Tour leader before today Virpi Kuitunen (FIN) showed very smart tactical preparation for today's final climb and won the first ever Tour de Ski with confidence.
Another truly Italian weather greeted athletes at the start of the last day of the Tour de Ski. Air temperature in the stadium was +2C, snow -3C and the sun hidden behind the mountains.
The Jury made 2 decisions yesterday about today's race:
- wave start for the ladies after 15th place, 5 minutes behind the lead;
- no skins or other mechanical aides to be used.
After the short 1.5km lap around the stadium Kuitunen maintained her lead even increases it by some seconds ahead of followers. With her smooth and relaxed technique she left the stadium and was soon in the sun as she left to the famous Marcialonga course that took the athletes to the final climb. Katerina Neumanova (CZE) had caught Valentina Shevchenko (UKR) who had started 9 seconds in front of her and the tandem moved strongly forward.
On the 7.5km mark, already climbing, Kuitunen passes really smoothly. How will her back that she has had problems with recently react to this kind of stress? Aino Kaisa Saarinen (FIN) had lost extra 22 seconds to Kuitunen, Marit Bjorgen (NOR) had lost extra 11 seconds. Then came Vibeke Skofterud (NOR) with Petra Majdic (SLO), followed by Shevchenko and Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle (GER) who had left Neumanova behind. Kristin Steira (NOR) had already taken 16 seconds back on Kuitunen.
Then the steep part of the climb starts. Kuitunen maintains good rhythm and tempo, smoothly skating through the switchbacks that gave athletes some easier moments. Saarinen and Bjorgen were using absolutely different technique with power and much more upper body work. Shevchenko was coming closer to Bjorgen.
At the 8.6km Kuitunen was in the lead, Saarinen was 1.37 behind, the same difference that in the start. Schevchenko had moved to 3rd place, 2.03 behind and 3 seconds ahead of Bjorgen. Neumanova was 2.18 behind and then Sachenbacher and Majdic 2.27 behind.
Large numbers of spectators cheered athletes as the gradient got steeper and steeper. Very similar to pictures we have seen on the famous cycling tours?
At the 9,4km, only 600m to go, Kuitunen's lead was only 1.28 ahead of Schevchenko. Saarinen was 3rd, 1.32 behind, Bjorgen 4th, 1.45 behind.
As the gradient eased off a little, Kuitunen changed the tempo again and came to the finish at 1278 m above sea level as the true winner of the first ever Tour de Ski. She showed a very smart tactical approach on the last climb.
2nd and 3rd place fight was really tough as Bjorgen demonstrated her sprinting skills, coming way behind Shevchenko and passing her on the last meters. Bjorgen takes 2nd place, 3rd place goes to Shevchenko. 4th to Saarinen, 5th to Neumanova, 6th to Majdic. Tour leader in Oberstdorf Steira finished 7th, ahead of Sachenbacher-Stehle.
Athletes were falling down right after the finish line – true sign that we witnessed the most extreme uphill in the cross country.
Kuitunen, historical Tour de Ski winner said right after the finish the “the climb was as I expected, fighting all the way but it was the same for everyone!”