Hanna Erikson won her first World Cup race on Sunday in impressive fashion, demonstrated both her strength and tactical acumen. The 23-year-old Swede honed her strategy early on in the day, perfecting the art of a strong, late challenge to finish line.
In the first of the women’s quarterfinal heats began with Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Østberg firmly controlling her race from start to finish, after she won the qualifier by 0.27 seconds in 3:08.6. The second heat featured a similar performance from Norway’s Marit Bjørgen, though she was nearly caught at the line by Erikson, a strategy the Swede would use successfully in her last two heats.
In the third quarterfinal, American Sophie Caldwell found herself on the start line with five Germans: Herrmann, Lucia Anger, Katrin Zeller, Sandra Ringwald, and Claudia Nystad. Caldwell took the lead out of the stadium and through the narrowing trail until a tight right hand corner caused her to slip back to fourth position. Herrmann then took the lead and led all the way to the finish.
Caldwell became a bit unbalanced on her skis as she made a bid to move up on the last climb and lost her position, finishing in fifth. Anger and Zeller finished second and third.
The fourth quarterfinal saw Finland’s Anne Kyllonen lead from the gun with Italy’s Gaia Vuerich and Germany’s Nicole Fessel close behind her, and Norway’s Astrid Jacobsen hanging on in fourth. That positioning remained unchanged until late in the heat when Vuerich attacked to take the lead, winning the group. The race between Fessel and Kyllonen was very close, with Fessel taking second over the Finn by a mere two-hundredths of a second.
In the fifth and final quarterfinal heat, American Jessie Diggins was the quickest off the starting line and she skied powerfully out of the stadium. At the start of the climb Diggins lead was challenged by France’s Aurore Jean. Diggins managed to hold off Jean’s attack on the first climb but on the slight decline between the first and second climbs, Jean overtook her. Diggins, skiing on the inside lane up the last hill, was cut off as the climb turned right, and she was forced to the back of the pack.
In the final meters, with a late-charging Alenka Cebasek of Slovenia moving past Jean, Jean caught the Slovenian’s ski, bringing them both down just before the finish line and handing the victory to Poland’s Sylwia Jaskowiec. Therese Johaug finished in second, Aino-Kaisa Saarinen in third, and Jessie Diggins in fourth.
The first women’s semifinal was dominated early on by the Norwegian duo of Østberg and Bjørgen, leading in that order. In the falling snow, Bjørgen took over the race and did her best to break up the pack with her climbing strength. Erikson would not be dropped, however, and she stayed right on Bjørgen’s skis. In the stadium, Erikson took the lead to easily outsprint Bjørgen for the win, demonstrating her powerful skiing in the challenging Oberhof snow.
The second semifinal heat was led by Hermann, with Vuerich right behind her until she broke a pole, forcing her to the back of the pack while she looked for a spare pole. Fessel made a move to the front of the race and led the climb with Herrmann behind her and Johaug creeping up on the inside track and Kyllonen looking for a way through. Coming into the stadium Hermann gained the lead back from Fessel to win the heat. Fessel was second and Johaug third.
The women’s final of Anger, Bjørgen, Herrmann, Fessel, Østberg, and Erikson began much like the first semifinal, with Østberg taking the lead and Erikson and Bjørgen in pursuit.
This time though, Erikson didn’t wait to make a move. As soon as the gradient increased, Erikson took the lead from Østberg and the race was on. Herrmann followed her attack on the inside lane, and on the final climb she found herself ahead of the Swede and leading the race into the stadium.
Herrmann faced falling snow being blown into her by a strong headwind, and Erikson closed in behind her, waiting for the last two hundred meters where she turned on an impressive show of strength to overpower Herrmann to win the second stage of the Tour de Ski by 0.79 seconds in 3:25.69.
Østberg was third (+4.32), Fessel fourth (+4.4), Bjørgen fifth (+4.8), and Anger sixth (+9.34).
It was Erikson’s first World Cup victory and she was pleased with how it turned out.
“It’s the first victory in my career,” she told FIS. “I felt better and better in each heat. I tried to ski tactically well, to control my position.”
Bjørgen held onto her overall and sprint leaders’ bibs.
“I’m happy about my performance today,” she told FIS. “In the final I did not ski so well; I fought for the third place but it did not work. It’s good I collected some bonus seconds but there are many left in the Tour.”
The Tour de Ski continues on Tuesday with another freestyle sprint in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
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Pasha Kahn writes and coaches in Duluth, Minnesota.