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Another lovely spring-like day in Dresden, Germany with vibrant green grass contrasting the ribbon of man-made snow along the Elbe River bank. On course in the women’s team sprint final, a ten-team affair became a relative runaway as it concluded.
For the uninitiated and new to the team sprint concept, two-athletes form a team, and they tag off to one another six times each. In other words, each athlete races a .65 k lap (one time around the Dresden course) and tags off to their partner. Each partner races six 0.65 k laps for a total of 7.8 k for the team. It is dizzying. And yes, it can seem like a blur of Lycra and skis and poles. Roller derby meets cross-country ski refinement is one way to describe it.
At the race’s midpoint, the racing blur was led by an upstart team from China, pulling the pack along in their yellow and red highlighted suits. Switzerland I, U.S. I, Slovenia, Russia I, and Germany I were separated by 2.8 seconds. Just enough time back for those in the rear to keep hope alive, and for viewers to see that no real breakaway and podium locks had been determined. We’ll call it semi-scrum in its organization.
5.2 k into the race, at the eighth exchange, Russia I played their hand as they burned fuel upfront. The race became a four-team affair with Russia I setting the pace, and Switzerland I, Slovenia, and the U.S. racing in the slipstream. This trend continued with the U.S. falling off slightly at 6.5 k, 1.4 seconds back. Not much time, but in a team sprint event, when drafting and maintaining a lock on those in front are key, it can appear to be a mighty gap.
Russia I continued it’s work up front and the pattern was set on the final tag. With 0.7 k to go, the Russians were up 2.3 seconds on the Swiss, 2.5 seconds on Slovenia, and 2.6 seconds on the U.S.
In that final lap, Fähndrich for the Swiss, reeled in Russia’s Nepryaeva, who at the onset seemed uncatchable, seized control of the front and took the win in 16:38.34 minutes. Nepryaeva crossed 0.32 seconds back to secure second for Russia I. Lampic crossed 1.12 seconds back for Slovenia’s third place. Caldwell Hamilton, slightly off the pace, finished in fourth (+3.01) for U.S. I.
“I felt very good and saw that Natalia [Nepryaeva] was already a bit tired and I could catch up a lot from behind. So I had a very good feeling, and was hoping and fighting to make it happen today,” said Fähndrich to Swiss broadcaster SRF about her team’s last loop.
Van der Graaff, Fähndrich’s teammate, added, “I knew I had to send off Nadine in a good position. So I fought and suffered on my last leg, and talked to myself the whole time ‘come on, just a little bit more until I can tag off to her’. We already saw yesterday that she’s in great shape, she’s the strongest athlete at the moment. And I knew in the end she’d make it.”
In recent years, the women’s team sprints have been dominated by Sweden. They have won eight of the last nine team sprint events – with a sweep of the last six. However, neither Caldwell Hamilton nor Diggins is a stranger to the podium in the event. Caldwell Hamilton was third in the event twice, once in the 2017 pre-Olympic World Cup event in PyeongChang and again in 2018 in Dresden. Both times, she raced alongside Ida Sargent, who retired in 2018. Diggins was a member of the 2018 Olympic gold medal team with Kikkan Randall, and the 2013 World Champs team sprint gold with Randall, along with a World Championship bronze from the classic team sprint in Lahti in 2017.
“We fought hard out there, and I am so proud of all our teams for giving it out best effort!” wrote Diggins in a post-race email. “Personally I struggled a bit with positioning on such a short and tactical loop, but I was proud of how I held my own in city sprinting on a course that challenged me in different ways! I thought we had great skis and it’s nice to feel that we’re working our way into better and better racing form.”
Both Caldwell Hamilton and Diggins were coming off of strong performances on the course in yesterday’s individual sprint event, finishing 2nd and 4th, respectively. Both seemed well matched for the flat and spicy course, with tight corners where the manmade snow crumbles to a dicey sugar.
“It was fast and furious out there today, as Dresden always is,” emailed Caldwell Hamilton. “I think Jessie and I both wanted to fight for a podium today and knew we were capable of it, but this race is a wild card and I think overall we skied quite well. For me personally, I always look back at these Dresden team sprints and wish I had skied more aggressively, but with so much carnage out there, you’re riding a fine line between aggressive and risky, so that sweet spot can be tricky to find. In hindsight, we can always find a small thing or two we would have done differently, but it’s still an effort I’m proud of and any time I get to team up with Jessie is an honor. Dresden hosted an exciting weekend as usual and now I’m looking forward to a little Christmas break in Seefeld!”
Hannah Halvorsen and Julia Kern placed eighth in the final, 12.35 seconds off the winning time. The duop advanced to the final after placing fifth in the first semi-final. The top five teams from each semi advance to the finals.
A quick look to the overall standings as Period 1 draws to a close: Despite sitting out the city sprints in Dresden, Rosie Brennan is still in charge of the yellow bib with 377 points. Missing this World Cup stop was part of Brennan’s season plan. Russia’s Tatiana Sorina trails by 41 points in second (334 pts), followed by Norway’s Therese Johaug in third (301 pts).
Women’s Team Sprint Final Results: Team Sprint Final Results
– Harald Zimmer contributed
Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646