FIS Cross-Country Tour de Ski (Lenzerheide, Switzerland): Stage 1 freestyle sprint
Sophie Caldwell is back on the podium. It’s been two years since the 27-year-old U.S. Ski Team sprinter won an individual World Cup race and became only the third woman in U.S. history to to do so. That was also in the Tour de Ski — but in a classic sprint.
In the time since, the U.S. women’s team has racked up several more podium accolades. Jessie Diggins has recorded three individual World Cup wins (and two World Championships medals), Sadie Bjornsen has notched three individual podiums (and a World Championships team sprint silver with Diggins) in the last year, and Kikkan Randall raced to bronze in the 2017 World Championships skate sprint.
But Saturday, the first day of the 2018 Tour de Ski, was Caldwell’s moment to stand on the second step of the podium. She started the morning by qualifying third in the women’s 1.5-kilometer freestyle sprint in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, 2.33 seconds behind Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, who won the qualifier in 3:29.19 minutes. Diggins qualified second, 1.41 seconds off Østberg’s time.
Five out of the seven U.S. women entered in the Tour qualified in the top 30 to advance to the heats, with Bjornsen clocking the 13th fastest time (+5.20), Rosie Brennan 15th (+5.27), and Ida Sargent 30th (+8.69). Randall finished 44th and Liz Stephen 66th out of 71 in the women’s qualifier.
Caldwell went on to win the first quarterfinal and place second in the semifinal by just six-hundredths of a second (behind Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla, who won the first semifinal).
Diggins advanced in second in her quarterfinal, 0.54 seconds behind Østberg who won that heat, then raced to third in the first semifinal, just another hundredth of a second behind Diggins. The final featured the two Americans as well as local favorite, Laurien van der Graaff of Switzerland, Falla, Russia’s Natalia Nepryaeva, and Germany’s Sandra Ringwald.
In front of friends and family, Van der Graaff went on to take the win — her first and Switzerland’s first on home soil since Toni Livers won in Davos in 2007.
She won the final in 3:25.8, 1.42 seconds ahead of Caldwell in second. Falla placed third (+1.86), Nepryaeva took fourth (+3.17), and Diggins finished fifth after breaking her second pole of the day (she previously broke a pole and skied a while without one in the quarterfinal). Ringwald fell and finished sixth (+31.68).
Van der Graaff had previously qualified fourth then won her quarterfinal and advanced as a lucky loser from the first semifinal, where she placed fourth behind Falla, Caldwell and Diggins.
“It’s incredible. I mean, to win on this course, home, is just crazy,” van Der Graaff said in a post-race interview with the International Ski Federation (FIS).
Bjornsen and Brennan finished the day in 14th and 15th, respectively, after placing third in their quarterfinals. The U.S. had five in the top 20 with Sargent in 20th, after she placed fourth in her quarterfinal.
In the men’s 1.5 k freestyle sprint, the defending Tour de Ski champion, Sergey Ustiugov of Russia, won his first World Cup race of the season by 1 second over Italy’s Federico Pellegrino.
Ustiugov started off by winning the qualifier in 2:58.46, and Pellegrino qualified second, 1.08 seconds off the Russian’s time. Ustiugov then raced to second in the first quarterfinal, just 0.07 seconds behind Norway’s Finn Hågen Krogh in first. In the second quarterfinal that followed, Pellegrino took the win over Finland’s Ristomatti Hakola in second (+0.35).
The first semifinal featured a three-way photo finish for first, with Ustiugov edging Pellegrino by 0.04 seconds and Krogh by 0.06 seconds. Hakola finished fourth (+1.11) in that heat to advance to the final as well.
There, the 25-year-old Ustiugov was first across the finish line in 2:57.28. Pellegrino claimed second (+1.0), and France’s Lucas Chanavat — whom had qualified third and won both his quarterfinal and semifinal — reached the podium in third (+2.76). Hakola was fourth (+5.91), Krogh fifth (+14.39), and the second French skier in the final, Richard Jouve sixth (+21.01).
Canada’s Alex Harvey missed reaching the final by one-hundredth of a second, placing third in Chanavat’s semifinal after a photo finish for second place. While Chanavat won that heat by 0.34 seconds over his French teammate Jouve, Harvey was another 0.01 seconds back in third. Ultimately, Harvey placed seventh overall (he started the day by qualifying in 18th).
Three out of four American men qualified for the heats, with Simi Hamilton in 15th, Andy Newell in 20th and Erik Bjornsen in 27th. Hamilton finished the day in 15th as well after placing third in his quarterfinal, Newell ended up 19th after finishing fourth in his quarterfinal, and Bjornsen was 25th after taking fifth in his quarter.
Paddy Caldwell finished 74th in the qualifier for the U.S. Canada’s second man in the Tour, Devon Kershaw finished 86th out of 94.