It was the first test of the season for some of the world’s most competitive cross-country skiers, particularly the Norwegians, and the results came more or less as expected.
Therese Johaug won the women’s 7.5-kilometer classic race in Beitostølen, Norway — one of the International Ski Federation (FIS) season openers used as a tuneup two weeks out from the start of the World Cup.
The leading woman on the Norwegian national team this season, Johaug finished in 20:26.1, 38.4 seconds ahead of the next-fastest woman, her teammate Heidi Weng. Norwegian National Development Team member Kari Øyre Slind, 24, surprised in third, 55.2 seconds behind Johaug.
All in all, Johaug was content.
“I feel like I had a decent race,” Johaug said in a TV interview with NRK after the race. “I was looking for answers to how I have responded to the fall training.
“My main focus today was to find the rhythm and that good flow I’ve had on rollerskis this fall,” she added. “But I was definitely nervous, wondering how it would work out. I felt a little harried and rushed in some spots, but overall, it was a decent season opener.”
While she led at all checkpoints throughout the two-lap course, Johaug started last and battled deteriorating conditions in the packed-powder natural snow. Temperatures hovered just above freezing, but the tracks wore thin as the day progressed.
Fortunately, she had Marit Bjørgen at her side.
“She gave me splits twice today,” Johaug said of her teammate, who is sitting out the bulk of the season as she’s due with her first child in December. “It was strange to hear her voice and it not coming from behind me or in front of me in the track.”
Last night, 27-year-old Johaug made up her mind to race on kick wax rather than skate skis.
“I know that my double-pole-kick technique is pretty solid, and on this course, there are lots of areas to use that technique, so I wanted to take advantage of that,” Johaug explained. “But I am very impressed with Ingvild, who chose to go without wax.”
Her teammate Ingvild Flugstad Østberg placed fifth, 1:01.5 back from Johaug, after double poling the entire race on skate skis. She finished 5.3 seconds behind another Norwegian National Team member, Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen in fourth.
“I am glad I did it and tried it,” Østberg told TV reporters after the race. “It was a combination of peer pressure and my own curiosity. It kind of feels like people wanted to sacrifice me to see if it could be done, and I had a chance to show that it is possible [to double pole the whole course]. It would have been even more fun if I could have been a few seconds faster and made it to the podium.”
She explained that it was a spur-of-the-moment decision. While Jacobsen was 1 second off the podium, Østberg was just over 6 seconds out from third.
The runner-up, Weng was moderately satisfied with her first race of the season.
“It was all right. I am still a ways back from Johaug, but it was not as far back as last year,” she said, explaining that she didn’t quite find her groove. “It was hard to push myself really hard. It felt a bit weird, and it was difficult to turn and even just to ski. But I’m looking forward to the skate race tomorrow.”
The Beitostølen FIS race series continues Saturday with 7.5 and 10 k freestyle races, and wraps up Sunday with men’s and women’s classic sprints.