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4 Jan, 2022 15:31

Russian ski queen makes history

Russia’s Natalia Nepryaeva has won the prestigious FIS Tour de Ski title
Russian ski queen makes history

Russian cross-country skier Natalia Nepryaeva has become the first women’s star from her homeland to win the Tour de Ski title after maintaining her overall lead in the final stage of the event in Italy.

Nepryaeva had set herself up for glory by winning back-to-back races of the six-stage tour heading into the final climb in Val di Fiemme.

The Russian finished fourth across the 10km circuit on Tuesday but the 32.3-second deficit behind winner Heidi Weng was comfortably enough for Nepryaeva to maintain her position at the top of the overall leaderboard.

Two-time former Tour de Ski champion Weng of Norway had to settle for third position overall, 1 minute and 7 seconds behind Nepryaeva.

Sweden’s Ebba Andersson finished second in Tuesday’s race and secured second in the overall table, 46.7 seconds behind Nepryaeva based on accumulated times across the six stages of the event, which before moving to Italy had featured races in Switzerland and Germany.

Nepryaeva, 26, becomes the first Russian woman to win the Tour de Ski title in the event’s 16-season history, with the Tver-born skier having finished in second spot in 2019 and 2020.

“I was really very worried before this race, I didn’t know what to expect from myself,” said Nepryaeva after sealing the title.

“I felt good, I’m glad that this year I was able to pull myself together and give everything that was left…

“I understood that I wouldn’t miss out. I realized that I’d win [the title] about 600 meters or 1 kilometer before the finish line. I realized that I had to endure it, that everything should be fine.”

The head of the Russian Cross-Country Skiing Federation, Elena Vyalbe, said it had been a long road to success for a Russian female star at the Tour de Ski, which forms part of the FIS World Cup series.

“I have tears in my eyes,” said Vyalbe, herself a three-time Olympic champion.  

“We’ve been moving towards this for almost 12 years. The mountain is a difficult story, here you can lose by 400 meters.

“The whole race was very stressful. Natalia is a fighter, I think it will give her more strength and confidence too. I’ll write to her that I’m proud of her and believe in her.”

Nepryaeva, who is an Olympic bronze medalist from the 4x5km relay in 2018, becomes the fourth different Russian skier overall to win the Tour de Ski title after triumphs for men’s stars Alexander Legkov in 2013, Sergey Ustiugov in 2017, and Alexander Bolshunov in 2020 and 2021.

After her Tour de Ski victory, Nepryaeva will be targeting more success on the FIS World Cup circuit and potential joy at the Beijing Winter Games, which get underway on February 4.