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Skiathlons without catharsis: how Nepryaeva escaped from Kuleshova and Ustyugov fell and didn’t catch up with Bolshunov

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Skiathlon at the Russian Cross-Country Championship turned out to be the most interesting for the spectators, who filled all the stands of the Tyumen Stadium. This time, in contrast to the sprint day, the weather was fine: the sun was shining, and during the night it got a little frosty. The track was not easy for the athletes. The girls who traditionally start the race were afraid of falling down one of the slopes. Alas, and so it happened. Maria Istomina, one of the race favorites, ended up on the snow.

Yuri Borodavko’s wardship in the Champion’s Heights lost only at the finish to Natalia Nepryaeva, so the experts expected a no less competition at the main start of the season. But in the middle of the skiathlon the episode did not let her compete for the medals. Although she had only few more kilometers to go, Istomina could not catch up with the leaders and ended up in the fifth place.

Even more unpleasant incident happened to Anastasia Prokofieva. She missed the track and rolled down the slope. It took her a long time to get back on track.

In Istomina’s absence, Anastasia Kuleshova tried to impose on Nepryava. The day before she had not competed in a sprint, that is why she was much fresher than Natalia and made the Olympic champion work as hard as she could.

“You could see from Nastya that she was preparing for this race and set the pace. In some sections it was hard to keep up with her. We had an easy start, but it was more difficult for me,” said the winner of the Big crystal globe.

The girls skied the Classic in a large group, and 13 people changed their skis at a time. But already by the 10,6 km mark Natalya and Anastasia made a gap of five seconds and started to run away from the other skiers. And Nepryaeva spent most of the time behind her rival.

“There are not easy laps here, so you can’t skip on the fool. The girls set a very good pace, especially Kuleshova who did the whole race,” confessed the Olympic champion.

The group of the pursuers split up quite quickly. Yelizaveta Pantrina and Ekaterina Smirnova ran after the leaders. Representatives of the Tyumen region created a comfortable gap, and it seemed that they will fight with each other for the bronze, and Kuleshova and Nepryaeva will determine the owner of the gold award. But everything turned out differently.

Pantrina, 21, who already had a bronze medal at the tournament, managed to prove herself, but fans remembered her best for her performance at “Champions’ Heights” where she and Smirnova beat Nepryaeva in the team sprint;

This time the girl was also surprising. She made a spurt just one kilometer before the finish and left Yekaterina behind. Nepryaeva did the same and broke away from Kuleshova. Besides Anastasia had a comfortable seven seconds advantage over Ekaterina from the third place. But the representative of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast got very tired during the race and let Pantrina catch up with her on the bridge in front of the stadium, and at the finish Elizaveta was already in control.

“On the last climb I could see there was some margin, because my legs were completely sour. On the downhill I was already on wooden legs, I could not bend them and move correctly to have maximum speed. Lisa is a very good finisher. For me it was a bit difficult, but I did not expect that she would be right next to my skis. Of course I was upset, but I want to say that Lisa is good, she did a very correct race.

When my feet got tired, I was already thinking only about the silver. And I was sure that I was going to be second today. But you never know for sure until you cross the finish line,” said Kuleshova.

As it turned out, Pantrina didn’t intend to start in the skiathlon at all initially and expected to finish in the top 10.

“We’re preparing more for the skate section, but I said I wanted to run, to try myself. It’s been a long time, three years, since I did the skiathlon. And today was a good experience for me, I am satisfied. On the last climb I realized I could catch up with Kuleshova. I saw that she was already “floating”, and I still had my strength. I jumped in, overtook her on the last climb, pushed myself on the downhill, rolled up and on the finish line I overtook her,” Pantrina said.

Smirnova was the most disappointing woman of the day, finishing fourth. Ekaterina could not contain her emotions and came to the awards ceremony with tears in her eyes.

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The men’s skiathlon was a really dramatic event. Once again Sergey Ustyugov and Alexander Bolshunov sent the audience unbelievable emotions. The day before in the classic sprint the representative of KHMAO proved stronger, and the skiers equaled the number of gold medals of the Russian Championships: they became 14. On the 30 km distance the triple Olympic champion won the duel and became the 15th time winner of the event.

The leaders of the Russian team began to get away from the main group in the middle of the course. Evgeny Belov tried to keep up with the skiers, but at the 16.3 km mark his lag was already five seconds, and the others had even more.

The intrigue died a few kilometers before the finish: Ustyugov fell down on the turn. Sergey quickly got up and tried to catch up with Bolshunov, who actively started to work on the uphill. But because of fatigue, the athlete at some points gave up resistance.

“It seemed that I could catch up? There is no such thing as it was before. There is a limiter. I was turning on, I was getting to the red zone, I was dropping the revs. I understand it very well. That cutoff is still there, it hasn’t gone anywhere. I don’t feel like I gave it a shot, I flashed, I waited till I went downhill. I still had to slow down somewhere, stop myself. I want this cutoff to go somewhere, especially here at the championships,” Ustyugov admitted.

Sergey explained his fall first of all by fatigue. This time no one prevented him from overcoming the dangerous section of the track.

“My legs didn’t hold me. I slipped on a bend and ended up on the snow. I looked up and Sanya was already running. I wanted to make a good stretch in the same place, but Bolshunov went without looking back. He probably didn’t even notice that I fell. It’s okay, it’s a race, and the strongest wins,” said Sergey.

Bolshunov really didn’t even notice his national team partner’s fall, so he looked surprised during the interview.

“Sergey fell? Where did he fall? I did not know. 1.5 km before the finish line? No, I really didn’t. I started switching on at that moment and didn’t even know that he had tripped. It was after the descent that I decided to start because I looked – there was a small gap, three or four meters. I realized I had to speed up,” said Alexander.

Bolshunov also commented Ustyugov’s words about ending his career. According to the three-time Olympic champion, viewers should not take them seriously.

“You can say anything you want. We know: Sergey will run. He’s going to go every year. We can not even pay attention to it,” the athlete is sure.

Meanwhile, there was a serious struggle for the bronze between four skiers. Ivan Yakimushkin won it, beating Alexei Chervotkin, Denis Spitsov and Anton Timoshov at the finish. According to the representative of Tyumen region, he could have had a gold medal, but he wasted too much time in the stadium when he was changing skis.

“When I flew into the box, just a liquid ointment blew off the top of the mat, and it took me a very long time to change. I think if there was a chance to get close to them, I could have changed, but this hiccup of five to seven seconds really hindered me. But third place was a very good result,” Yakimushkin said.

However, the spectators still saw Ivan and Alexander fighting at the finish line. The athletes decided to have a funny race with the baby carriages as they both became fathers quite recently.

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