The first stage of the Russian Cross-Country Skiing Cup in Vershina Töya continued with sprints. The women's part of the competition suffered the main losses even before the start: the Beijing Olympic champion Veronika Stepanova withdrew from the race without explanation.
As a result, Maria Istomina showed the best time in qualifying, 3.51 seconds ahead of Daria Nepryaeva. Anna Koroleva rounded out the top three (+5.51).
17-year-old Alina Pekletsova, who made a name for herself in distance races, was not so strong in the short distance and did not make it to the main part of the competition. Her result in the prologue was only 36th. Also, the silver medalist of the last national championship in the team sprint Alyona Perevozchikova and the winner of the silver medal of the 2021 World Championships in the relay Yana Kirpichenko did not make it to the quarterfinals.
For the first time, the selected athletes competed under the changed sprint rules, according to which servicers are not allowed to work with skis after the start of the quarterfinals. At the end of each stage, the skiers who remain in the competition are obliged to hand over their equipment to the judges. The innovation is designed to equalize the chances of participants from teams with different financial capabilities, as well as to reduce fluoride consumption. However, when the weather changes abruptly, certain difficulties are inevitable. By the time of the semi-finals on Saturday, thick snow had fallen in the Tøya area and the track had become loose, which may have been the reason for some unexpected results.
For example, Ekaterina Smirnova, the winner of one of the stages of the last Russian Cup in the sprint, showed the best result among all participants in the quarterfinals, and at the next stage she ran 12 seconds slower. Nepryaeva also performed worse in the semifinals.
Nevertheless, the line-up of the decisive race was quite impressive, and the race itself was exciting. The athletes started it in a tight group, as no one wanted to take on the gusts of wind. Only in the second half of the distance Anastasia Faleeva went a little ahead, Alyona Baranova tried to keep up with her. It seemed that they would take the first two places on the podium, but at the finish line, Elizaveta Pantrina flew out from behind the backs of her rivals in a desperate spurt. The 21-year-old Tyumen skier was just a little short of catching the leader. Nevertheless, she beat Baranova and snatched the silver.
In men, the prologue brought unexpected results, as the best sprinter of the country, Alexander Terentyev, could not make it to the quarterfinals. Yuriy Borodavko's ward broke his pole before the final climb and had to overcome the rest of the distance right like that, with half of the equipment. Unfortunately, there was simply no one to give the athlete a spare stick: there was no one from the specialists on that section of the track. As a result, Terentyev showed only the 40th result and was left out of the competition.
The same problem during the quarterfinals was faced by the leader of the qualification Ivan Gorbunov, however, he was luckier, and the broken stick was replaced after a few tens of meters. Moreover, this incident did not prevent the skier from winning his race.
Artem Maltsev, who was leading most of the distance, failed to make it to the semifinals, but at the finish line he gave up and let the rising stars Yegor Mitroshin and Saveliy Korostelev go ahead. Both of them were slightly less successful in the next stage, finishing third in their heats, but were able to reach the decisive round as lucky losers.
Alexander Bolshunov, who finished second three times, did not strain too much in the preliminary stages, but in the final there was no equal to him again.
The three-time Olympic champion did not rush forward from the start, gradually moving from the center of the peloton to his head during the race, and then undertook the final acceleration. Only Gorbunov was able to stay behind the leader, and Mitroshin won the third place in a tense struggle. The race ended unsuccessfully for Korostelev: he frankly did not have enough strength for the last meters, where he was "eaten" by both Mitroshin and Sergey Ardashev.
President of the Russian Cross-Country Skiing Federation Elena Vyalbe highly appreciated the level shown by the athletes at the start of the season.
"It was a good race today, beautiful. It's all in the fight, no one just won. It is clear that Bolshunov is an order of magnitude higher than his rivals, but it seems to me that not everything was easy for him either. I saw him after the finish of the prologue, I noticed how hard he was breathing. But this is the first sprint of the season, so far there is not enough explosive, high-speed work. Vanya Gorbunov, who, like Terentyev, had a broken stick, was able to fight, reach the final and be second. I would also like to mention Mitroshin. It's good that the guys in the national team are changing in leading positions. Korostelev tried to break through, but so far, probably, he does not have the best form," Championat quotes Vyalbe as saying.
On Sunday, the first stage of the National Cup will end with the 10 and 15 km classic style races.