Saturday, January 9, 2010

TdS: Women's Mass Start (Live Coverage)

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I can watch Norwegian TV's coverage of the women's 10km classic mass start race from Val di Fiemme. Sweet.

12:00*: The women are lined up in the start grid, waiting for the gun under a moderately heavy snowfall at exactly 0 degrees Celsius. These conditions make the race somewhat tougher than it might otherwise be. After being mentioned as a withdrawal for several straight days, today Therese Johaug has actually pulled out of the Tour, on the eve of a race that would normally really suit her.

12:01: The gun sounds and they're off! Majdic and Kowalczyk are at the head of the pack up the first hill. They've got to be the favorites today.

12:03: Already the pack has disintegrated, with eight racers establishing a small gap on the first main downhill. Everyone comes back together as they round one of those gorgeous stone buildings that make the Val di Fiemme courses so distinctive.

12:05: Steira moves to the front, as seemingly skinny as her poles. Marthe Kristoffersen is up there with her, then the favorites. It's always instructive to see the difference in technqiue as the pack passes: the leaders all look easy and light, the middle-packers are working slightly harder and more clumsily, and the red lanterns look like they're struggling already, 1,500 meters in.

12:07: First time check: Majdic, Steira, Kowalcyzk, three abreast across the tracks. They zoom away on the ensuing down hill and herringbone up and over the ensuing hill, where there's chaos as ski tips clash! Already a big break - four or more seconds, with Saarinen now gunning it to bridge.

12:08: The pack is shattered, less than a fifth of the way into the race. Majdic is pushing hard at the front, Saarinen is almost back on Kowalcyzk's tails.

12:09: Ascending the left-hand climb past an earth-colored church, Majdic is still off the front, but by a smaller margin now. Saarinen is now with Kowalcyzk.

12:11: The end of the first lap: Majdic leads and takes 15 bonus seconds, with Kowalcyzk second (10s) and Steira third (5s). This slightly narrows the Pole's lead.

12:12: Now Steira moves to the front and leads Majdic and Kowalcyzk up the next climb. Saarinen has fallen back into the big chasing pack. Longa is a bit off the front of that pack, and Sara Renner is right there, too, placed maybe fifth or sixth in the race. A great showing for the Canadian!

12:14: Longa has bridged up, looking quite good, and pulled the pack up to within a few seconds of the leaders. Renner is still there, next to Medvedeva.

12:16: And everything's back together, tight as could be. The three leaders are still at the head of the race, but their sizable gap is gone. Shevchenko is there, too.

1218: The ascents and descents will - surprise surprise - decide this thing: the leading trio effortlessly pull away up the hill with the 5.0km checkpoint, zoom down the sharp downhill, and then up and over the next up, where there's more chaos, with racers slipping and falling as they herringbone up that ramp. I count a half-dozen slips and falls. Half the pack was probably involved in one slowdown or another.

12:20: A small gap now again separates the usual triumvirate from the majority of the pack, though Longa and now Alena Sidko (!) are now in the mix with the leaders, too. The Russian looks especially strong - snappy and sure of her position.

12:22: Reentering the stadium at the end of the second lap, Majdic acccelerates and collects another 15 bonus seconds. She makes these hard pushes look so easy, just a tiny uptick in her poling rate and a slightly deeper drop with each DP. Sidko crosses in second, Kowalczyk in third. The Pole's lead over the Slovenian is now just 3s, with another 15s of bonus time available at the finish.

12:24: Follis is deep in the pack, as is Saarinen, who must be losing her slim chance at the overall TdS lead and championship today. The Finn is actually far off the back of the group. Appalling.

12:25: Up the biggest climb for the last time, everyone is now slipping and sliding - except the unimpeded group at the front.

12:26: Now Kowalczyk goes forward, making her usual late-race push. Savialova is now in third, between Majdic and Steira, but that group has just a few seconds on the chase led by Sidko and Renner.

12:28: It's a four-way race now. The leaders have the capacity to enlarge their lead at any time, and most of the members of the chasing group look heavy and labored.

12:29: The last time check before the finish, at 8.3km. Even the leaders are out of the track now, doing a little bit of herringboning. Majdic, Steira, Kowalczyk, Savialova, then Longa at +5.1s, then the pack.

12:30: The third time up that short, troublesome ramp is easier this time for most of the pack, but only because traffic is now so much lighter. Everyone looks like they weigh about 50 pounds more than they did earlier. Ahead, Longa is on the back of the front group, and so is a Finn - Roponen? No, Riikka Sarasoja! Suddenly, it's six racers vying for the podium!

12:32: Past the church and up the hill, Majdic has a second on the Finn, then Savialova, then Longa, but Kowalcyzk has disappeared! Bad news for the Pole! She's totally gone! Did she crash? Or just blow up?

12:33: Majdic leads back to the stadium, but barely, ahead of a rapidly reassembling group. A whole bunch of previously unseen racers are there!

12:34: Double-poling down that famous finishing straight, Elena Kolomina comes up on Majdic's right! Sarasoja is right behind the Slovene and Longa is off to the left, but neither can get through.

12:34: Majdic - by a boot ahead of Kolomina, who's come forward from 26th! Wow! A great run for the Kazakh. Longa edges in for third, a ski length ahead of Sarasoja, who immediately collapses into the snow trashed. Wow - a great race and a great, surprising finish.

12:36: Follis comes over in fifth, Britta Norgren in sixth, then Skofterud, Savialova, Eva Nyltova of the Czech Republic (who?), and Magdalena Pajala of Sweden (ditto) in tenth. Kowalczyk winds up deep in the pack, at +9.4s - a disaster for her but only a bit of the ruin that was Saarinen's race in finishing 29th, 29 seconds back. Sara Renner was swept up in the finish and wound up 15th, but all the chasers owe her a tin of kick wax because it was her hard work that kept them on terms with the lead.

12:39: Kowalcyzk's gap behind the winner would have hurt her chances on tomorrow's Final Climb, but Majdic also took 45 bonus seconds, for a total of 53.4s. Kowalcyzk's 14.1s lead over Majdic is now gone, having been replaced by a gap of about 30s - not a ton of time, but perhaps enough to make Kowalcyzk chase too hard on the way to the Alpe Cermis. Follis minimized the damage by coming up late, but she too let Majdic put time into her. This race did a great job of shuffling the start order for the Final Climb. I can only hope the men's race is so good!

*All times are Central European Time.


Colin R said...

Kowalczyk has less than 30 seconds to make up tomorrow -- I think she'll do it. Petra is just too big to be able to climb as fast as her.

Men's race was awesome, too. I'm thinking that bonus seconds are the solution to boring mass start races.

Anonymous said...

Mens race was awsome but i doubt it will be the cure for mass starts.

First the pack made a huge mistake by giving Bauer Northug and Babikov 20+ seconds befor the sprint and without those there is noway they would have gotten away from the pack.
And bonus seconds won`t work that well in normal races. I mean it will start getting really wierd if in a 50K the guy who comes in 12th wins cause he gathered up bonus seconds earlier in the race.

Christopher Tassava said...

I'm inclined to put my money on Kowalczyk tomorrow, as well, except that I wonder if she simply cracked today, if she phoned in the last third of the race to conserve energy, or if she's overextended. We'll find out in the race tomorrow, of course.

The men's race was great, all right, though I question the wisdom of the pack in letting Northug get away. Jeebus. Marking, anyone?

But between this race and last year's Trondheim marathon, one can certainly make the argument that bonus seconds can totally change the character of a mass start. Nobody's ever applied bonus seconds within a race, to create a shadow winner like the one Anonymous postulates. Bonuses only work within the context of a series of races with an overall time-based champion, like the Tours de Ski, the W.C. finales, or in fact the World Cup overall. The generate some excitement within a race, but have their largest effects outside that race.

Anonymous said...

True in a tour like formate or in a really thigh world cup sprints like that could help create excitement.

In the 50k in Trondheim there were also lots of other factors makeing the race exiting to watch with aggressive skiing from many racers like Harvey.
And this races excitement was caused more by the stupidity of the chasing pack. They assumed the leading racers would slow down after the sprint something they did do only to discover they were leading by 20+ seconds. At witch point Bauer probably the best classic skier in the world when he is in form decided t go for it.