The three day Beitostolen FIS race series in Norway concluded with a frigid race, featuring delayed start times and shortened distances. But this did not stop American skiers from continuing to turn in strong performances on the track.
The races were originally scheduled as 15/30km freestyle events, but with predicted highs in the low single digits, the always cold-wary Norwegians opted to cut the distance to 10/15km.
The US women packed the top of the result sheet with Morgan Arritola, Jessie Diggins and Liz Stephen placing second through fourth respectively, behind Norwegian World Cup veteran Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen.
Arritola completed the two five kilometer laps 37.7 seconds back. Diggins finished + 1:09.8 with Stephen another 2.6 seconds behind.
“I was really happy with my race,” Diggins wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “I was a little tired for sure, it being the third consecutive day of racing…By the end of the race I was hurting, and my legs were pretty dead, but it was definitely worth it.”
While the field did not feature many established Norwegian stars, Jacobsen is certainly a good benchmark. Still just 24, she placed 10th in the 2011 Tour de Ski, and has bounced back from two sub-par seasons. In 2008, she skied to second in the overall World Cup standings.
“Standing on the podium in Norway was definitely something I’m going to remember,” Diggins said. “Mostly because I used to look up to the Norwegians as gods, and thought that I’d never, ever be as fast as them. But I’m realizing that we train pretty much the same, and on any given day the US athletes stand a good chance of beating them!”
Diggins improved on her 15th place in the 5km classic race, and has now been racing in Europe for a month.
Arritola also appears to be rounding into form, improving with each race in Beitostolen. As a comparison, a similar deficit to Jacobsen (by percent back) would have placed the Sun Valley skier in 23rd in an early season World Cup 10km freestyle.
Diggins and Stephen would have ranked 45th in that event. This is a rough comparison at best, but does provide a point of reference.
In the men’s race, Tad Elliott, as the lone American starter, skied to 13th, one minute behind winner Thomas Vestbo.
The field did not feature any of the top Norwegians, but the top-20 was littered with World Cup experience.
Vestbo, however, has only one World Cup start to his name, and he did not complete that event. But he is coming off a fourth place finish at the U23 World Championships in Estonia.
Elliott entered the race inspired by the performances oh his female counterparts, and he told FasterSkier that knowing the women had excellent skis helped him relax.
“I felt great yesterday…I had some good confidence, and was able to ski relaxed and smooth knowing everything was dialed in,” Elliott said.
Neither Diggins nor Elliott was bothered by the cold, both citing familiarity with the conditions due to their home climates – Minnestoa for Diggins, and Colorado for Elliott.
“The cold didn’t really bother me – I’m from Minnesota, so I’m used to racing at the very edge of the legal limit,” Diggins said.
Both racers have used their long European sojourn to good effect, noting that one of the most important skills is learning to deal with the travel and recovery required.
Despite noting the depth and competitiveness of the fields, Elliott said, “Racing seems to be racing, just learning how to manage Europe and more racers is all that is different than the US.”
The two CXC athletes are now looking ahead to Worlds. Elliott says he is feeling in good form and hopes to have his best races of the season in Oslo, and both are feeling confident after some fast skiing in Norway.
In other Anglophone results, Brit Andrew Musgrave placed 15th in Sunday’s freestyle race, 21 seconds behind Elliott, while Australia’s Ben Sim, who has spent the season working on his jumping while switching to Nordic Combined, temporarily rejoined the cross-country circuit, and placed 25th, just under two minutes off the winning pace.
Sim will race cross-country events in Oslo.
No Canadian skiers participated, and the team continues to train in Lillehamar.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.