Even though still fighting with pain from a training accident, Japan’s Akito Watabe has won the second day of the Ruka Tour and taken over the lead in the overall standings. He skied a strong race and was never in any danger from a bigger pursuing group, finishing 31.7 seconds ahead of local hero Eero Hirvonen. The Finn delighted the crowd and was the strongest in a fight for the remaining podium positions, beating out Johannes Rydzek by 1.1 second.
The jumping part was held in much improved wind conditions compared to the first day of the Ruka Tour yesterday. As a result, the jumping event looked quite differently. Akito Watabe set the winning jump with a great distance of 142.5 metres but also Maxime Laheurte (140.5) and teammate Antoine Gerard (143 metres) crossed the 140-metre-mark.
The situation at the start of the cross-country race had Watabe go out with a 16-second lead on second-placed Wilhelm Denifl (139.5 m; 154.5 p.). Position three went to Maxime Laheurte, who left the start line 18 seconds after Watabe. Another group consisting of Mario Seidl, Antoine Gerard and Jan Schmid left between +0:27 and +0:36 seconds.
Yesterday’s winner Espen Andersen did not have a 100 % jump in the competition round and started from rank seven, ex aequo with quadruple World Champion Johannes Rydzek (146 p.). Both had to wait 50 seconds after Watabe had started. Also in a still promising position was Finland’s Eero Hirvonen on rank nine, +0:58 seconds after Watabe. Superstar Eric Frenzel also returned to a better level today and set 136 metres, which earned him an intermediate eleventh position (+1:20).
Watabe’s victory was made possible also by the fact that even though a larger pursuing group formed on the second lap, the group was not really working together to catch the Japanese. Norway’s Jan Schmid did the leading work for a while, same as Eero Hirvonen towards the end of the race. Even though some athletes made attacks, the group always came back together on the downhills and some periods in which nobody wanted to lead slowed down the group's progress.
Johannes Rydzek had a fall early in the race and had to fight to get his position back but fought hard on the last lap. Hirvonen managed to get ahead of him, however, and powered up the last uphill and into the home stretch.
While Watabe skied his victory into the finish in an undisputed manner, defying his chest pain, Hirvonen made the crowd roar in the riveting fight for ranks two and three. Rydzek redeemed the German team with the last available position on the podium. Long-time group leader Jan Schmid had to be satisfied with rank four, Antoine Gerard impressed with a career-best fifth place.
With this result, Watabe takes the yellow bib and lead in the Ruka tour. Espen Andersen, who finished seventh today is second, Jan Schmid is third.