After having two races on Thursday, competitors at the Toppidrettsveka festival got Friday morning off to recover before continuing in the afternoon with the third stage, a 15 kilometer skiathlon. Rather than relaxing and waiting for the afternoon, however, the athletes took advantage of the extra time to get in a morning training session. Since so many skiers from so many places are at the Toppidrettsveka festival, many also took the opportunity to train with friends from other countries. “Everyone is training in the mornings before the competitions, which helps keep the atmosphere not so focused on the racing, but rather on it being really good, hard training efforts to prepare us all for the winter,” wrote U.S. Ski Team veteran Liz Stephen. “[It’s] really fun to get the ‘ski family’ back together in the summer.”
When the afternoon came around, the “ski family” continued the competition at the Knyken ski center in Orkdal, Norway. The third stage featured six laps around a 2.5 k loop, making for some exciting racing. Once again Americans had some strong results with Stephen and fellow USST veteran Kikkan Randall both placing in the top 10, in sixth and seventh respectively.
“The start was just like a WC start: HARD from the get go,” Stephen wrote in an email.
The pace did not let up either. The women’s field strung out right from the start as Norwegian Therese Johaug went out strong. That was okay with Randall, who lost some positions early on, but managed to make them up throughout the race.
“I was able to bridge up to a pack in the classic and then one more again in the skate. My strength definitely built through the race,” she explained.
Randall, who had no results goals for the day, was just looking to get in a hard effort, something she definitely managed to do. “I was really satisfied with my effort today, it’s the most I’ve actually felt like a racer in a long time…It was just refreshing to feel like I could push harder today.”
Stephen had a similar race trajectory, as she skied with her teammate throughout most of the classic leg. Randall, who realized her energy was not quite as good as Stephen’s, gave her teammate a little boost in hopes that Stephen could catch next pack. “[Randall] gave me a good push on one of the downhills to try and get me gliding a bit better. Really sweet team moment, for sure,” Stephen wrote.
While she could not quite catch the women in front of her, Stephen did manage to pull away from Randall slightly during the skate portion. “I chased and fought and clawed my way through the classic portion and felt great once I got some skate skis on my feet,” Stephen explained.
Norwegians Heidi Weng and Therese Johaug, who placed first in each of the previous day’s events, had strong performances, leading throughout the race and breaking away from the rest of the pack during the skate portion. Weng had a bit more energy at the end and managed to out sprint her teammate for the win by 0.6 seconds. Germany’s Denise Herrmann rounded out the podium in third, 40.4 seconds behind Weng.
“It’s great that I have begun to win some now, but that does not mean much. The winter is what matters,” Weng told Dagbladet, according to a translation.
American Caitlin Gregg also had a strong day, narrowly missing the top 10 with an 11th place finish, 1:51.2 back of the winner. The other two American girls at the festival, Jessie Diggins and Sophie Caldwell, took 16th and 28th respectively.
The efforts from Stephen and Randall were enough to keep the U.S Ski Team veterans in the top 10 overall for the race series, as they are in 7th and 10th respectively with 105 and 67 points. Caldwell and Gregg are currently in 13th and 14th overall, and Diggins is in 20th.
On the men’s side, Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson managed to outsprint Norway’s Eirik Brandsdal for the win in a hotly contested race. Only 9.8 seconds separated Halfvarsson from the 16th place finisher.
Thursday’s Fonna Up winner Didrik Tønseth led the men out of the start and set the pace for much of the classic leg. After around twenty men came into the ski change in the lead pack, Halfvarsson took the lead and upped the pace, stretching the field to begin the skate portion. Still, many of the men were able to maintain the faster pace and stay in contention. Before the home stretch, Brandsdal managed to get by Halfvarsson, but the Swede had a strong finishing kick and edged out the Norwegian in a photo finish. Another Norwegian, Simen Østensen, finished in third, 0.7 seconds behind the winner.
“This was a really fun victory. I did not think I could be fighting for the win today, but right before the end I knew it was going to be between Eirik and me,” Halfvarsson told Langrenn, according to a translation.
USST veteran Andy Newell was the top North American finisher in 24th, 1:09.7 behind the winner. Newell’s teammate Simi Hamilton also finished in the top 30, placing 27th overall with a time 1:11.9 back of Halfvarsson. Slightly further down in 32 and 33 were Canadian Devin Kershaw and American Noah Hoffman, with times 1:24.3 and 1:24.7 behind the winner.
In the Toppidrettsveka overall standings, Hoffman sits in 11th thanks to 60 points from his strong third place in the Fonna Up. Sprinters Hamilton and Newell sit in 30th and 32nd, while Kershaw is in 38th.
The Toppidrettsveka festival wraps up today with a 15 k pursuit in Trondheim, Norway. The final stage takes place on a loop right in the city center, and according to USST Head Coach Chris Grover, around 35,000 spectators will surround the course. As if that was not exciting enough, the course also features fast, technical downhills and steep uphill climbs. It should make for a compelling end to what has already been an exciting week of racing.
15 k Skiathlon Results:
Overall Standings After Stage 3: