January 01, 2012 (Obertsdorf, Germany) – Marit Bjoergen (NOR) finally grabbed top step on the podium besting Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) in the women’s 10km Skiathlon (5CL+5FR) with a late afternoon start on New Year’s day. Therese Johaug (NOR) claimed third as she also wrestled with Kowalczyk during the race.
For USA’s Kikkan Randall is was another fabulous finish as she catapulted herself from 19th at the exchange to a stellar 7th at the finish and is now 4th overall.”I’m psyched with another good race today,” Randall told SkiTrax.”My strategy was to go out and try to hang in the top 10 on the classic and move up from there. The pace out of the start however was super hard and I was slipping on the climbs. So I think I drifted back a little farther than I wanted too.
“I was feeling really good and just trying to move up. I had no idea where I was sitting in the pack and was just focused on catching the skiers ahead of me. There was a group of three way ahead, about 100m, going into the big climb on the final lap. I was initially more focused on skiing away from the pack I was with but ended up catching those 3 by the top of the hill.
“Unfortunately I made a bad passing choice around Roponen at the top of the hill, going to the outside while Kalla and Sarasoja went on the inside. So I missed getting in their draft on the downhill and then didn’t have enough room to catch them on the home stretch.” Randall’s strong day moved her up one spot from 5th to 4th as skiers hit the first rest day.
During the classic portion Kowalczyk and Johaug duked it out up front as Bjoergen dangled behind with Kristin Stoermer
Steira as the four broke away from the pack and never looked back. Kowalczyk hit the exchange first but the others were all close behind. Bjoergen left her attack late in the game and by the 9.4km bonus Kowalczyk still looked strong and took the top spot with Johaug second and Bjoergen third as Steira got dropped.
It was now time for the Norwegian star to put up or take a backseat to her Polish rival again. As Bjoergen surged to victory Kowalczyk and Johaug battled for second with Kowalczyk edging out the Norwegian for the second spot on the podium.
Randall’s teammates Liz Stephen and Holly Brooks finished 36th and 58th respectively – not at good as they both would have liked but they survived four gruelling days at the Tour.
“I had a great start to the race and my skis were working wonderfully going up the first hill. Then, all of a sudden, all the girls in front of me started “power-plowing” and I felt like I was going to run directly into them. I felt like I had to plow too and then caught my ski in the slush. I think I did a somersault but am not sure.
“I can’t believe I didn’t break anything… but the fall left me somewhat hopeless for the rest of the race. I kept fighting to catch back up to a pack but that’s tough when you’re trying to conserve energy. I’m excited to head to Italy tomorrow (it will be my first time) and it’s great to see Kikkan doing so well. Happy New Year…”
Kowalczyk continues to lead with a 26.6s margin over Bjoergen in second with Johaug in third at 1:06, Randall in 4th at 3:02 and Aino-Kaisa Saarinen (FIN) in 5th at 3:04. Stephen sits in 37th and Brooks is 58th overall.
So how will Randall spend her day off from the office? “We’re driving to Toblach in the morning and will settle into our hotel and then ski after lunch. Going to experiment with some intervals this year instead of just skiing easy. I felt like my body shut down a little bit on the rest days last year. Other than that, some coffee, and maybe a movie with my teammates and then back at it!”
Stay tuned for more action from the Tour de Ski…