After an uncertain week, Justyna Kowalczyk produced an enormous win in the 10k on the penultimate day of the Tour de Ski. Showcasing her enormous strength and stamina, she ran nearly the entire course in Val de Fiemme in Northern Italy with a huge lead over the peloton, accompanied only by Norwegian skier Therese Johaug, behind whom she drafted during some of the early running. It was with Johaug that Kowalczyk competed for the precious bonus seconds awarded to the leader during special sprint segments, and it was the Pole who came out ahead in all three stages.
Kowalczy made a major push ahead of Johaug in the last kilometre, making full use of her muscular frame to finally leave the slight Johaug seven seconds behind. Johaug collapsed at the finish, and the next competitor would only cross the line 49 seconds after her.
Kowalczyk started today’s event with a substantial lead over the second-place Petra Majdic, despite having lost to Majdic in both sprinting events, and giving her throngs of Polish fans cause for worry when Kowalczyk failed to qualify for the semi-final round of the second day of sprints. Despite finishing poorly in that event, the Pole remained ahead by 39 seconds largely owing to her runaway victory in the pursuit on New Year’s day.
Kowalczyk’s performance on Saturday gives her a substantial safety cushion in her bid to repeat her victory in last year’s Tour de Ski, as she increased her lead over her rivals. She is now 1:08 ahead of second-place Marianna Longa.
The tour will conclude on Sunday 9 January with the 10k freestyle, not Kowalczyk’s strongest event. World cup points leader and major Kowalczyk rival Marit Bjoergen did not compete in the Tour but has declared that this will be the last year she sits it out.