Canada's Alex Harvey in his well-known guitar stance to celebrate third in the men's 15 k freestyle pursuit at Stage 4 of the Tour de Ski in Oberstdorf, Germany. (Photo: Salomon/NordicFocus)
Canada’s Alex Harvey in his well-known guitar stance to celebrate third in the men’s 15 k freestyle pursuit on Wednesday at Stage 4 of the Tour de Ski in Oberstdorf, Germany. (Photo: Salomon/NordicFocus)

Canada’s Alex Harvey is still on the podium.

Then there’s the U.S. women’s team, with athletes in fifth, 10th and 12th in the Tour de Ski standings after big-time performances in Oberstdorf, Germany.

Harvey kept himself in third overall and ahead of Switzerland’s Dario Cologna with a strong pursuit finish on Wednesday, and Jessie Diggins led her U.S. teammates on consecutive days, notching second on Tuesday for a career-best skiathlon result and holding onto fifth overall in the pursuit. Not far behind her, Sadie Bjornsen captured a career-best World Cup result of fifth on Tuesday, and Kikkan Randall skied into the top 10 on Wednesday. Also for the U.S., Liz Stephen clocked the seventh-fastest 10 k time in the pursuit.

Here are some of the comments and photos that didn’t make it into our race reports:

***

Tuesday’s 10/20 k skiathlon (Stage 3)

(Race reports: Women | Men)

Matt Whitcomb, U.S. Ski Team Women’s Coach:

On the strategies for Jessie Diggins and Sadie Bjornsen: The plan is flexible in the Tour. You never know what type of body is going to show up for you on any given day. We try and be a little bit flexible and try and respond to the cards that you are dealt that day. If you do feel good, try and control things a little bit, stay up near the front third of the pack that you are in, that will decrease the amount of turbulence and crashes and what not. That’s exactly what Sadie and Jessie were able to do today. It worked out fantastically.”

On Liz Stephen: “Pretty strong classic performance out of her today. At the top of the first climb on the last classic lap, she was only 19 seconds out of the lead and just in contact with the main pack, so we expected pretty big things.” (but then skis were bad, as covered in piece.

On slow skis: “It’s tough. We don’t often focus on it too much, but when an athlete or two are skiing really well, I think it’s important for them to be able to put some of the responsibility on the skis. It’s not always the athlete. A bit ironic today, as we felt we had some of the fastest skis in the race as well. There’s a lot that goes into making good skis… I think every brand of skis have their strengths, you know have their conditions that they’re great in. Some brands have some conditions that they can struggle in, a bit more than others. Sometimes, with this new snow, which we have a little bit of trouble with occasionally, not specific to any one. While it is a cold, fresh snow kind of day, it doesn’t mean it is going to be particularly straightforward on the glide.”

On starting alone in a pursuit: That’s something to consider, but in a tour like this for the women, it’s also important to remember that a lot of people will be released from the gate alone. It’s not like everybody’s in a pack except for her. It will be a pretty fair race tomorrow.”

Sadie Bjornsen, U.S. Ski Team:

On last weekend: “Val Müstair was a little interesting. I definitely wasn’t stoked about my sprint and then I had quite the blowup in the classic race. It definitely was challenging mentally, but I felt pretty confident in how I felt in my qualifier, the very first day, so I knew I couldn’t be in a disaster zone, I just forgot that I was at altitude in that 5 k race, and I did things a little bit wrong there.”

On the pace in the skiathlon: “It’s hard to tell because the people in the very front look like they’re working hard, because I think they’re breaking the wind, and then there’s that draft effect for the middle section, and then you go a little bit farther back and then it becomes like they are working hard again, because it’s that constant traffic jam, it’s like, stop-go, stop-go, stop-go. I actually watched the race this afternoon, because they were showing it on TV, and that’s interesting, like it looks like it is a different pace than normal.”

On her own pace in the skiathlon: “I felt like I was working hard at the beginning of that classic section simply because I was having to go through this accordion effect. But the times when I was conserving energy, I was certainly conserving, but it would be like conserve to sprint. That’s like a challenge of it’s own. I think that’s part of mass-start racing with not much snow anymore, you kind of deal with a little bit of that.”

On lack of a breakaway: “I don’t really know if it was windy, I didn’t notice. I think it was just that maybe the type of snow, that it just seemed [windy]. All those downhills had flat sections afterwards, that may have a been a part of it, too. It was almost like there was more flat than normal in this course, because there’s that middle section that’s very flat. Most World Cup courses, you’re either going up or down, I think that’s what made a draft.”

On the final climb: “It’s hard for me to remember, actually, what happened. I felt really strong going up that climb until maybe the last 20 meters of it, I was like, ‘Oh man, I hope I’m gonna make it over the top of this, ‘cause I’m red-lining.’ That’s certainly where I looked up and saw that those front four girls had gapped, and it was simply a difference right there.”

On leading a group to the finish: I was definitely stressed about being in the front of that pack, because I knew that there was a draft on the bottom. And I don’t know what happened, I tried to take that last downhill really well, and I had no idea what was going on behind me. I knew it was not ideal, but I was just going to go for it.”

Jessie Diggins, U.S. Ski Team:

On energy conservation with fast skis: “I had great skis, and then our techs did a great job. And then on top of that, downhills are my thing. So it was great because it was a really hard course to move around a lot, and change position. So if I just let myself just tuck the final parts of the downhill, like glide and draft and find myself able to kind of make some moves out there, or just chill out a little bit. So that was really cool.”

On lack of a breakaway: “I actually don’t think anyone was really seriously trying to make any breaks, and I don’t know, that’s just my opinion, from where I was sitting, but it seemed like a different sort of race out there.”

On uphills in traffic: “That will happen, you kind of have to keep your head on a swivel. There were times I felt like I was doing a little hopscotch thing, trying to not step on anyone’s poles, and very carefully, I’m going to put my ski here, and, ‘Oh well.’ ”

On mixed new and manmade snow: “There were a couple sections where over the top of the hill, if it was powdery, if it had been raked or something, you might kind of get a little ‘ooh’, kind of tripping. I thought the downhills were skiing really well; they’re just fast, with some turns at the bottom. The one where the men crashed, everyone was skidding it, it was one of those corners, that maybe if you were by yourself, you could maybe just step it, but like in a group you need to skid it, and sometimes you don’t have room. Yeah, it’s always harder to ski in a group.”

On her energy level in the Tour de Ski: “In general, tours are good for me, because I tend to get stronger as I go. And I really like the big grind of it, and because I can stay really positive, I think that’s a strength of mine. It’s not like you can smile away the tired feelings, but you kinda can [laughs]. I’m looking forward to it, so far it has felt really good.”

***

Wednesday’s 10/15 k freestyle pursuit (Stage 4)

(Race reports: Men | Women)

Alex Harvey, Canadian World Cup Team:

On pacing with Dario Cologna: “It was in both our interests, both him and I, to try and keep the speed high in the front and stay away from the chase group and maybe gain a few seconds from the front guys.”

On the conditions: “It was pretty windy today so you had a big advantage by following along on the flats.”

On race strategy: “I knew where he would try to attack me, which was on the big hill the same way he did [in the Skiathlon]. So I was just making sure I had enough legs to try and match his speed on the big hill.”

Devon Kershaw, Canadian World Cup Team:

On the upcoming stages: “I hope to feel good like this coming into Val de Fiemme and the classic race there, that’d be really really sweet. The uphill [final climb] is my least-favorite race in all of maybe any competition I’ve ever done, that’s a bit of a survival one, but the Saturday race is definitely something I look forward to.”

Sadie Bjornsen

On winter storms: “With the super-windy conditions and the slower snow, it was challenging to be exactly where you wanted when moves were made. Those hills were challenging today, but the flats were almost more challenging because of the strong wind and slow conditions. There really wasn’t any resting out there!”

Liz Stephen, U.S. Ski Team:

On how mass starts have been frustrating lately: “It’s a nice change! We’ve done so many mass starts, but I feel like there’s so much you can get right or get wrong. It’s nice to have a race that’s engaging because there’s people around. And I like skiing around people! I just don’t enjoy it when the courses are so narrow that you can’t make passes when you want to. Those are the only times I get frustrated with mass starts. I like to ski with people, but it’s hard to want to make these moves and feel like there’s no place to go. It’s nice to have a race I could do what I wanted out there.”

On form coming around: “I don’t know about yesterday. I feel like I’m coming up little by little, skis are part of it, sometimes, for sure, but I feel like I’m racing myself into the kind of shape that I’ve been trying to get in the season. The Tour generally does that for me. I’m looking forward to more racing and more time going this hard. And I think it’s helping me get into the race shape I want to be in, and I think this Tour is playing its role.”

On looking forward to Friday’s Stage 5: “Toblach is a really tough course for me. It’s just so gradual, and a 5 k is so short that I have it on my radar to not lose a ton of time. I’m not setting out there to get a podium or anything, or a top 10 on the 5 k skate here. I’m just setting out to not lose a bunch of minutes on a 5 k where I can help it. I want to pace it really well, and ski it the best that I can, and keep my eyes on the prize in Val di Fiemme.”

On her team: “Watching Sadie skate up the hills, she’s a different Sadie than she’s ever been. Jessie is just a fireball that can’t be caught right now. I think just being a part of the momentum of this team is really a special experience for me. I feel really proud watching my team out there, for sure.”

Noah Hoffman, U.S. Ski Team:

On form at this point in the Tour: “I still feel like my energy is good, even though I didn’t show it with a great result today, and I’m looking forward to three more stages.”

On the wave start: “Starting in a wave is a great position to start, getting a fast time on the day, because there are guys skiing around you who are fast, and guys to follow. I have no complaints about it. It’s basically a small mass start at that point. It’s a really effective way to have a good race.”

Erik Bjornsen, U.S. Ski Team

On form coming into the Tour: “I tried to put in a hard training block after La Clusaz and I think it was a little to close to the Tour. I’ve been feeling a little heavy and tired which is not the way you want to start a seven-stage tour.”

On overall Tour position: “I won’t be competitive in the overall tour. I lost too much time in the skiathlon. That doesn’t mean I’m ready to drop out, though. I’m excited to go into the next couple races with an open mind and try my best to put together a strong race and hopefully take home some more World Cup distance points.”

On the wave start/conditions: “In these conditions, it tends to makes drafting more important and passing even harder. Being in the wave start has its positives and negatives. It was hard to make passes out there, but at least being in the back we had a little drafting effect.”

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