It seems that Central Cross Country (CXC) is the team to bet on this year; at least one woman from the Midwestern squad has been in the top two in every race on the SuperTour thus far. Together, Jessie Diggins and Caitlin Gregg have taken up half of the podium spots available in the past six races, and on Saturday they continued their dominance by going 1-2 in both the morning skate sprint prologue and in the 5 k freestyle.
“It was a good, challenging course; a good chance to push yourself,” said Diggins after her races. Her goals for the day were to experiment with pacing and maintain good technique throughout the day—“something I need to work on quite a bit,” she said.
Diggins topped the women’s field by a narrow 2.3 seconds in the 1.4 k sprint. After Gregg, Becca Rorabaugh (Alaska Pacific University) took third (+17.0), with teammate Kate Fitzgerald just behind in fourth (+17.5).
The top woman’s takes on the day’s racing echoed the men’s sentiments.
“It was a tough day,” said Diggins. “I’m really tired.”
She likened the two-race format to competing in multiple events at a track meet—“except the second race was way longer.”
“It was tricky—you had just enough time to get inside, change clothes and put your feet up,” Diggins continued. “Then right away it was time to go again.”
In the second half of racing on Saturday, Diggins crossed the line just 1.3 seconds ahead of Gregg in the 5 k. Maria Graefnings (University of Utah), who took third, was further back at +29.2.
Though the three-hour break between start times was awkward, Diggins said it wasn’t so long that she had to do a complete warm-down and warm-up procedure in between.
Saturday’s victories brought Diggins’ win-count this winter to four; she now holds a commanding 36-point lead over Gregg in the overall SuperTour standings.
For her part, Gregg was pleased with the day’s outcome. “I feel like my shape is coming around,” she said. She won the skate sprint in West Yellowstone last week.
“I’m warming up the season well—overall I’m feeling really good.”
Gregg described her sprint race as a bit clustered on the big hill—a wall of a pitch that skiers climbed up, came screaming down, spun around and then swung back up again.
The trail was slightly narrower than was ideal on the hill, and Gregg got stuck behind a starter in front of her as she tried to hammer up it.
“Unfortunately, climbing is where my strength is,” said Gregg. “[I’d] track them and have to sit behind them and go their pace… That was the hardest.”
Despite feeling held back on the climbs, Gregg enjoyed the varying terrain. “I would much rather have hills,” she said. “It’s a challenge, and we need to be ready for it in Europe.”
Rorabaugh, who was third in the distance race and fifth in the sprint, planned her attack for the technical climb meticulously.
“I had gone over the sprint course and planned each transition so that I knew how I wanted to do it, and I went into the big U-turn hot each time,” she said. “I figured that if I was a little out of control that was okay.”
Race volunteers did their best to make it a well-covered course from start to finish.
“People were shoveling the whole time,” said Jennie Bender (CXC), who skipped the morning sprint and finished sixth (+52.9) in the 5 k. “[The volunteers] did a good job.”
As the temperature warmed throughout the day, the course got progressively dirtier, slowing down overall ski speed. Diggins, always grateful for her service team, said her coaches managed to hit the wax despite the changing conditions.
“Our skis were fast, which was awesome,” she said.
The women gear up for a 10 k individual-start classic race on Sunday, and start after the men at 11:30 am MST.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.