Norway’s undisputed ski queen Marit Bjørgen logged another victory in the Tour de Ski on Thursday, narrowly beating her arch rival Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland and boosting her chances of winning the Tour itself. Norwegian skier Petter Northug, however, saw his dream of winning the Tour de Ski crumble, after losing on Thursday to defending champion Dario Cologna of Switzerland.
Bjørgen and Kowalczyk had never skied closer, with the two neck-and-neck throughout the course and Bjørgen winning the day’s 15-kilometer freestyle race by two seconds. That gave her the overall lead, though, in the multi-stage Tour that ends this weekend after nine top-level international races held at five different venues in two countries (Germany and now Italy) over the past 11 days.
Norway’s Therese Johaug finished third on Thursday, three minutes and 16 seconds behind her winning teammate.
The race gives Bjørgen an important advantage in staying ahead of the pack, despite some tough races looming on Saturday and Sunday. Bjørgen was optimistic that she may become the first Norwegian to ever win the Tour de Ski.
“I’m feeling good,” Bjørgen said right after the race. “Anything is possible.”
Bad day for Northug
Her male counterpart on the Norwegian team, Petter Northug, had to accept that it’s no longer possible for him to win the Tour de Ski, which had been his major goal for this season after mining lots of gold at last year’s world championships.
Cologna established a formidable lead over Northug when he won the day’s tough 30-kilometer freestyle pursuit in Italy, the seventh stage in the tour. Col0gna skied the course in one hour, nine minutes and 25.2 seconds, a minute and 15.8 second ahead of Northug. Alexander Legkov of Russia was third, just a second behind Northug.
That means Cologna has an overall Tour lead of one minute 20 seconds with just two stages left. “Yeah, it’s ‘game over,'” Northug told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Dario is in shape, and he’s not making any mistakes. I have to concentrate on doing well and securing a good placement.”
Northug had started offensively and gained 13 seconds over Cologna after the first few kilometers, but it seemed to tap his strength. Northug also faces a possible challenge for making an error on the way towards the finish line. Norwegian skiing officials weren’t giving up, though.
“There’s a new stage on Saturday,” sports chief Vidar Løfshus told NRK. “It can be that Petter has a great day and others have a bad day.” Head coach Trond Nystad admitted the outlook wasn’t bright. “Dario is the super favorite, but we can’t give up all at once,” Nystad said. “We’ll dust ourselves off and try again in two days.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
Please support our stories by clicking on the “Donate” button now: