CANMORE, Alberta — Kikkan Randall may sit just below Marit Bjørgen (NOR) in the overall World Cup standings, but one thing has been clear all season — the U.S. women’s team is not a one-woman show.
Showing impressive depth, the team placed a total of four skiers in the heats in Saturday’s freestyle sprint, despite the absence of Jessie Diggins and Holly Brooks.
Randall, who placed 2nd, was followed on the results sheet by Ida Sargent in 10th, a career-best World Cup skate sprint for the 24-year-old.
Sargent bounced back from a rough weekend in Quebec City where she crashed twice in the team sprint, and failed to qualify in the individual.
On Saturday she just squeaked into the heats, posting just the 28th best time, a mark that likely would not have made the cut in a European World Cup.
Sargent told FasterSkier that her qualifier was not ideal. She went very hard on the climbs, generating too much lactic acid, and paid a price in the finish stretch.
But she adjusted and approached her heats with a different strategy, taking full advantage of the opportunity to continue racing.
“I tried to stay relaxed on the uphill and tried to get the draft on the downhill and then use my quick finish,” she said of her quarterfinal.
She came from the back on the outside in the homestretch, overtaking all but German Denise Herrmann to move on.
The plan was to do the same thing in the semis, but she got boxed in at the top of the hill, and Norwegians Celinie Brun-Lie and Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg got away.
Sargent said she felt like she could have hung with those two, had she been able to get around the woman in front of her and hold the draft.
Nevertheless, she was pleased with her performance seeing it as “a good confidence booster.”
Skate qualifiers have given her problems in the past. She says she “has trouble skiing smoothly in them.”
She knows, however, that if she advances, it is a different story.
“It was kind of cool that if I can make it into the heats, I can ski with any of those girls out there,” she said.
“She’s really arriving and she’s another one who executed her strategy perfectly in the quarterfinal,” U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover said of Sargent. “You didn’t really think she was in the race until she came down the finish straight and all of a sudden she’s popping up there.”
Sargent ends the first World Cup period ranked 12th in the Sprint Cup standings, and is 19th in the overall rankings with just one more distance race before the break.
Her teammate Sadie Bjornsen joined her on the personal best front, qualifying in 16th, and finishing 22nd on the day, bettering her 25th from Thursday’s 10k classic.
Including the skate sprint in Quebec City, Bjornsen now has three consecutive races in the points — not bad for the woman who had to ease into the season due to injury.
In the third quarterfinal, Bjornsen headed out aggressively, leading the heat up the first climb.
“It probably wasn’t the smartest thing, but it was incredibly exciting,” she told FasterSkier. “It was the first time I could ever say I was leading a World Cup!”
The field came by her, but she was able to stay in contact over the top.
On the big sweeping corner down to the finish stretch, the woman in front of Bjornsen slid, burning speed, losing touch with skiers in front.
Without the draft, Bjornsen was not in position to fight for a spot in the semis.
Only the third time she has skied in World Cup heats, Bjornsen looks at each experience as an opportunity to learn.
In Quebec she had a slow start in the heats and was never able to move up. On Saturday it was the opposite, going out hard.
“I need to find the medium,” she said.
The final U.S. woman in the heats, Sophie Caldwell, made the most of her Canadian World Cup starts, following up a 14th in Quebec with a 23rd on Saturday, demonstrating she can handle the hills as well as the flat terrain of a city sprint.
After qualifying 21st, she entered her quarterfinal looking to ski in the group and use the draft on the downhill. A few small tangles and bumps, however, kept her toward the back.
“It’s definitely a lot different on the World Cup,” she said of her recent sprinting experience. “It’s still just another race, but people are more aggressive. People stay together a lot more whereas in domestic races things get strung…a little more tactical [here].”
– Alex Matthews contributed reporting