Well in certain ways, the races went as expected, Northug won the mini-tour while those athletes behind him fought tooth and nail for every position and that resulted in some unexpected results in terms of the athletes who had the fastest times on the day.
The gap from Northug to Cologna was 12 seconds and a distance which Cologna was very capable of closing. Further back, Legkov was the start of the big group and was 42 seconds behind at the start.
At 1.4km, Cologna had closed five seconds on Northug’s lead and Legkov had already taken nine seconds out. It was pretty clear that Northug had a rather conservative start compared to the others. The biggest mover early on was the Russian Belov who had reduced his deficit by an impressive 12 seconds.
After the first 2.5km, Cologna had caught Northug and the Norwegian immediately moved to the side and insisted on Cologna to take the lead. The stadium also allowed the chasers including Legkov to have a visual aid of how far behind they were of the lead two. A group of five including Manificat, Olsson, Belov, Hellner and Clara had formed and were 40 seconds behind the leaders. The five-some chasing down Legkov dropped Clara and cut the deficit a further six seconds at 3.9km as Hellner continued to keep the pace strong.
Out in the lead, Northug took the lead for a bit and let Cologna draft for a bit and it appeared that they were getting word that the chasers were gaining on them. As they came into the stadium for 5km, the chaser’s times began to stabilize as Legkov continued to ski in no-man’s land ahead of Hellner, Olsson, Manificat and Belov. Further back, Vylegzhanin and Harvey were doing well and moving up the field and had taken out almost 30 seconds out of the lead after 5km.
At 6.4km, the top 20 athletes had splintered into four group. The first, Cologna and Northug in the lead, the second was Legkov who was 24 seconds down, the third was Manificat, Belov, Olsson, Vylegzhanin and Hellner 37 seconds back, then a big group consisting of Rønning, Sedov, Poltoranin, Chebotko, Bauer, Harvey, Angerer and Halfvarsson who were 49 seconds down.
All of Vylegzhanin’s hard work had be nullified as he fell on one of the downhill and went from 5th to 17th. However, the two big chase group has bridged the gap and became one big group of 13-15 athletes at the halfway point of the race.
Northug and Cologna were working well and trading off the lead to maintain the gap on Legkov and the others. Olsson was the athlete to take the lead of the chasers and keep the push on to catch Legkov and his attack was breaking the athletes behind him and a slight gap began to open up.
With 5km left, Legkov started to go backwards and sat 32 seconds behind the lead. Olsson was only six seconds down on the Russian with the other chasers (Belov, Poltoranin, Rønning, Manificat, Sedov and Hellner) a further three seconds behind.
Olsson’s pace was nothing short of impressive and just before 11.4km caught Legkov and took a further six seconds from the lead and was 32 seconds behind, just as Legkov was at 10km. The athletes that were trying to follow Olsson were losing contact with the Swede the longer the race went on. However, coming up the big-hill into the stadium, Rønning’s skis were skiing extremely well and was able to bridge the gap with Poltoranin and Hellner to Olsson and Legkov to make fight for third up to five athletes.
On the final 2.5km lap, Cologna was leading Northug, but the Norwegian wasn’t going anywhere while the fight for third was becoming a test of willpower as Olsson was relentless with the pace as all those athletes continued to race.
The games for Northug began earlier than expected as Northug moved up alongside Cologna at around 13.5km and put in a few powerful double-poles to move ahead of the Swiss man, only to stop poling, basically slow down until Cologna skied past him until and then hoped in behind him and let Cologna continue to lead.
At 13.9km, the pace that Olsson was injecting was apparent as the chasers closed the gap to 24 seconds.
Coming up the final hill, Northug made his move and quickly opened a gap on Cologna to take the Ruka Triple. The battle for third had Rønning make a decisive move and move in front of Olsson as did Poltoranin as the Norwegian and Kazakh athletes came across the line in third and fourth as Olsson and Hellner finished 5th and 6th.
1. Alexey Poltoranin
2. Eldar Rønning
3. Daniel Rickardsson
1. Petter Northug
2. Dario Cologna
3. Eldar Rønning
To be honest, I was impressed with how much of the work Northug did today. I’d say the split was 60/40 Cologna/Northug. Even though Northug moved to the front mainly because he had faster skis than Cologna, but he also led up the big hill coming into the stadium too. It was another good result for Northug and he’s the male equivalent of Bjørgen at this point.
I was interested to see what Cologna would do to try to shake Northug off, but it became apparent that Northug was going nowhere. It’ll be very interesting to see if this pattern of racing continues when the Tour de Ski starts. I really hope to see the other big all-rounders like Hellner and Harvey get into the mix too. Unfortunately, those two were a little too far off the pace when the final race started today.
The real story of the day for me was the action behind the leaders. We got to an amazing performance from Olsson who led the charge for the chasers for much of the second half of the race but just didn’t have enough mustard at the last portion of the race.
A great finish from Rønning who continues his great run of form in classic distance races. I think it’s been over a year now since the last time Rønning finished outside the top 10 in a distance classic race.
Poltoranin also had a great race today and posted the top time. He looked super fluid today compared to the other athletes; it was actually impressive how well he kept his technique together throughout the race. It looked like he was out for a Sunday ski with his long glide and smooth poling. At this time last year, Poltoranin had a great run of form and he won the Davos 15km classic. It’ll be interesting to see if he can continue this form through to the Tour de Ski.
I feel bad for Vylegzhanin today as he was having such a good race until he fell at 6km and it completely took the wind out of his sails. After that he just moved backwards and was unable to regain great form that saw him move up from 23rd to 5th in the first 5km.
Also, Legkov was stuck in between a rock and hard place today. He was probably the only athlete on course today that had no one to ski with for the first 10km. He was doing quite well for the first bit, but it turned out to be a little too much as he started to fade in the final 5km and finished off the podium today in 7th place. I believe that if he had at least one athlete to help him try and close the gap to the lead, he would’ve finished a little higher in the Ruka Triple standings.
Finally, the big movers of the day were Poltoranin who started the day in 25th and finished 4th, whil Hofer tumbled down the standing and went from 10th to 39th.
I’ll be back in a couple days with some random thoughts on mini-tours.
It was another day for the Norwegian’s as the swept the women’s podium in exciting fashion. There was no doubt where Bjørgen would finish the day, but the excitement came in behind as Johaug skied an incredible race to overtake both Kalla and Skofterud enroute to the runner-up spot for this year’s Ruka Triple.
The action began 2.5km into the race and Bjørgen had already increased her lead on Skofterud by three seconds at 2.5km. Skofterud was doing extremely well early on and was increasing her lead on Kalla. In between 2.5km and 3.9km, Skofterud increased the gap by eight seconds.
Johaug had a big task at hand and began the day hunting down Kalla for third place and had a 22 secon deficit to overcome. Impressively, at 5km Johaug had caught the Swede and moved right pasted her and set her sights on Skofterud. Further behind, Haag was doing quite well and had moved up from 17th to 8th at the halfway point.
Johaug’s tempo was extremely impressive and with every stride, Johaug was catching her teammate and at 7.5km, Johaug and Skofterud were together. Further behind, both Kalla and Kowalczyk’s fast pace early on in an attempt to close the gaps in front of them, started to backfire as they began to lose big amounts of time compared to those around them.
Johaug and Skofterud skied together for about a kilometer on the flats out of the stadium, but at the first big hill of the loop, Johaug opened up a 10 meter gap on her teammate and with 1100m left, Johaug had a 3.1 second gap. Further back, Kalla was no over a minute back, while Kowalczyk appeared to continue to go backwards as she was 1:30 behind.
With the big downhill, her bigger body compared to Johaug was a massive advantage as she was able to glide back into contention and actually overtake Johaug coming into the big uphill into the stadium. The two athletes were side-by-side and red-lining. Coming into the finishing straight, Johaug had a slight lead on Skofterud and Skofterud tried to pull along side Johaug but didn’t have enough gas in the take and slipped back into the tracks behind Johaug for third place.
1. Therese Johaug
2. Marit Bjørgen
3. Vibeke Skofterud
1. Marit Bjørgen
2. Therese Johaug
3. Vibeke Skofterud
Another brilliant day for Norway, and the result of the day for me was Johaug. Not only was she able to move up from 4th to 2nd on the day, she also was the fastest female on skis today by nine seconds over Bjørgen. Like Goldstrom pointed out on the British Eurosport broadcast, for the Norwegian courses, this is the best worst-case scenario they could be put in. With all their athletes in top of the world right now, you just have to encourage all the them equally. This was no more apparent when both Johaug and Skofterud were going up the big-hill into the stadium the final time. What to the coaches say to the athletes?
Norway Coach #1: “Go Therese! You can beat Vibeke!”
Norway Coach #2: “Go Vibeke! You can beat Therese!”
The Norwegians are in a class of their own and that’s all that I’m going to say about that.
I was really happy to see Saarinen have a great race today. She posted the 4th fastest time of the day behind the three Norwegians which move her from 18th to 7th. It’d be nice to Saarinen return to the form she was in three years ago when her and Kuitunen ruled the women’s field. Here’s hoping…
It was another disappointing day for Kowalczyk. I was expecting a lot from her today, this type of race is and should be her bread and butter. The hunting style pursuit fits her race tactics and judging by the second half of her race today, I have to think that she let off the gas as the time gaps that opened up between her and the Norwegians were abnormally large.
It was also a poor race from Jacobsen today after such a strong showing yesterday when she finished 6th place. She posted the 45th fastest time today which bumped her down from 20th to 32nd place.
Biggest mover of the day was Russian newcomer Alevtina Tanygina who posted the 15th fastest time of the day which moved her from 72nd to 33rd in the Ruka Triple standings. She had a very good U23 last year and picked up a couple 4th places in the distance races and an 8th in the sprint. With performance like the ones she showed this weekend, I expect her to maintain her place on the Russian team for the rest of the World Cup.
Another Russian with the name of Polina Medvedeva had a very good race and had the 10th fastest time of the day. The 22-year old is still very raw and has only five World Cup starts to her name. Some good news for the Russian women who are starting to look more and more the part every race they enter.
That’s it for me, back early tomorrow with the men’s wrap.
The snow was coming down and the snow conditions were great for this abbreviated individual start race. Today’s race was only 5km instead of the traditional 10km which meant for a frantic pace around the 5km loop.
Stephen (bib 8 ) of USA posted a very good time through 3.1km and had an impressive snappy turnover going through 3.1km. Stephen looked like she had put up a good time until Jacobsen (bib 17) came through and took 15 seconds out of the American which immediately looked to be a very competitive time for the race. At the finish, Jacobsen increased her lead by a further 12 seconds and skied the 5km course in 12:12 which looked to be a top 10 time for the day. In behind, Holly Brooks had a great run as she finished only 14 seconds behind the Norwegian.
As more athletes came through the 3.1km mark, Jacobsen’s race was looking more impressive as Steira, Weng, Roponen, Sarasoja-Lilja and Kristoffersen were all behind Jacobsen’s time. The advantage for those athletes were that their coaches were able to relay to them splits on Jacobsen and at the finish Sarasoj-Lilja did very well to closed the gap to 1.5 seconds, but didn’t topple the Norwegian.
The race began rather redundant for the next few dozen racers as they were close to Jacobsen’s time, but just came up short. It wasn’t until Kowalczyk (bib 78) went through 3.1km that the race really heated up. The Pole was able to oust Jacobsen from the best time as Kowalczyk was 5.5 seconds faster than the Norwegian. But it was Johaug (bib 82) who took a further 1.4 seconds out of Kowalczyk’s time.
At the finish, Kowalczyk got stuck behind Gaiazova and lost a couple seconds, but still did enough to take the lead from Jacobsen. Feeding off the splits, Johaug increased her pace and crossed the line with a lead of 7.6 seconds over Kowalczyk.
Back on course, Kalla was absolutely storming as she was four seconds faster than Johaug at 3.1km, but Bjørgen dropped that fast time by a further 4.3 seconds.
At the finish, Kalla’s lead on Johaug shrunk a bit, but still did enough to overtake the Norwegain and did just enough to hold of Skofterud as Skofterud momentarily sat in second place. Bjørgen came across the line with a 11 second lead ahead of the Swede.
1. Marit Bjørgen
2. Charlotte Kalla
3. Vibeke Skofterud
A great race for Jacobsen today, who started so early and was the leader at the finish line for much of the race and ultimately finished in 6th place. On the whole, it was another amazing day for Norway who had six of the top nine athletes.
It was another great day for the American women as Randall and Brooks finished 12th and 17th respectively.
Tomorrow is set up for a very exciting race in terms of the race for second place. Bjørgen has a 11 second lead on Kalla for tomorrow’s pursuit, but Kalla, Skofterud and Johaug will start only 2.3 seconds. apart. Kowalczyk will start 7.6 seconds behind that group and will be looking to make contact with them as that threesome will probably look to work together to try and keep Kowalczyk off the podium.