Tour de Ski: Double U.S. Podiums
by Lex Treinen
Perhaps never before in Tour de Ski's history has there been such clear favourites as there were going into the start of the 2016 edition. On the women's side, Therese Johaug had won every distance race to date this season, while Martin Johnsrud Sundby had done the same for the men. Both were weaker in the sprints, but as two-time previous Tour winners, they had proven that it was a weakness they could overcome. For the North Americans, Team Canada's Alex Harvey, Devon Kershaw, Len Valjas and Ivan Babikov had all proven that they were top-10 or even podium contenders, though their early-season results showed they hadn't yet hit form. American Simi Hamilton, fresh off a second-place World Cup finish, promised to be a threat in the sprints, as did his compatriot Andy Newell, who had scored a fourth place earlier in the season. On the women's side, the Americans, though missing Kikkan Randall who was taking time off for a pregnancy, showed early-season promise with Sadie Bjornsen, Jessie Diggins and Sophie Caldwell all having scored World Cup top-10's.
Stage One - Lenzerheide, Switzerland - 1.5km Freestyle Sprint
The 2016 Tour started out with a skate sprint instead of the usual Prologue. Italy's sprint phenom 25-year-old Frederico Pelegrino won the day over Russia's Sergei Ustiugov and Norway's Finn Haagen Krogh in third. Pelegrino won the qualification, followed by a suprising second-place finish by Great Britain's Andrew Young. Hamilton qualified in 13th, but crashed out of his quarterfinal after being boxed out in the final turn. “I think I was just kind of the unlucky one today, but sometimes that's how it goes and you have to learn how to deal with it,” said Hamilton. Canadians Valjas and Harvey finished just out of the rounds in 31st and 33rd, respectively. On the women's side, Norway's Maiken Casperson Falla won the sprint. Caldwell finished fourth after a personal-best second-place qualification. “My legs still felt great going into the second lap, and I was psyched to qualify second – my best qualifier ever!” said Caldwell. “In both my semi and my final, I emphasized having a fast start, and I think that made a huge difference.” Ida Ingemarsdotter (SWE) was second and Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg (NOR) was third. Sadie Bjornsen was seventh.
Stage Two - Lenzerheide, Switzerland - 15/30km Classic Mass Start
Norway swept the women's 15km Mass Start, with Johaug in front, followed by Oestberg and Heidi Weng. Diggins finished 12th, and Sadie Bjornsen finished right behind her in 13th. “I had many highs and lows throughout the race,” said Bjornsen, “sometimes feeling on fire, sometimes dropping off the back of the pack, but I never let myself give up. I had fantastic skis for the second day, and the tracks were holding together really well, so it was the perfect opportunity day.” With Johaug's 37-second victory, she took over the overall Tour lead.
The Norwegian men were not to be outdone by the women and swept the top four of the podium of the 30km, with Johnsrud Sundby taking the win by 35 seconds ahead of Petter Northug, Didrik Toenseth and Sjur Roethe, in that order. Harvey was the top North American in seventh, winning 15 bonus seconds in the first intermediate sprint along the way. “So at least Martin didn't win everything,” Harvey was quoted at the finish.
Stage Three - Lenzerheide, Switzerland - 5/10km Freestyle Pursuit
Oestberg became the first woman to beat Johaug in a distance race in the 2015- 16 season, winning the 5km Freestyle Pursuit. Oestberg caught Johaug despite starting with a 4.5- second handicap and passed her in the final kilometre. Diggins and Sadie Bjornsen finished eighth and ninth, respectively. “This is far and away the best start I've ever had in the Tour, and I'm super- psyched! Tour racing is hard with some really awesome girls, so to be able to hold my place is a great confidence- booster,” said Diggins. In the men's event, race favourite Johnsrud Sundby had no problems keeping the lead, though he had only the 22nd- fastest time of the day. He finished 1: 25 ahead of Northug, who had the 29th- fastest stage time. Krogh, meanwhile, moved up to third- place overall with the fastest time of the day. Harvey finished in ninth, and U. S. A.'s Noah Hoffman moved up to 25th with the 17th time of the day.
Stage Four - Oberstdorf, Germany - 1.2km Classic Sprint
In a stunning performance, Caldwell claimed a career-first World Cup win, becoming the first American to claim a Classic victory, besting Weng at the line. In doing so, she became the third American to ever win a World Cup stage. After qualifying third, Caldwell stuck on the tails of race-favourite Oestberg until the final downhill, where she used skis she called “clearly some of the best” to glide by the Tour-leading Norwegian. “I was surprised to take the lead from her [Oestberg],” said Caldwell. “My skis were running great, and I think I skied the downhill well, and when I shot by her, I surprised myself.” Caldwell also became the first non-norwegian to win in the Tour. Oestberg ended in third. U.S.A.'S Ida Sargent finished the day in 15th, and Diggins was 21st after Hannah Falk (SWE) took her out in fateful crash on a tricky downhill section that took down several skiers. Sadie Bjornsen crashed in the qualification and did not advance. On the men's side, Emil Iverson of Norway got his first World Cup win, besting Russia's Ustiugov and Kazakhstan's Alexei Poltaranin. Tour leader Johnsrud Sundby finished fourth for his second-straight sprint-final appearance. Canadian Valjas was the top North American in 10th. “The field is so tight now. The hardest part is qualifying for the heats,” said Valjas. “Once I get in there, that is where I ski better with the group – where I can be more technical and drafting. I just needed the chance to get in there.” Harvey was 15th and Newell was 17th.
Stage Five - Oberstdorf, Germany - 10/15km Classic Mass Start
Johaug pushed from the front for almost the entire race, towing the redbibbed Tour leader Oestberg for nine of 10 kilometres. While spectators may have expected the comfortable-looking Oestberg to wait for the final sprint, Johaug's tenacity got the best of her younger teammate in the end, and she was able to pull away on the final climb. Norway got a top-four sweep, with Weng in third and Haga Ragnhild in fourth. Diggins was the top American in 23rd, followed by Sadie Bjornsen in 26th.
In the men's race, Johnsrud Sundby finally showed a touch of humanity and started to fall back in the lead pack at halfway. The opening gave Kazakhstan's Poltaranin an opening for a sprint victory ahead of Dario Cologna, who got his first podium of the season. Francesco De Fabiani of Italy was third. Harvey was 21st, ahead of Johnsrud Sundby, who finished in 23rd, but still held onto the Tour lead.
Stage Six - Toblach, Italy - 5/10km Freestyle Individual
Diggins proved her medal at last year's World Championships in Falun, Sweden was no fluke, claiming the first distance World Cup stage victory for a U.S. woman winning the 5km FR Individual-start race by less than a second ahead of a quartet of Norwegians. “Today was just an incredible one for Team USA. It truly takes a village, and we have one heck of a village! It feels unbelievable to have another World Cup win for our team, and I'm the happiest girl in the world today! My goal was to go out as hard as I could and really work those twisty downhills, and get every second I could out of each inch of the course. And our wax staff has been working so hard, and today my skis were truly the fastest in the world,” said Diggins. In winning, she became the third American to win any race longer than a Prologue and the second American to win a World Cup in three days. Sadie Bjornsen was
13th. In the men's race, Krogh surprised Johnsrud Sundby to take the men's 10km win by 3.6 seconds. Maurice Magnificat of France was third. Hoffman was the top American in 19th.
Stage Seven - Val di Fiemme, Italy - 10/15km Classic Mass Start
Weng of Norway finally nabbed a stage victory, winning the 10km Mass Start by 0.8 seconds over Tour leader Oestberg. Johaug was third for a Norwegian podium sweep. American Sadie Bjornsen was ninth in the penultimate stage. “It was a really fun race out there today. I struggled with Classic in the middle of this Tour, with a fall in the Classic qualifier, and then slow and slick skis in the Classic Mass Start in Oberstdorf,” said Bjornsen. “It feels nice to be back where I feel like I belong.”
In the men's event, the unsurprising victory went to Johnsrud Sundby, with second going to his teammate Niklas Dyrhaug. Third went to Kazakhstan's Poltaranin. Harvey was seventh, just 1.1 seconds from fourth. American Hoffman was 23rd.
Stage Eight - Val di Fiemme, Italy - 9km Hill Climb Pursuit
On the women's side, there was a tighter race from the start, with Oestberg starting 38 seconds up on two-time Tour winner Johaug. Once the race started, however, the drama soon evaporated, as Johaug's climbing proved too much for her competitors. She won the Tour and the stage by 1:25 over Oestberg. Weng finished third. For the Americans, Diggins capped off a fantastic Tour with a 10th-place overall finish and the 15th-fastest leg time. Sadie Bjornsen slipped from 12th to 14th and Liz Stephen moved up from 25th to 19th in the overall with the third-fastest leg.
“It was a great Tour and a cool one for Team USA with two wins and seven finishers. One of my big goals for the season was to finish the Tour in the top-10, so I made that goal today! That climb is brutally hard and I was in a world of pain, but I had to tell myself to just keep my feet moving,” said Diggins.
The men's overall win was somewhat of a foregone conclusion, with Johnsrud Sundby starting with a three-minute lead, but he took nothing for granted, and threw down the fastest time of the day. “It has been a perfect Tour for me. I had one bad day. The team has been great. I am happy for me and the whole team. I went for the stage victory and wanted to be fastest today. I am happy I did it and I am really tired,” said the winner. The real drama came behind him, where last year's overall World Cup sprint winner Krogh threw down the fourth-fastest time of the day in the infamous Alpe Cermis to pass teammate Northug, Russian Ustiugov and Kazakh Classic specialist Poltaranin to claim second-place overall. Ustiugov fell to third with the 13th-fastest stage time. Harvey had the 16th-fastest leg time to finish 14th overall, 6:57 off of Johnsrud Sundby's time in the overall. “It was my best climb by far. I didn't fully remember it from before, and I think I went out a bit too conservative. Both my legs were working really well, so I'm really happy with the day,” said Harvey, who last did Cermis in 2012, before surgery this summer to correct circulation issues in his leg that made it difficult for him on long steep climbs. Babikov posted the 11th-fastest time of the day to squeak into the top-30 and finish 29th overall. Kershaw had the 19th-fastest leg to finish 32nd overall. For the Americans, Hoffman had the 15th-best leg time to finish a career-best 22nd overall, while Erik Bjornsen ended up 41st.
FIS Tour de Ski 2016 Jan. 1-10, 2016
Men 1. Martin Johnsrud Sundby (NOR) 3:47:18.2; 2. Finn Haagen Krogh (NOR) 3:15.7; 3. Sergey Ustiugov (RUS) 3:43.8 CAN/USA 14. Alex Harvey (CAN) 6:57.3; 22. Noah Hoffman (USA) 10:44.3; 29. Ivan Babikov (CAN) 12:42.2; 32. Devon Kershaw (CAN) 13:47.7; 41. Erik Bjornsen (USA) 17:51.4
Women 1. Therese Johaug (NOR) 2:40:34.8; 2. Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg (NOR) 2:20.9; 3. Heidi Weng (NOR) 3:13.9 CAN/USA 10. Jessica Diggins (USA) 11:20.4; 14. Sadie Bjornsen (USA) 12:24.1; 19. Elizabeth Stephen (USA) 13:27.8; 32. Rosie Brennan (USA) 20:06.1; 42. Caitlin Gregg (USA) 23:57.6