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With just three more races remaining in the 2021 Tour de Ski, the women toed the start line for today’s 10 k classic mass start. The conditions were a gift of stable bluebird weather, sub-freezing temperatures, and tracks mostly in shade against a backdrop of sun on the opposite side of the valley. Jessie Diggins of the U.S. started at the head of the crowd, wearing the yellow leader’s bib, with a lead of twenty-two seconds over teammate Rosie Brennan in the overall standings.
As the race unfolded, however, it was not the tour leaders who took center stage. The pack largely stayed together for the first two of the four laps, until Ebba Andersson of Sweden took charge. Pushing hard out of the stadium onto the third lap, Andersson splintered the group. The Val di Fiemme course is notoriously difficult to pull away on though Andersson gave it her best shot. At 7.5 k she kept pressing her advantage though Katherina Hennig of Germany was only +1.5 seconds behind.
Eventually, Andersson was caught by Hennig and Natalia Nepryaeva of Russia. Cresting the final climb, Napryaeva had the advantage and she crossed the finish line in first, making today a double Russian victory. “It was a tough battle,” said Nepraeva through a translator, “I am very happy with the result and hope the shape is getting better.” Hennig took silver, her second career World Cup podium after finishing third last year in this same event. Andersson placed third.
In a translated interview with the German broadcaster ZDF, Henning said, “I wanted to get back on the podium some time. But I really wouldn’t have expected that it works out like that today. I wanted to orient myself towards the front of the pack, but then in the beginning of the race briefly had a problem behind Rosie Brennan who tangled up. So I had to invest a lot of energy to get back in front. That it then worked out in the end… I can’t really grasp it yet.”
For the Americans, Diggins ended the day in 9th place twenty-four seconds back, after fading over the last lap.
“Today was a big day for me in terms of mental toughness,” emailed Diggins. “My body was numb from the waist down for the entire last lap but I just kept digging deep because I knew every second counted and I had a job to do! I managed to hold on to the leader bib and with a classic sprint and the hill climb coming up, I’m really excited for both these stages and focused on getting all the little details of recovery right! I was proud of the grit I had out there today, but way more proud of the amazing Salomon skis our techs made me! Wow, that was key in today’s race. … Also, so hyped up for Gus! Race of the day for sure.”
Katharine Ogden notched her third top 20 finish of the tour (she placed 18th in the 10 k skate and 20th in the 10 k classic in Toblach) and finished in 19th (+1:12.3). Hailey Swirbul earned a few more points, finishing in 25th (+1:29.1) and Caitlin Patterson snuck into the top thirty with a 29th place (+1:51.8).
Following a tangle early on in the race, Brennan struggled to maintain her position going into the day, ultimately finishing in 31st place (+2:00.5). Julia Kern rounded out the U.S. women finishers in 42nd place (+4:08.3).
“Today was undeniably a tough day,” Brennan wrote post-race. “I was ready for a tough battle and had the confidence to do well today. However, I got tripped up on the second climb and got skied over by a lot of people before I could get up. Because it was so early, we were all still in a big pack and I worked really hard to try to pass people and get back to the front. I think I wasted a lot of energy doing that when my body didn’t have much extra left in the tank. I truly fought with all I had and I am very disappointed that I couldn’t do more out there. Tour racing always brings big up and big downs so I will do my best to pick up the pieces and continue to fight hard the next two days.”
Today’s Stage 6 results caused some ripples in the overall standings in the Tour. To recap, prior to Stage 6, Diggins had a 22 second lead over Brennan in second, a fifty-eight second buffer over Stupak in third, with Karlsson in fourth (+1:29).
After today’s day’s grind in Val di Fiemme, Diggins sits in first overall with a fifty-five second margin over Stupak in second. Karlsson moves up a position to third (+1:42). Brennan, who struggled on the stage, fell back to seventh overall (+2:11).
Racing continues tomorrow for the women with a classic sprint.
Growing up in Washington’s Methow Valley, Ella was immersed in skiing and the ski community from a young age. From early days bundled in the pulk, to learning to ski as soon as she could walk, to junior racing, a few seasons of collegiate racing, and then to coaching, she has experienced the ski world in many forms. Now, as a recent graduate from Dartmouth College, she finds herself living in France splitting her time between teaching English at a university in Lyon, avidly following ski racing (and now writing about it!) and adventuring in the outdoors as often as possible.