshine on Sunday, the temperate weather seeming to have carried over from Saturday’s sprint. Winning the women’s race was Finland’s Kerttu Niskanen in a time of 27:24.8. The victory is Niskanen’s second individual World Cup win–her first came five years ago in the Lenzerheide, Switzerland 10 k classic.
With Sunday’s 10 k the final World Cup regular season race before World Championships, which is set to kick-off next Wednesday, Feb. 20 in Seefeld, Austria, Niskanen explained in a post-race interview with the International Ski Federation (FIS) that she feels ready for the upcoming World Champs competitions.
“Some weeks ago, I felt like Seefeld was too far away. I was so tired at the beginning of the season and I had to totally rest,” Niskanen told FIS. “It was not an easy time, watching the TV when others skiers were racing. So, now I feel good and I’m happy to travel to Seefeld.”
Starting in bib 22, Niskanen was chasing down the times of Switzerland’s Nadine Fähndrich, who started in bib 16, and Sweden’s Frida Karlsson who started in bib 20. By the time Karlsson came through the halfway point, she was up on Fähndrich, who came through four bibs earlier, by 3.1 seconds. Niskanen, who came through two bibs after Karlsson, was down on the Swede by 3.9 seconds.
By the 8 k mark, however, Karlsson’s pace had fallen back and Fähndrich’s time led hers by by 10.6 seconds. Niskanen had also gained steam. At 8 k, she was down on Fähndrich by a mere 0.8 seconds. In the next 2 k, Niskanen managed to outpace the Swiss skier, besting Fähndrich by 3 seconds for the win. According to the FIS database, Sunday’s second place finish is Fähndrich’s first individual Top 3 on the World Cup circuit–although she posted the fastest time in Saturday’s sprint qualifier.
Following Fähndrich, Russia’s skier, Natalia Nepryaeva, finished third today, 12.6 seconds behind Niskanen. Nepryaeva, who started in bib 52, was 13.2 seconds down on the race leader, Karlsson at the halfway point. By 8 k, she had the third fastest time and maintained that position until the finish. Including Sunday’s result, Nepryaeva has landed on the podium seven times this season, four of those in the 10 k classic discipline.
The top North American finisher on Sunday was Rosie Brennan who placed 21st (+1:19.6) Brennan has had 11 individual finishes in the World Cup Top 30 this season, her strongest result being 11th in the Lillehammer 10 k freestyle back in December. In bib 26, Brennan was skiing outside of the Top 30 by 1.5 seconds at the 2 k mark, though by the halfway point, she was ranked with the 17th fastest split. With 2 k to go, she was 10 seconds away from being in the Top 15.
“The course was very unique with lots of twists, turns, and transitions which isn’t always a strength of mine so I think I didn’t ski those sections as well as I would have liked,” Brennan wrote to FasterSkier in an email. “I love racing at altitude so I wanted to push the pace early on to see what was possible. I think I did that well but struggled with my skis a bit and struggled to keep pace on the transitions.”
Finishing 13.4 seconds outside of scoring World Cup points in 33rd (+1:44.6) was Canada’s Katherine Stewart-Jones.
“Yesterday’s sprint was rough, my legs felt heavy and body felt tired so I was surprised with how much better I felt today” Stewart Jones wrote in an email on Sunday. She competed in Saturday’s sprint and finished 51st.
“My skis were awesome so that definitely gave me a boost of confidence,” Stewart-Jones continued. “I am feeling fit and healthy so I am super excited for World Champs. I am mostly looking forward to the 10 km classic and the relay.
“Distance classic races are my strongest event but the relay is always the most fun, there is something special about being able to race for the teammates you train with all season,” she added. “We have a really strong women’s team this year and we are all looking at improving our result from World Champs 2 years ago.”
The next North Americans to finish were Caitlin Patterson, Rosie Frankowski and Julia Kern skiing for the U.S., with Patterson placing 36th (+1:49.6), Frankowski 37th (+1:55.2) and Kern 39th (+1:59.2). Canada’s Cendrine Browne placed 48th (+2:49.0), while the U.S.’s Ida Sargent finished just behind her in 49th (+3:12.3). Canadian Emily Nishikawa started Sunday’s 10 k race but dropped out after the 8.2 k mark.
“I was really excited for today’s race, the course had long gradual climbs and was well suited for power striding which I like to do,” Kern wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “I was feeling pretty good in the warm up, but felt a little tired in the race and also I was the first starter so I didn’t have anyone to chase. I ski best when I am chasing people or skiing with people, but I still tried to push hard. I didn’t have the race I hoped for, but it was really nice to get another race effort in before world champs and it is leaving me hungry for more!”
–Gabby Naranja contributed