Women's Race: Bjoergen Wins Dramatic Pursuit
Marit Bjoergen (NOR) won the Tour de Ski Stage 2 Pursuit in Nove Mesto today with an incredible burst of speed to catch and sprint past Charlotte Kalla (SWE) in the final straight. Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) took third place 7 seconds back in what was an exciting contest amongst the best female cross country skiers in the world.
The winner of prologue Kuitunen (FIN) started steadily, holding her time gap over Saarinen (FIN) and Kowalczyk (POL). Kalla starting 7th quickly took the lead of a chasing pack, and then at 1.5km left the pack behind as she set out to catch 4th placed Bjoergen who had started 8 seconds in front. Kowalczyk caught Saarinen after 2km, and started to pull back Kuitunen, while at the same time Kalla caught Bjoergen. Kowalczyk dragged Saarinen up to Kuitunen, however soon after all three leaders were caught by Kalla and Bjoergen as they hit the stadium at the end of the first 3.3km lap.
Back behind Ariana Follis (ITA) and Claudia Nystad-Kuenzel (GER) managed to break free from the rest of the pack, and at the 3.8km split were 9 seconds behind the leading five skiers. The next 15 skiers were still within 22 seconds of first place. Follis bridged the gap, but suddenly Kuenzel had disappeared. She emerged back in the main pack, apparently having fallen on a tricky right hand corner which all the top skiers had snow-ploughed. Up the front Kalla kept the pace up, splitting the front group into three pairs at the end of the second lap – Kowalczyk behind Kalla; Saarinen and Bjoergen; Kuitunen and Follis. Kalla went clear at the front, while Bjoergen skied across to Kowalczyk – interestingly both wearing the same red suit with white stripes just to try and confuse us. The other three were swallowed up by the chasing pack of 10 skiers, including young Anna Hansson (SWE) and 2006-2007 Tour de Ski bronze medal winner Valentina Schevchenko (UKR).
Kalla looked strong at the front, holding off Kowalczyk and Bjoergen by 4-5 seconds, and was seemingly on her way to her first World Cup win. The gap came down a little over the last hill and on the downhill, but the victory seemed to be within the 20 year old Swede's grasp. Then with 500m to go Bjoergen stepped out from behind Kowalczyk and started sprinting. The gap to Kalla closed down second by second, and as they topped the last pinch into the stadium the Nowegian was right on her heels. Kalla fought hard and gave it everything but she couldn't stop Bjoergen from overtaking and claiming the win and the lead in the Tour by a fraction of a second.
Kowalczyk seemed satisfied with her third place, and Kuitunen lead the rest of the pack in 15 seconds off the pace. Rotcheva (RUS) was 5th ahead of Hansson, Valbusa, and Follis. There was only 7 second from Kuitunen back to Skofterud in 14th place, with pre-Tour World Cup leader Jacobssen (NOR) 29 seconds behind Bjoergen in 15th place. Most of the overall favourites are still in touch, with the exception of Majdic (SLO) back in 25th place 1:10 behind Bjoergen.
Tomorrow's Sprint will be exciting. Bjoergen is in good shape and could still be leading into the next Pursuit on Stage 4, however anthing can happen in the head-to-head Sprint competition and there are plenty of strong sprinters who can claim valuable bonus seconds. Follis and Mischol (SUI) only need to gain 18 seconds on Bjoergen, which is the differnce between 1st and 6th. And Kalla only needs to finish one place ahead...
Men's Race: Bauer Holds Off The Pack
Lukas Bauer (CZE) made it back to back victories today in Stage 2 of the Tour de Ski, winning the men's 15km Pursuit in convincing style in front of the home crowd in Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic. The 30 year old skied four solo laps of the 3.75km course to win by 47 seconds ahead of a very large bunch sprint.
After such a dramatic women's pursuit, what would happen with the men? However the men's event unfolded in a much different manner to the women's. Bauer started with a 6 second lead over Axel Teichmann (GER), with the main opposition starting on the track after19 seconds. Third placed Hjelmeset (NOR) was soon swallowed up by the chasing pack, leaving Bauer and Teichmann the only skiers out in front. Bauer's lead increased steadily in the first few kilometres, out to 25 seconds at the 2.6km mark, while Teichmann seemed to cruise along with the ever growing pack 3-4 seconds behind him. Over 40 skiers were crammed into the next 30 seconds. Anders Soedergren (SWE) lead the pack up to catch Teichmann at the top of the hill on the second lap, while Bauer's lead extended out to 36 seconds. The front of the pack was all stretched out in single file, but still over 30 athletes were within 20 seconds.
Then not much really happened for the next lap. Bauer's lead blew out to 57 seconds, while the pack began to bunch up more than before. Sodergren stayed at the front the entire time, accompanied by Vylegzhanin (RUS), Piller Cottrer (ITA), and Teichmann (GER). Gaillard (FRA) fell on a downhill, but was up again and rejoined the pack of about 30. Fredriksson (SWE) and Roenning (NOR) lost contact with the main group. The last lap begins and Checchi (ITA) and di Centa (ITA) join Piller Cottrer at the front. Over the top of the hill and then Angerer (GER) and Cologna (SUI) both fell in quick succession on a downhill but still managed to stay in contact with the pack. The Italians lead the race for second place down towards the stadium for the final time. Suddenly another fall, right at the front! Piller Cottrer lost balance and brought down di Centa with him! Sodergren hits the front again as they top the rise into the final straight but then his team-mate Marcus Hellner comes storming past to win the bunch sprint and take second. Next Soedergren, Vylegzhanin, and Oestensen (NOR). Bauer? Oh yes, he is already giving interviews while the others are still catching their breath. Most of the overall contenders are in the main group, with the exception of the already mentioned Fredriksson and Roenning, who are 1:32 behind, Legkov (RUS) who is back at 1:51, and Vittoz (FRA) who had a terrible day to end up 3:15 behind Bauer.
Tomorrow everything can change with the overall standings. The winner of the Stage 3 Freestyle Sprint in Prague receives a 60 second time bonus. Bauer normally doesn't qualify for World Cup sprint finals, though he never would have had such incentive as now. There are plenty of eager contenders with striking distance of taking the overall lead if Bauer doesn't make the top 30, including Oestensen, Northug (NOR), and even Bauer's Czech team-mates Koukal and Jaks, who are normally stronger sprinters. However there are also plenty of sprint specialists further down the result list who have been conserving their energy so far and waiting for their chance of glory in the Sprint in Prague. Whose legs will be freshest after two tough stages? We will see tomorrowFull Results