The American women’s team looks to be in good shape in the final stretch of the 2014/2015 World Cup, as Sadie Bjornsen and Jessie Diggins finished in the top 20 of Sunday’s 10-kilometer classic individual start in Lahti, Finland.
While Norway’s Marit Bjørgen collected her second victory of the weekend, winning in a time of 25:37.8, Sadie Bjornsen led all Americans by finishing in 14th (+1:41.4).
Jessie Diggins followed a fourth-place finish in Saturday’s freestyle sprint by placing 17th, 1:48.1 minutes behind Bjørgen.
Bjornsen wrote in am email to the press that the conditions made for a challenging day, as the course offered a mix of soft, spring-like conditions and icy spots.
“I just kept trying to tell myself that conditions were similarly hard for everyone,” she wrote. “I had a great first lap, and then spent the second lap trying to hold my technique together as the tracks become more challenging to kick in.”
Bjornsen added that this season, there have been more races on soft, klister conditions than on hard wax, which has traditionally been her strength.
“I am being forced to find some new skills and strengths this winter,” she wrote.
U.S. Ski Team Women’s Coach Matt Whitcomb said in a phone interview that he was impressed with Bjornsen’s effort and that it was a positive result.
“It’s pretty difficult to get a top 20 at a classic race in Finland,” he said. “She mentioned that she struggled in the herringbone sections on the course, but she was able to put together some very competitive striding and double poling sections.”
Diggins said in a phone interview that based on her two performances, she feels this is the best weekend she has ever had in Lahti.
Though she placed much higher on Saturday, she was happy with her result on Sunday, as neither classic racing nor the Lahti course play to her strengths, she said.
“On a course like this that was all about the steep climbs, I felt like there wasn’t a whole lot of double-pole and glide sections,” she said. “It wasn’t really a great course for me traditionally, but I had to try and wrap my head around that and get psyched about it.”
She said the tricky conditions made it difficult to determine whether she should stay in the track, especially when exhaustion set in during the second lap. However, when Bjørgen passed her, she was able to replicate what Bjørgen was doing.
“I was just trying to copy her, and that helped at the end of the second lap,” she said.
She added that, despite the conditions, her skis had a “really good kick.”
Meanwhile, Whitcomb said he thought the best race of the day went to Sophie Caldwell, who finished in 31st and missed out by 0.2 seconds on earning her first 10 k classic points. Interestingly, before the race Caldwell was not sure if she was even going to participate.
“Her body wasn’t quite feeling right, but she decided to just go for it,” Whitcomb said.
It ended up being the right call, as she earned her best-ever distance result in a World Cup.
Whitcomb said she did an impressive job attacking the most difficult sections of the course – particularly the tops of long climbs.
“She was really competitive against the field in those sections,” Whitcomb said. “Today was an impressive step in the right direction.”
Liz Stephen finished right behind Caldwell in 32nd (+2:27.8), while Caitlin Patterson of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project finished 50th (+3:55.2).
Erik Bjornsen Leads American Men
In a close men’s race, Erik Bjornsen – who was 28th in the skiathlon at the 2015 World Championships – led the Americans by placing 38th, finishing 1:34.9 behind Italian winner Francesco de Fabiani (34:51.2). Noah Hoffman was just behind in 43rd (+1:38.2).
Erik wrote in an email to FasterSkier that he felt decent, and that his goal was to go out strong and try and hold on for a good place, despite the tricky conditions.
“It’s been great getting so many starts this year because I’m starting to feel more comfortable skiing in crap,” he wrote. “My distance form seems to be at a new level since my pre-World Champs camp in Davos.”
He added that it is great to be able to go out strong and “not have the wheels fall off completely.” He said he felt great on the last lap despite not being able to find the kick he needed.
“I’m sure part of the problem is technique but I also wonder if I chose a classic ski with too high of a camber,” Bjornsen wrote.
Bjornsen started in bib 1, and Whitcomb said that racing first led to a strategy adjustment. He explained that they wanted to attack the conditions as they held up.
“In a normal race, you’re checking your split and maybe trying to lay down your fastest final lap,” Whitcomb said. “Today with the earlier bib numbers we were trying to lay down fast first and second laps before the conditions fell apart, and I think Erik did that.”
However, he reiterated that Bjornsen struggled with the kick in the final lap.
Other Americans in the field included Noah Hoffman in 43rd (+1:38.2), Kris Freeman in 57th (+3:00.5) and Andy Newell – who was eighth in Saturday’s freestyle sprint – in 59th (+3:07.7).
Despite his performance on Sunday, Whitcomb said that Newell is finally coming into form, and that he expects him to challenge for a podium spot during Wednesday’s classic sprint in Drammen, Norway.
In addition, he said Kikkan Randall – who was third in Saturday’s sprint – will threaten for a podium, while Simi Hamilton will also be a contender. Hamilton was seventh in the Drammen sprint in 2012.
After Wednesday’s classic sprint in Drammen, the 2014/2015 World Cup ends next weekend in Oslo, Norway, with the 50 k men’s and 30 k women’s freestyle mass start races at Holmenkollen.