By Inge Scheve
When Holly Brooks steps onto the start line of the Ugra Ski Marathon in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, for the last race in the 2014/2015 FIS Marathon Cup on Saturday, she’ll have four points separating her from second place in the race for the overall title.
“In order to claim the overall victory, I need to beat [Estonia’s] Tatjana [Mannima] and stay 51 points ahead of Aurelie [Dabudyk of France],” Brooks explained in an email. “There are lots and lots of Russian girls on the start list so anything could happen.”
A rookie to the FIS Marathon Cup this season, Brooks is in full battle mode as the final event, the 50 k freestyle Ugra, gets underway in Siberia on Saturday. With one race to go, Brooks has 455 points, while Mannima has 451 points and Dabudyk in third has 404 points. All three are on the start list, and each has a shot at the overall trophy.
Brooks traveled to Siberia earlier this week and was one of the first international racers to arrive at the venue. That gave her plenty of time to check out the course and research her competitors.
“I looked up a couple of the Russian girls on the FIS website the other day, and many don’t have profiles. However, today, I met a bunch of Russian female biathletes out on course so the competition is sure to be tough! The depth of Russian skiers is amazing,” Brooks noted.
“There are always racers that you’ve never heard of, and who are capable of winning. Therefore, I could be fighting for the podium, or I could be fighting for a top ten, I just don’t know.”
Waited a month
While the Engadin in Switzerland on March 9 was the last FIS Marathon Cup race before the Ugra, Brooks has tried to stay race fresh both mentally and physically in the month between the two races.
After the Engadin, where Brooks placed fifth, she travelled to Norway and competed in the Birkebeiner on March 21, a part of the Ski Classics series, before spending some time in Chamonix, France, prior to her trip to Russia.
“I’m just crossing my fingers for fast skis, no broken poles, and a body that will cooperate with a race effort on April 11th, long after I’m usually ‘done’ racing for the season,” Brooks wrote.
“No matter what the result ends up, I’m proud of my effort this season. It’s not been easy chasing the FIS Marathon cup as a ‘solo show,’ but I’ve met a lot of great people and made a lot of friends along the way,” she added. “Salomon and BP Alaska have been integral parts in making this journey a reality, and I can’t wait to get home to Alaska and share stories with people just one week from now.”
Still open in the men’s overall
The Ugra is not only the deciding event on the women’s side. Petr Novak of the Czech Republic has lead the FIS Marathon Cup with a comfortable margin for months and enters the Ugra with 406 points, but the overall title is not in his pocket.
With 347 points, Benoit Chauvet of France could snag the overall if he wins on Saturday and Novak finishes outside the top five.
Sergio Bonaldi of Italy is in third place overall, but with 229 points, he cannot threaten the top two, even if he were to win the Ugra.
Expecting more than 1200 skiers
Khanty-Mansiysk, a well-established venue on the biathlon World Cup, is new to the FIS Marathon Cup. Aside from the 50 k freestyle FIS Marathon Cup race, the Ugra also offers 25 k freestyle and 5 k freestyle events on Saturday, and organizers are expecting about 1,200 participants total.
Two Russians won last year’s Ugra 50 k: Ekaterina Rudakov and Alexey Ivanov. In 2013, Alexander Legkov and Natalya Makoveeva won the race. The Ugra Ski Marathon is also the final event of the 2014/2015 Euroloppet series.
The weather forecast is calling for temperatures around freezing on race day, but the forecast for Friday is rain and 6 degrees Celsius (43 Fahrenheit), potentially serving up some interesting spring conditions for racers on Saturday.