Sadie Bjornsen (USA), fresh off career-best World Cup results in both distance and sprint last weekend continued her hot streak, placing third in the OPA Cup Finals women’s 2.5km skate prologue.
The three day mini-tour kicked off on Friday with a high-end field consisting of many names more often seen on a World Cup start list.
Women’s winner Christa Jaeger (SUI) is not one of those, with just four World Cup starts, all as a Nations Group skier, but she edged out Slovenian Alena Cebasek by a mere .2 seconds nonetheless.
Bjornsen was 5.4 seconds back in third just ahead of World Cup skiers Sandra Ringwald (GER) and Italians Elisa Brocard and Veronica Cavallar.
After a trip she described as a “travel adventure” to get from Drammen, Norway, where she raced the World Cup sprint on Wednesday, to Toblach, Italy, Bjornsen told FasterSkier that she “didn’t have her normal amount of energy.”
She described the race as “super short,” and never quite fired all cylinders.
“I felt like I was almost still sleeping,” Bjornsen said. “Yesterday was such a frantic day. I felt like I never put myself into real time.”
After wrapping up a successful World Cup tour with her first top-10, in the Lahti freestyle sprint, followed by an 18th in the 10km classic, Bjornsen said she is just looking to end the season on a positive note and have some fun.
“I knew it was not going to be the most ideal conditions for travelling and being rested,” she said. “It is more a fun end of the year challenge myself sort of thing. I don’t have huge expectations but of course it would be fun to win and tomorrow I am going to try to win again.”
According to Bjornsen the Italian course is more rolling than precipitous. Instead of the “walls” and steep descents that are often found on World Cup courses, transitions are the key in Toblach.
Kate Fitzgerald was the second American in 12th, less than two seconds behind 10th place finisher, and World Cup stalwart Steffie Boehler (GER).
Erika Flowers was 22nd, Caitlin Patterson 24th, Becca Rorabaugh 26th and Anna Van der Rhee 37th in the 37-woman field.
After spending the past two months on the World Cup, including two weeks just south in Val di Fiemme for World Championships, Bjornsen said it was nice to be back with the Continental Cup crew, and that the experience made her appreciate the World Cup circuit event more.
“Here there are two wax techs for 15 skiers,” Bjornsen said. “It reminds you of how lucky you are on the World Cup with so much support.”
With a hard effort under her belt after the long travel, Bjornsen has two more opportunities for victory — in Saturday’s 5k classic or Sunday’s 10k freestyle pursuit.
In the men’s 3.3k event, Mike Sinnott led the way for the Americans, placing 29th, 19.4 seconds behind winner Loris Frasnelli (ITA).
“I think the race went about as well as it could given how I felt, but it wasn’t anything special,” Sinnott wrote to FasterSkier in an email.
“My body has been flat since I came to Europe and while this was a step in the right direction, it’s still not all there,” he continued.
Erik Bjornsen was 36th, Patrick Johnson 39th, Matt Gelso 48th, Sam Tarling 54th and David Norris 62nd.
Both Tarling and Norris are back in Europe after racing at the NCAA Championships last weekend in Middlebury, Vermont.
Cold temperatures and sunny skies made for excellent skiing in the Italian Dolomites.
Audrey Mangan contributed reporting