Teammates to take turns at the top? With win after win going to her Norwegian teammate Therese Johaug, Heidi Weng decided on Saturday that it was time for Johaug to share.
“She’s won so much, so once she must try to become number two she too!” Weng said to NRK of Johaug, according to a translation.
After displacing Johaug from the Ski Tour Canada (STC) leader’s bib after the Stage 3 freestyle sprint on Friday, Weng was the first woman on course for the women’s 10-kilometer freestyle pursuit in Québec City, and the first woman to finish in a time of 24:18.8.
Starting behind Weng, Johaug had an 11-second deficit to make up if she wanted to win. Which she did.
By 1.2 k, Johaug could see the bob of Weng’s brown ponytail, 6.7 seconds ahead. At 2.1 k Johaug trailed on the tips of Weng’s ski tails by eight-tenths of a second. By the 3.3 k mark it was the form of Johaug flying in first up the second major course climb.
Yet, Weng would not be shaken from her shot at the overall title and the tour lead.
“Today I did whatever I could to get a gap on Heidi, but she was really strong,” Johaug said during an in-person interview with FasterSkier after the race.
Rather than wait, Weng went to work with Johaug as she made her way in the front for the next 7 k.
“When Therese came, she was very fast and I tried to stay focused and take her back,” Weng said told several reporters during an in-person interview. “In the hills she goes so fast, and I was ready to attack with her.”
The two were side-by-side as they rounded into the final 100-meter stretch, but it was Weng who outlunged Johaug by one-tenth of a second.
“I’m really happy with the race today and really satisfied that I had as big of a gap as I had,” said Johaug, who had the fastest time of the day in 24:07.
Not only wanting to takes turns winning, Weng anticipates her role at the anterior of racing for Johaug and Norway.
“One day I hope I can be better and help her,” Weng said, referring to her decision to let Johaug lead, “But she’s so fast and so good now, so I just have to follow her and to be there.”
All in all, “It was an amazing day,” added Weng, the current STC leader. “[Therese] is very strong in the distance and she has won so many times now, so it was very good to take her.”
Securing an all-Norwegian podium in third was Norway’s Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen, 1:05.2 minutes behind Weng.
“It was a perfect day, great track and snow,” Jacobsen told FIS afterward. “I gave it all what I had. I am happy with third place.”
Diggins Determined for ‘Redemption’, Races to Fifth; Bjornsen 10th
Nothing fuels the fire more the finishing a race day before you are ready. When American Jessie Diggins fell in the third quarterfinal of Friday’s freestyle sprint and missed moving on, she put revived focus into Saturday’s 10 k pursuit.
“I had a lot of left over energy from yesterday,” Diggins said. “I was a little bit mad at myself for falling and wrecking a chance. So today I was full of energy and ready to just go for it.”
Diggins started in seventh, 10 seconds behind Friday’s sprint victor Stina Nilsson of Sweden and 29 seconds behind Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Østberg.
The Swede’s spark from Friday’s sprint had transferred to Diggins, and the American passed Nilsson just before the 2.1 k course mark to improve to sixth.
On a mission, Diggins, of the U.S. Ski Team (USST) and Stratton Mountain School (SMS) T2 Team, cranked ahead of Nilsson the first time around the three-lap course while gaining on Østberg. With 4.4 k to go, Diggins found her rhythm racing ahead of the Norwegian in fifth.
“I caught up to Ingvild and I said, ‘Let’s work together,’” Diggins recalled. “So we worked really well together and it was really motivating to be hunting people down as a two person unit.”
As the duo made their way through the third lap toward the final climb, Diggins left Østberg in a dusting of snow and crossed the finish line in fifth (+1:48.1) as the first non-Norwegian on Saturday.
“I put a move on up that last hill where all my family was cheering,” Diggins said. “I’m really happy. I was just looking for a little redemption and I feel like I got it.”
The second U.S. skier to race to the top 10 was another USST member Sadie Bjornsen.
A day after winning the Stage 3 skate-sprint qualifier and finishing eighth, Bjornsen saw her start position in 11th overall in the Tour as an advantage to her race strategy.
“I had a goal of just staying with Charlotte [Kalla],” said Bjornsen, who started two seconds behind Charlotte Kalla of Sweden, during a post-race interview. “I just kept my eyes on here and held on for dear life, so I was really satisfied.”
Bjornsen skied behind Kalla and ahead of Finland’s Krista Parmakoski and Sweden’s Ida Ingemarsdotter until the final 200 meters of the race, where Parmakoski passed Kalla and Bjornsen. Parmakoski took eighth (+2:45.9), Kalla ninth (+2:49.1), and Bjornsen 10th (+2:49.6).
“I’m feeling good,” Bjornsen said of her result. Overall she’s positioned in 10th at the halfway point of the Tour, 0.5 seconds behind Kalla in ninth and 3.7 seconds behind Parmakoski in eighth.
“It’s a great position to head into Canmore [Alberta] where there’s some super-challenging courses and high altitude, and Western skiing in general I’m looking forward to,” she said.
USST distance specialist Liz Stephen finished with World Cup points in 29th overall (+5:44.7) after starting in bib 26.
“I had trouble, for sure, staying with the pack,” Stephen said afterward. “Starting 25 and in a group can be tough for position. It was a fun day. I fought the whole way, and I’m happy with it. There is a lot more racing to come.”
Much of the racing Stephen referred to includes the next stages of the STC taking place in Canmore.
“The courses in Canmore I think are some of my favorites of all time,” she said. “So I’m really excited to get there, have some more good distance races, and have some really hard courses on home-ish turf.”
In spite of fighting illness during Friday’s sprint, USST member Sophie Caldwell entered Saturday’s pursuit in bib 36 and finished 42nd overall.
“Today wasn’t anything special,” Caldwell said on Saturday. “I was really happy to survive it. I’d really like to race in Canmore and do the sprint in particular. I just wanted to get through today and then use the next two days to get healthy and have a good sprint.”
Among the American competitors in Stage 4, Rosie Brennan (APU/USST) placed 32nd, Chelsea Holmes (APU) 39th, Ida Sargent (CGRP/USST) 40th, and Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg/USST) in 44th.
Emily Nishikawa was the first Canadian in 45th overall.
Kaitlynn Miller (USA) finished 47th, Cendrine Browne (CAN) took 49th, Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt (CAN) 52nd, Katharine Ogden (USA) 54th, Annie Hart (USA) 55th, Dahria Beatty (CAN) 57th, Katherine Stewart-Jones (CAN) 58th, Jennie Bender (USA) 59th, Maya Macisaac-Jones (CAN) 60th, Anna Hicks (CAN) 61st, Jennifer Jackson (CAN) 63rd, Alannah MacLean (CAN) 64th, and Sophie Carrier-Laforte (CAN) 65th.
The next series of races in the Ski Tour Canada includes a classic sprint, a 15/30 k skiathlon, a 10/15 k freestyle interval start, and a 10/15 k classic pursuit in Canmore.
“I wish we had World Cups in North America more often,” Stephen said. “It really makes it fun out here. Huge thanks to the fans for coming all the way up.”
— Gerry Furseth, François Léger Dionne and Harald Zimmer contributed
Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.