CRAFTSBURY, Vermont — She was busy posting top-20s on the World Cup just last week in Falun, Sweden, but Jessie Diggins (CXC/USST) clearly has plenty of gas left in the tank. For the SuperTour Finals 3.2 k freestyle prologue, she won by 7.2 seconds against a competitive women’s field. Holly Brooks (APU) took second and Sadie Bjornsen (APU/USST) finished third (+8.6), with another 7.5 seconds between third and Becca Rorabaugh (APU) in fourth (+16.1).
Diggins characterized the late-season effort as essentially “racing on adrenaline,” and her time of 6:41.2 would have put her in 34th in the men’s field. Granted, the women started an hour before the men and had colder, faster snow to ski on, but the feat is nevertheless an impressive one.
As the only snow to speak of was on the course, and the course was closed to all but one wax tester per team, a critical point in Saturday’s prologue was making the transition from a running and/or erging warm-up to skating a race that amounted to a fast but long sprint.
“That was a little different,” said Diggins. “I’ve had a couple city sprints this year where part of my warm up has been running, but this one it was all running, and then on the course I hadn’t skied at all today and all of a sudden I was racing. So the first lap was a little bit of a shock.”
Brooks, the runner-up, agreed that the lack of on-snow warm up was a challenge out of the gate.
“It was brutal to go from running straight to the snow,” she said. “I felt a little bit like a giraffe on roller skates right at the beginning.”
“But it was fun — it was hard, and there was good competition out there.”
Brooks saw her strength in distance races as an advantage in the prologue — “I can go out pretty hard without completely dying, but in prologues my main goal is to always keep the technique nice and smooth and efficient,” she said.
Diggins focused on skiing over the faster, icy sections of the course to pick up speed.
“If you see an icy spot, go get it,” she said. “When I was able to get my balance together and glide it out, it was really fast.”
Bjornsen approached the prologue more with a sprinter’s mentality.
“I just went out at sprint pace and kind of held on,” said Bjornsen, who was in Toblach, Italy last week for OPA Cup Finals but was unable to race there due to the return of a stomach bug that plagued her earlier this season. Back in the US now, she said she’s feeling much better.
Athletes noted that the conditions at Craftsbury were as good as they could have been given the warm stretch of weather leading up to the Finals. On Saturday morning, cloud cover protected the snow from the sun’s glare, and temperatures hovered in the 40s after reaching freezing the night before.
“I’m so impressed Craftsbury managed to make this happen,” said Diggins. “There’s snow nowhere else, and it’s really good [here].”
Bjornsen concurred. “For not having much snow it’s incredible conditions—hard, fast, no rocks. Couldn’t ask for much better, “ she said.
Diggins, Brooks and Bjornsen have all had their fair share of racing abroad this winter on the World Cup, and were happy to be back on American soil.
A bit further back in the pack, US biathlon standout Susan Dunklee (CGRP/USBA) finished fifth (+19.4) and Dartmouth’s Sophie Caldwell was the top collegiate finisher in sixth (+20.1). Liz Stephen (Burke/USST), also just back from the World Cup, as seventh (+21.1).
In the junior category, Corey Stock (CSU) posted the fastest time and was 16th overall (+29.2).
Racing resumes for the women at 10:00 a.m. EST with a mass start 10 k classic and includes two intermediate sprint bonuses.
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Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.