Sunday, January 10, 2010

TdS: Women's Final Climb (Live Coverage)

12:27 pm*: Three minutes to the scheduled start. Petra Majdic is lined up and ready to tackle the 9km race to the top of the Alpe Cermis. She starts the day with a gap of 31 seconds over Justyna Kowalczyk, who you've got to think will annihilate herself to catch and pass the big Slovenian to take become the fourth women's Tour de Ski champion. Of the other racers who have been in the running for the crown, only Arianna Follis, starting at +56s, remains in contention.

12:30: Majdic is off! A powerful offset skate takes her out of the gorgeous Val di Fiemme stadium, which is today gray and foggy.

12:31: Kowalczyk and Follis are out of the gate too, and now Saarinen, who takes off like a rocket to try and close her 39s gap to Follis. Kowalcyzk looks tentative rounding the downhill corners between the stadium and the track to the Alpe, but typically easy on the uphills. Majdic does not look like she's laboring too hard.

12:33: On the flats and rounding a hairpin before the 1.7km time check, Majdic is using a powerful V2 stroke. Behind her, Kowalcyzk is visibly working harder, and crosses the check at +33.6 - meaning she's actually given up two seconds!

12:34: Follis goes through at +58.6 (giving up time), Saarinen at +1:30, the only of Majdic's chasers who has taken time back.

12:36: Steira, Sidko, and Longa are grouped, sharing pulls at +2:36 (a big gain for the Norwegian and Italian) but about to be joined by Roponen and Savialova.

12:38: It is not a pretty day in the Val di Fiemme - low-hanging clouds cast a gray pall. Zipping past a camera along the track between the stadium and the Alpe, Majdic is staring into the snow ahead of her, yellow glasses up on her hat. A respectable distance between, Kowalcyzk has her sleeves pulled up to her elbows.

12:41: The big wave of starters is now exiting the stadium as the leaders go through the 3.5k time check. Kowalcyzk and Follis haves cut Majdic's lead to +26.1s and +54.8s, respectively. Saarinen is at +1:22, and a five-racer group led by Longa is at about 3:15.

12:44: Majdic is on the climb, nearing the 5.6km check. She's V1'ing easily, face composed but serious. She gets so much glide out of those Fischers on her feet. She's through at 15:47. Kowalcyzk is closer now, but working harder and appearing strained. She crosses at +27.4. Follis, in the black sprinter's bib that Majdic can't wear because she'a already in the red leader's bib, comes through at +56.2, looking light and easy.

12:48: On a section just below the 6.5km time check, Kowalcyzk is just a short distance behind Majdic now - unfortunately it's a steep uphill marked with blue paint and running alongside some towering evergreens. Kowalcyzk has upped her workrate, but Majdic still appears to be working more easily. She crosses at 19:20.5, ponytail flapping. Kowalcyzk goes through at +18.8 - the gap is narrowing steadily!

12:50: Follis at +51.0 has a 23s gap to Saarinen at +1:14.2 - quite a bit less snow than the 39s she had at the starting line. The Finn is using her customary heavy-seeming skate, but could she pass the Italian for the last spot on the podium?

12:52: Kowalcyzk is closer still! She switches back and forth between a V1 and a herringbone skate on a very steep section, now just a few lengths behind Majdic! Follis is at the foot of this ramp, moving much more slowly than Saarinen, a bit further down the mountain.

12:53: Majdic has hit the switchback section in which Saarinen caught and attacked Kuitunen last year. She's looking back, but she can surely see Kowalcyzk around the corners. Majdic throws in a few quicker skates, but as they come out of the maze and head back straight uphill,Kowalcyzk closes in...

12:55: Another set of switchbacks, and Kowalcyzk is directly behind Majdic, who pulls up to the 7.4km mark. Now it's the Pole who looks better, glancing off to the side of the track. Where will she go for the pass?

12:56: Has a duel ever lasted so far up the mountain? Last year Northug attacked Teichmann up around here, but that was for second. Where did Kuitunen and Saarinen do battle last year?

1:00: Kowalcyzk is still content to follow Majdic. She must be waiting for the final straightaway to make the pass. Down the hill, Saarinen is still closing in on Follis, but hasn't caught on yet. Dozens of other skiers are visible on the mountain, weaving through the switchbacks among a substantial number of spectators.

1:01: the 8.1km check, and Kowalcyzk finally makes the pass! There's nothing snappy about it, but she edges through and leads Majdic around the 800m-to-go sign. Majdic lets a small gap open, then gamely closes it as they round another set of switchbacks! Majdic is right there as they head under the Craft kite and toward the finish line!

1:03: But no - Kowalcyzk surges and opens a lot of snow behind her. A spectator is running alongside her with a Polish flag. The skier is obviously energized by the success of her move, and increases the rate of her poling. She glances back once to make sure the attack has worked, then again near the 400m-to-go mark.

1:05: Majdic is still working, now in a V2 of all things, but the gap is too big. Kowalcyzk is on the final straight, framed by a yellow glow in the clouds behind her.

1:06: Kowalcyzk crosses the finish line and immediately collapses into the snow - 36:45.8. Majdic comes over at +19.6, throwing her hands in the air, and stops to lean on her poles. Neither can more. Is there a better sight in cross-country skiing than the bodies in the snow at the top of the Final Climb?

1:07: Follis comes over at +1:12 to loud cheers from the crowd. She's the first Italian to ever make the podium at the Tour de Ski, I believe. Saarinen scoots over at +1:34, and Steira follows at +2:07, then Roponen at +2:27. One of those two will probably have the stage win, having taken about a minute out of the winner.

1:10: As Alena Sidko waves to the camera, the cameraman falls over on his ass. She's not so tired that she can't laugh.

12:11: Marthe Kristoffersen is actually smiling as she comes through in 11th, but then lies in a heap in the snow. About three of every four skiers are falling to the ground when they cross, though none more dramatically than Kowalcyzk. There are enough in the way now that finishers can barely make it over the thick red finish line.

12:12: Majdic just gave a typically polite and enthusiastic few lines to the interviewer. She's a gracious silver medalist.

12:14: The women's final climb was a pretty damn good race! I'd give it a B+, if only because there was no real drama behind Kowalcyzk and Majdic. Saarinen couldn't muster enough energy to close on Follis and put the last podium spot into play. Just like yesterday, I can only hope the men's race is as good.

*All times are Central European Time.