Today was the start of the Ruka Triple and we got to see Bjørgen ski to her 49th career World Cup win while the men’s race was very unpredictable as Sweden’s Teodor Peterson walked away with his first every World Cup victory. During qualification, Skofterud continued her strong start to the season and qualified in top spot while the Finn Anssi Pentsinen had a blazing fast time and was four seconds faster than everyone else during qualification.

WOMEN’S QUARTER-FINALS

The TV coverage started just as the women’s second quarter-final in which Smutna and Brodin qualified by right. The first quarter-final saw Skofterud and Kalla qualify.

HEAT 3: Bjørgen, Kowalczyk, Randall, Saarinen, Niskanen, Fabjan

This easily could’ve been a heat for the finals, but that’s why qualifications are so important and make the heats interesting. Going down the first hill it was Saarinen in front, but Bjørgen decided to go to the front very early on and had the others fight it out between them. Coming up the big hill, Kowalczyk and Randall passed Saarinen for the fight for second. On the home stretch, Randall and Kowalczyk were side-by-side, but the double poling power of the American was too much for Kowalczyk and Randall out-lunged for

HEAT 4: Lahteenmaki, Visnar, Gaiazova, Johaug, Medvedeva

On the flats after the down-hill, Lahteenmaki overtook Gaiazova for lead and the heat remained very tight. Visnar had the lead at the bottom of the big hill and Johaug make a brilliant move and came up alongside Visnar as the two pulled away from the others. In the fight for third, Medvedeva trip over herself was on the snow out of the race. Visnar and Johaug comfortably qualified for the semi-finals.

HEAT 5: Korosteleva, Ivanova, Falla, Brun-Lie, Prochazkova, Matveeva

Brun-Lie was leading and for much of the heat until the base of the big uphill when Falla showed her quality and put on her turbo to go from fourth to first in a matter of five seconds. After Falla opened up a gap on the others, Matveeva skied into second place at the top of the hill. Prochazkova made a late charge to come third in front of Brun-Lie and Korosteleva, but it was too little too late for the Slovakian.

MEN’S QUARTER-FINALS

HEAT 1: Pentsinen, Onda, Paakkonen, Simonlatser, Hattestad, and Goering 4.3 seconds

Goering didn’t start. Pentsinen was out in  front very early and had a 10 meter gap on the others. The race was for second and after Hattestad had led the chasers, he began to fade and was overtaken by Onda on the hill up to the stadium. Coming round the tight left-hander before the home stretch, Hattestad lost his balance and fell. Onda caught Pentsinen at the beginning of the home stretch as both let off the gas and qualified comfortably.

HEAT 2: Valjas, Kummel, Legkov, Strandsvall, Peterson, Miranda

Petersen led the race out, but the race was tight as Peterson, Strandvall and Legkov were three wide going at the far end of the course. Coming into the final hill it was Peterson, Legkov, Strandvall and Kummel four abreast. Legkov put in a huge burst of speed to try and get to the tight left-hander first, but choose the inside and didn’t get the best line and was relegated to fourth. Valjas, had a brilliant piece of skiing and after hanging-back for much of the heat, took the long way round the corner and slung-shot himself from fourth to second. At the finish, Petersen and Valjas were able to qualify for the semi-finals.

HEAT 3: Brandsdal, Petukhov, Chebotko, Pettersen, Belov, Pasini

Belov and Chebotko leading the heat up to the base of the big hill and was overtaken by some great skiing from Pettersen who glided his was to the front. Going up the hill, Pettersen was able to increase the lead as Petukhov came to second. Brandsdal showed some impressive power as he was able to pull ahead of Petukhov in the home stretch to qualify second behind his teammate. The heat was very fast though so it looked very good that Petukhov would get a lucky loser spot.

HEAT 4: Modin, Einaste, Cologna, Newell, Garfarov, Harvey

It was the Estonia Einaste who lead out of the stadium and was passed by Modin as the big Swede took the lead until the base of the big up-hill. Going up the hill Cologna and Modin led the way, but they weren’t able to open a gap on the rest. Coming into the home straight, all six athletes were very close, but Modin and Cologna were able to hold off Newell and Gafarov as they lunged for third place.

HEAT 5: Kruikov, Rønning, Chernousov, Jauhojaervi, Teichmann, Northug

Kruikov led for much of the way out to the end of the course and it was Rønning to take over coming back to the base of the big hill. Then Kruikov and Teichmann were the two athletes to lead the charge up the hill. Going around the tight left-hander, Chernousov skied a great line and overtook Teichmann. On the home stretch it was Kruikov and Chernousov in the lead and it appeared Northug left it a little too late and started closing the gap on the qualifying spots but ran out of track and finished third. The heat was quite slow which meant Northug did not grab a lucky loser spot.

WOMEN’S SEMI-FINALS

HEAT 1: Kalla, Smutna, Skofterud, Brodin, Fessel, Randall

Kalla was the fastest out of the stadium and led the heat down the hill while the others tried to keep pace. Kalla continued to lead at the base of the hill while Skofterud made her way to second place and skied alongside Kalla up the hill with Randall on the tails of the Norwegian. Kalla had opened up a gap while Skofterud led out Randall to the home stretch, but Randall pulled out and showed her impressive double-poling power and went past the Norwegian to finish second.

HEAT 2: Visnar, Bjørgen, Falla, Matveeva, Johaug, Kylloenen

Visnar led the heat out the stadium and down the hill but made a huge mistake and lost her balance and fell taking out Falla with her. This left Bjørgen, Kylloenen and Matveeva to fight for the qualifying spots as Johaug was off the pace from very early on. The lead three were together at the base of the big uphill, but Bjørgen increased the pace and pulled away from the Finn and Russian. At the finish, it was Bjørgen first across the line and Kylloenen second as she was able to hold off the Russian. However, Matveeva did enough to earn one of the lucky-loser spots for the final.

MEN’S SEMI-FINALS

HEAT 1: Pentsinen, Peterson, Valjas, Petukhov, Brandsdal

Similar to the quarter-final, Pentsinen went extremely fast and only Peterson was able to stay with him. The Finn and the Swede maintained their 15 meter lead on the other athletes until the up-hill when Petukhov, Brandsdal and Valjas began to close the gap and the five athletes were together going into the tight left-hander. On the home stretch, Peterson did well to overtake Pentsinen as Brandsdal was making a hard charge but ran out of track and finish third while Valjas was just behind him in fourth. The heat was very fast so it looked promising for Brandsdal and Valjas for lucky loser spots.

HEAT 2: Modin, Kriukov, Pettersen, Cologna, Chernousov, Chebotko

Modin repeated what he did in the quarters and took the lead immediately and was closely followed by Pettersen. Modin and Pettersen led the heat up the hill and Pettersen was able to overtake the Swede coming into the tight left-hander. On the home stretch, it was Pettersen in the lead while Kruikov made a late charge and was able to overtake Modin with 20 meters left to qualify for the final.

WOMEN’S FINAL

Athletes: Kylloenen, Bjørgen, Randall, Kalla, Skofterud, Matveeva

It was a really good start from Kylloenen who led Kalla going down the hill out the stadium, but Bjørgen was able to move into the lead shortly thereafter. Bjørgen continued to lead going up the big hill while Kalla was able to overtake Kylloenen. Kylloenen began to fade at the top of the hill and was passed by Skofterud and Randall. On the home stretch, the main battle was between Skofterud and Randall for third place, but unlike the semi-final, Skofterud was able to hold of the American for her first ever sprint podium.

RESULTS

1. Marit Bjørgen

2. Charlotte Kalla

3. Kikkan Randall

MEN’S FINAL

Athletes: Pettersen, Peterson, Valjas, Kruikov, Pentsinen, Brandsdal

Once again, it was Pentsinen took the lead going out of the stadium, but Kruikov took the lead from the Finn at the far end of the course. Coming back to the stadium, Pentsinen retook the lead and was followed by the Swede Peterson. Peterson was able to overtake Pentsinen at the top of the hill as the Norwegian Pettersen made a move and slipped in behind the Swede. Going round the tight left-hander before the home stretch there were five athletes in it still as Valjas had slipped off the back. In the home stretch, it was Peterson holding off Pettersen and Kruikov was making a hard charge and was able to overtake the Norwegian for the silver medal.

RESULTS

1. Teodor Peterson

2. Nikita Kriukov

3. Øystein Pettersen

ANALYSIS

Another race, another win for Bjørgen. Number 49 in her career is amazing, my only question now is if she will be able to hit win 60 before the season ends. At the current form she is in, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.

While Bjørgen’s performance was impressive, the performance of the day in my eyes has to go to Skofterud who picked up her first ever sprint podium. At the age of 31 years-old, Skofterud is in the best form of her life. What is even more impressive is a couple years ago she wasn’t even selected for the national team at the beginning of the season and had to ski her way onto the team when the races started.

Keeping with the Norwegian theme, Johaug made me eat my words when I said in the preview that her sprinting abilities are less than stellar. After finishing 8th today, she definitely surprised me today. This is the first time she has finished in the top 10 in a sprint. To be honest though, this track suited her perfectly with the big uphill where she could make her move. If the track was any flatter I think she would’ve had a much more difficult time.

I was quite happy to see the Russian women with a  much better outing today with five athletes qualifying in the top 30. Matveeva is fresh of her two-year doping ban and finished sixth today. I think it’s safe to say that however well she does for the rest of her career, every result will be taken with a grain of salt.

What about the men’s race? I can safely say that no one thought the men’s final would’ve featured the six skiers that it did. It was an amazing result by Tedor Peterson to take his first ever World Cup podium. He’s only had 19 World Cup races before today, so it was a great result.

Again, the Norwegian depth came through today as both Northug and Hattestad failed to qualify for the semi-finals, but Norway was still able to put two men in the final in Pettersen and Brandsdal.

What a great day for Anssi Pentsinen, like Peterson he’s still fairly raw and only had a dozen World Cup starts coming into today’s race. I would really like to know when the last time a male skier won the qualifier by over four seconds. Maybe Statistical Skier might be able to shine some light on that. I’ll be watching closely to see if Pentsinen can keep up this amazing form or if today’s result was just a flash in the pan.

Also, big props to Len Valjas who had a career best 5th place today. Yet again another sprinter that has little experience as today was only his ninth World Cup start. Valjas is quality and is a huge talent for Canada. I expect a few more final appearances from him this season and if he could make it to the podium once, that would be one of the highlights of the season.

Just a weird quandary to finish up the day; doesn’t Modin look like a stork trying to do a running takeoff when he was going up the big hill. His stride is so massive and he covers so much ground it’s truly amazing.