Youngest member of Finnish Ski Team beats her older team-mates in Val di Fiemme
Krista Lähteenmäki now looking ahead to Nordic World Championships
In Val di Fiemme, the youngest member of the Finnish Cross-Country Ski Team was the best and the toughest to the very end.
When leaving for the Tour de Ski, Krista Lähteenmäki, 20, had no idea that she would end up as the best Finnish cross-country skier in the eight-stage ski marathon culminating in Val di Fiemme.
”It was quite a good experience. My goal was to be among the 20 best skiers. At the end, I was eighth and the best Finn, and I guess I have to be satisfied and believe that the race was successful”, Lähteenmäki said after the gruelling final climb to the top of the Alpe Cermis on Sunday.
In the last stage, Lähteenmäki was the sixth fastest, meaning she held on to her 8th place overall. This was her first Tour de Ski, and among those contestants who completed the marathon and crossed the finish line, she was the youngest.
The overall winner was Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk, who finished more than 5 minutes ahead of the Finn, and nearly a minute and a half ahead of her nearest rival Therese Johaug of Norway.
”It was really tough, but I made it. Annoyingly, I did not quite manage to follow on the heels of Marthe [Kristoffersen, 7th on Sunday and overall], but I am still happy that I could fight like that”, Lähteenmäki noted.
Even though Lähteenmäki had got some advice for the final climb from her more experienced team mate Aino-Kaisa Saarinen, she was taken by some surprises.
”There were some very steep stretches, which I had not anticipated. Even if I skied slowly, they felt bad. I am surprised that today was much better compared with yesterday. I expected it to be much much worse”, Lähteenmäki explained.
After the finish line, Lähteenmäki collapsed on the snow like almost all competitors.
”At the finish line I was really exhuasted. All I could think after crossing the line was to lie down and get something to drink”, she adds.
Lähteenmäki has been the best Finnish skier in the early part of the season.
After the Tour de Ski results were totted up, Lähteenmäki earned the 9th place in the overall FIS World Cup standings.
Lähteenmäki noted that she is looking forward to an ”extremely” good Nordic World Championships in Oslo next month.
The second-best Finnish skier in the Tour de Ski was Riitta-Liisa Roponen who finished 11th, while Aino-Kaisa Saarinen was a slightly disappointing13th.
Among the men, Matti Heikkinen's bid to get among the podium places came to a juddering halt on Saturday, when he quite unexpectedly ran out of gas and decided to retire from the final race after finishing down in 34th place in the penultimate event, more than three and a half minutes behind the winner.
Heikkinen had shown some good form earlier on, winning the fourth of the eight races.
His withdrawal from the fray meant that no male Finnish skiers took part in the final competition on Sunday.
The 2011 men's Tour de Ski was won - just as emphatically as the women's event - by Dario Cologna of Switzerland, who did not need to throw everything into it on the final ascent.
He finished down in 18th place on Sunday, but was still nearly half a minute ahead of his nearest rival, Norway's Petter Northug.
It was Cologna's second win in the event, as he also triumphed in 2009, when he added the overall World Cup title.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Tour de Ski medal within Matti Heikkinen´s grasp (7.1.2011)
Matti Heikkinen wins Tour de Ski race (4.1.2011)
FIS Cross-country Skiing: Tour de Ski