Stepanova's confident victory

The Russian Cross-Country Skiing Cup started in Vershina Tyoya with the women's 10 km time trial, where Beijing Olympic champion Veronika Stepanova took to the start line for the first time this autumn, who missed the Khakassia Cup held there last week. At the regional tournament, yesterday's junior Alina Pekletsova won the time trial twice as short, ahead of many experienced skiers. For the first time, the 17-year-old Vologda resident loudly announced herself at the end of last season, when she took second place in the skating time trial at the Russian Championships in Tyumen. This discipline has recently been considered Stepanova's fiefdom, so the appearance of a new name on the horizon has aroused additional interest among experts and fans, as well as some concern among Veronica's coach Yegor Sorin.

In the absence of Natalia Terentyeva, who is still recovering from a series of illnesses and a shoulder injury, it was to these two girls that the main attention was riveted.

From the first meters, Pekletsova began to justify the advances given to her. Having started under the number 47, by the first split (1.6 km) Alina was 6.8 seconds ahead of Daria Nepryaeva, who was the leader at that time. However, the younger sister of the Olympic champion did not have the best race in general: she lost a lot in the second half of the distance and showed only the 17th final result. But Pekletsova managed to distribute her strength properly, and at the finish she brought Anastasia Kuleshova more than 30 seconds.

Elizaveta Pantrina, Ekaterina Smirnova, Evgenia Krupitskaya, Anastasia Prokofiev, who started later, could not even come close to the result of the young rival. Ekaterina Nikitina and Maria Istomina had certain chances to compete, but their gap from Pekletsova to the finish line did not decrease, but only grew. As a result, the girls "fell" with each other, and here luck was on the side of the more experienced Istomina, who went to the distance later and had the opportunity to focus on the time of the competitors.

But Stepanova, who was one of the last to start with the number 72, shut everyone up. She set the fastest pace, beating Pekletsova in the first leg by 3.3 seconds, and then only increased the lead, which was 30.2 at the finish. It is noteworthy that the 22-year-old athlete finished the race just a few seconds after Istomina, although she started a minute after her.

Commenting on the result, coach Sorin noted that he was a little nervous before the start, as he did not understand the balance of power between Stepanova and Pekletsova, but soon after the start, his fears were dispelled.

"From the very beginning of the race, when Veronica took the lead, I was calm. I knew that if she didn't lose from the start, she wouldn't continue to lose. Everything went smoothly, as it should have been," Championat quotes the specialist as saying.

One cause for concern was a minor injury the Olympic champion sustained in one of her recent training sessions: a sprain in her right arm. At first, there were even doubts whether the athlete would be able to perform at all, but on the eve of the first day of the competition, the pain in her arm receded. Stepanova entered the race with a bandage on her finger and in a mitten, which, however, did not affect the final result.

"Working moments, it happens," the skier succinctly commented on the incident.

Bolshunov's Small Lead

Alexander Bolshunov once again confirmed his status as the leader among men, despite the fact that he is far from being in optimal shape. The participation of the three-time Olympic champion in the first stage of the Cup was questionable for a long time due to a back injury. But the fighting spirit did not allow Yuriy Borodavko's ward to play it safe and miss the starts. Initially, Alexander entered all three races in Tøy.

"We have an agreement that if he feels any discomfort, he will withdraw. He felt good at all the training sessions, but there is a certain fear that the pain may return," the athlete's coach said on the eve of the tournament.

Bolshunov's principal rival Sergey Ustyugov did not come to the opening of the Cup, but even without him, the best skier in the country did not have a very easy victory.

More than a hundred athletes took to the track, but the medal showdowns, of course, affected only the favorites who started in the final group. The best acceleration among all participants was shown by Evgeny Semyashkin, but he failed to maintain a high pace. Before Bolshunov took to the track – and he started last – the leaders changed over and over again. For a short time, Ivan Gorbunov was in first place, then he was replaced by Andrey Melnichenko. Saveliy Korostelev demonstrated a good move, but not far behind him was Artem Maltsev, who rewrote the best results of the rising star of Russian skiing. Denis Spitsov tried to break into the top three, but in the end he lost even in the fight for the fourth place to Melnichenko.

Bolshunov, as usual, started slowly, although he lost only 1.5 seconds to the intermediate leader Semyashkin in the first split. Gradually, he improved, and by the middle of the distance he was already 10.6 seconds ahead of Maltsev. This lead was enough for the three-time winner of the 2022 Games to finish first. The final gap between Alexander and Artem was 6.3 seconds, and 19.2 seconds behind Saveliy. After the finish, Bolshunov admitted that in the second half of the distance he had to make an effort to maintain the lead.

"We were warmer than the girls in the race. When I ran, I could feel it. At the end, the skis from the descent were already driving worse, so I had to strain not to lose much. Basically, everything worked out. I won, and this is the most important thing," Bolshunov said in an interview with the project "Go Skiing!" on VKontakte.

The athlete also said that he has not yet made a decision regarding participation in the next races. According to Alexander, the day before he felt some tension in his back, which was relieved with the help of massage, but it can be dangerous to go to the sprint in this state, as it requires more abrupt movements.

"There are even more questions with the classics, because for three months I haven't skated in the classic style at all. I missed a lot of running work, only two or three days ago I started to run slowly. I want to run all the races, but... If everything goes well, I will start. But everything will depend on the condition of the back," Bolshunov said.

The men's and women's sprint races will be held at Töi Peak on Saturday, November 25.