All 2012 FIS World Cup Finals coverage is brought to you through the generous support of Fischer Sports USA, proud sponsors of Kikkan Randall, 2012 overall Sprint Cup Champion.
FALUN, Sweden – It would have been hard for the US Women’s cross-country ski team to match, let alone, better Friday’s performance where they placed three skiers in the top-13.
There was no shame in falling short of that high bar, especially when all three starters still cracked the top-30.
Kikkan Randall led the way in 14th place and is now 7th in the World Cup Finals.
Randall described her day as “decent,” and had one major regret—not finding a way to create some space on the climbs.
“I got stuck behind people with slower tempo and I felt like with a little space to go around I would have just kept up the pace a bit more and maybe have gotten up to that next pack,” Randall told FasterSkier.
The problem was that the 10k mass start classic was tightly packed, and the course outside the tracks was extremely icy.
On the steep Mördarbacken it was difficult to get kick outside the track, limiting Randall’s ability to get around.
In hindsight, she would have attacked prior to the hill in order to get the room she desired on the hill.
The race broke apart quickly with Marit Bjørgen (NOR) and eventual winner Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) setting a grueling pace from the gun.
Two different chase packs formed, and Randall ended up in the second one.
“I made some good moves and had the lead [of her group] coming into the downhill at the front of the pack but the accordion effect was just so big today that everyone just globbed right back up at the bottom,” said Randall describing her efforts to move up.
She pointed to the big climb as the place to make moves, but noted that many of those evaporated on the succeeding long descent.
Those descents proved the undoing of Liz Stephen, who worked her way through the pack after starting toward the back.
Seeding was based on the World Cup Finals standings, and Stephen’s 13th in the prologue was not enough to overcome her Stockholm sprint result.
“The downhills were just tough,” Stephen said. “Not so much the hardcore ones, but the flats.”
She said she felt great on the uphills adding “I think I am really good shape, it is almost hard to have the season ending.”
She climbed up into the top-20, but fell back on the descents—not so much do to the technical nature, but as one of the smaller skiers on the circuit, she just has less mass.
“It can be frustrating,” she said. “I don’t know if I have to grab a weight vest…”
She still finished 26th, at the back of a seven-skier pack.
Despite the disappointment of losing places on the descents, she isn’t complaining.
“I am really happy with a top-thirty classic finish,” Stephen told FasterSkier. “I mean I am never bummed out about that. It is a huge improvement from last year.”
Jessie Diggins, like Stephen, has traditionally performed better in skate races and called her 19th place effort “one of my better classic races.”
Diggins skied with Randall at points during the race, was just six seconds out of 11th and lost out in a photo finish with seasoned veteran Aino Kaisa Saarinen (FIN).
Another Finn, Riitta-Liisa Roponen was just ahead of her teammate.
Randall was also edged out by two Finns and while both Diggins and Randall said they had good skis, they felt Finland’s were exceptional.
“I definitely got out-glided on the last downhill, by the Finns…I was just far enough behind them that I was not able to get back to them in the final sprint,” Diggins said.
In retrospect she felt she may have been better served going with a little less kick, but said “you never know when it is your first time on a course.”
In her first year on the World Cup, Diggins is trying to accumulate as much experience as possible for the future.
“I am just saving up this kind of stuff for next year,” she said. “It was a good experience for next year, but I am really happy to have my last classic race done with and get on with the skating. It feels like this last period has been pretty much all classic and I am ready to be done with it.”
Diggins was surprised that the main pack stayed together as much as it did but she stuck to her pre-race plan—“ski your own race, stay relaxed, stay calm, don’t worry about it, they are going to ski away from you, but if you don’t blow up than you have a chance of reeling people back in, and I would rather start out slower and then catch back up.”
Both Stephen and Diggins avoided several crashes on the icy course.
“You would see someone go down, but you couldn’t really change your path without going down yourself,” Diggins described. “So you were just like, ‘man I really hope they keep sliding out of the way.’”
Like Randall, Diggins noticed the poor kick on the icy surface outside of the track, but she learned that the hard way.
With good kick on the climbs she was looking to move up, but when she stepped out she couldn’t cut back in.
Diggins is currently 17th overall with the top-10 in the World Cup Finals, less than 20 seconds ahead and Stephen is in 24th, also within striking distance of a number of spots.
Matt Voisin contributed reporting.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.