Tour de Ski: Double U.S. Podi­ums

SkiTrax - - Contents - By Lex Treinen

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

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