World Cup Finale: A Victory Lap for Bjørgen

The last race of the season, and it was spring skiing conditions as the mercury was hovering around +7°C while the snow was a perfect at -5°C. Today’s race was more of a victory lap for Bjørgen and her amazing season since second place Kowalczyk started 74 seconds behind the Norwegian. With that said, the odds for today’s race were Bjørgen at 1.02 (sure thing) for the win while the rest of the field was 10.00.

THE RACE

With 74 seconds between Bjørgen and Kowalczyk and another 80 seconds between the Pole and Johaug, all the excitement would be for the race for fourth place.

So while Bjørgen, Kowalczyk and Johaug were skiing their own race by themselves, the race for fourth was heating up as Follis, Haag and Jacobsen had bunched together early and began to work together to close the gap between themselves and Kalla.

Going up Mörderbacken the first time, you could see that even though Bjørgen was out in front, she certainly wasn’t taking the race easy as her heart rate was at 94% of her max. At 2.8km, the gap between Kowalczyk and Bjørgen was only increased by three seconds.
Kalla was having a good day and was steadily closing the gap between herself and Johaug, while Follis and Jacobsen were closing the gap too. At 2.8km at the top of Morderbacken, Johaug’s gap between Kalla, Follis and Jacobsen was 17 seconds. Haag was dropping off the back of Jacobsen and was now sitting eight seconds behind the Norwegian.

We could see how big the gap was at the front as Bjørgen started her second lap and was going out of the stadium, Kowalczyk was coming into the stadium and sat 1:28 back, 14 seconds lost in the first 5km.

The race for fourth and to a certain extent third was heating up as Johaug was only 14 seconds ahead of the Kalla, Follis, Jacobsen trio as they continued to work well together. Haag was still along in 7th and say 22 seconds behind Jacobsen and 23 seconds ahead of Majdic and Størmer-Steira who were battling for 8th place.

The last time up Mörderbacken, the gap had stagnated on the second lap between the lead two as Kowalczyk lost only one second in the first 2.8km of the second lap. In behind them, it was a thrilling fight for third as Follis was only 15 meters behind Johaug coming into the base while Jacobsen was another 20 meters back as they had dropped Kalla. The coaches were screaming at Johaug to tell her how close Follis was and going up Morderbacken as able to find another gear and sat seven seconds ahead of the Italian, but still had 2.2km left to the finish.

In the stadium, it was all smiles for both Bjørgen and Kowalczyk as their World Cup season came to a finish and they both celebrated as they came across the finish line. The fight for third was not so laid-back as Johaug had to keep going all the way to the finish-line as Follis and Jacobsen was only 25 meters behind the Norwegian. Johaug was able to hold them off, but it was  a fight for fourth as Follis and Jacobsen were side-by-side coming up the finish hill, but the Italian did enough to hold her off.   

In behind, it was Kalla for 6th while Haag and Størmer-Steira had a sprint finish which went to the Norwegian. In 9th was the elated Majdic who had an ear-to-ear grin and as she came across the finish line and a service man put on a cooking apron on her to signify a change in lifestyle. Finally, it was a made sprint for 10th between six athletes, but it was Ingemarsdotter to out-lunge Fessel.

RESULTS

1. Marit Bjørgen

2. Justyna Kowalczyk

3. Therese Johaug

A really great feeling before the start of the race with Kowalczyk wearing a headband saying “Goodbye Petra” while Majdic had “Goodbye! I Love You” written in black tape on her butt. Shows the respect and friendship that is created over the years on the World Cup stage.

Majdic Says Goodbye

The race within today’s race was actually won by Follis who had the fastest time. The it was Norwegian’s that took 2nd-6th. Jacobsen had a great race as she worked together with Follis for the large majority to catch Johaug who had today’s 3rd fastet time. Bjørgen was next, the Kristoffersen and Størmer-Steira. The story-book ending for Størmer-Steira was so close as she was only 3.1 seconds out of 4th place today.

Amazingly, Kowalczyk had the 18th fastest time, but that can be attributed to the victory lap syndrome and had no one to push her or no one to catch the who race while almost every athlete (except Bjørgen) were within eye shot of other athletes to keep them going.
Other performance highlights included a great race from Randall too who tied Marte Elden for the 14th fastest time today which landed her 16th overall while France’s youngster Laure Barthelemy had today’s 8th fastest time which moved her from 22nd to 17th.

The World Cup Finale was rather anti-climatic, something Capol and the rest of the FIS committee have been trying to reverse with the introduction of the min-tour. Instead of having a great last race with intensity and excitement, the race toady was more like a show loop not only for Bjørgen, but also Kowalczyk. Yes, they still worked very hard throughout the race, but the competition wasn’t there. I believe they are going in the right direction, but they need to tinker with the formula just a little more to get it right, such as adjusting the sprint bonuses or taking them out all together.

Having said that, the atmosphere today definitely had a year-end race feel to it that you could feel where ever you watched the race, whether it was in Falun or in front of your TV/computer screen. The crowds were great all along the course and many of the athletes were all smiles as they took off their skis after the race. Even service men were passing around champagne bottles in the finishing pen. The amazing weather definitely contributed to the festive mood.

I’ll be back a little later with the men’s race.

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