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It was a rather cloudy day as the athletes circled Ulricehamn’s sprint loop again and again for Sunday’s freestyle team sprint, urged forward by the cheering of recorded crowds piped through a trailside loudspeakers. After first contesting a semi-final round earlier in the morning, the ten quickest teams moved onto the final, each athlete racing three laps for a total of 7.2 k (each loop being 1.6 k).
The pace was steady for the first few laps, as the women’s final progressed. Echoing her tactic from the semi-finals, Jessie Diggins skiing for USA I exited exchange three with a high tempo, pushing the pace to stretch out the pack. Diggins, who leads the overall World Cup and placed third in yesterday’s sprint, tagged her teammate, Sadie Maubet Bjornsen for her final lap with a lead of +0.3.
Maubet Bjornsen led out front, shadowed by two Swedes competing for Sweden I and Sweden II. This was Maubet Bjornsen’s first team sprint of the season. In her young 2020-2021 World Cup campaign, she was right in the mix with Sweden’s powerhouse sprinters. Maja Dahlqvist, representing Sweden I with teammate Linn Svahn, took the lead into the final exchange. With the rolling and working course, one that remained tough for athletes to break away on, the sharp end group of skiers tagged off in a dense pack.
All out for the final lap, a group of eight athletes mostly stayed together. The podium was to be decided in the final few hundred meters. Navigating the corners as they descended into the stadium for the final time, Diggins was boxed out on the outside. With powerful no-pole skating, four athletes entered the finish straight in an all-out battle for the top position. Out lunging the others, Anamarija Lampic took the win for Slovenia. Svahn took second for team Sweden I and Nadine Faehndrich of Switzerland just nicked a boot in ahead of Diggins (USA) to claim third in a photo finish.
“I had a lot of fun being Sadie’s team sprint buddy today! This was a really hard course because it played to none of my strengths; it was windy, no big climbs, and pretty much impossible to drop people or even tire them out because the draft was so big,” Diggins wrote in an email. “So I played the cards I had and tried to push the pace, then tucked in to prepare for a sprint finish but ended up too boxed in. However, I was proud of how we skied a good hard race and left nothing on the table, and it was great practice for team sprints in the future! I was really stoked watching Sadie ski – with grace, power and confidence, and it inspired me to work my very hardest for her! ”
Diggins, along with the U.S. Ski Team will be in Davos, Switzerland preparing for World Championships which begin February 24.
Maubet Bjornsen expressed that World Cup sprints were something she’s reacquainting herself with.
“It was a wild and close team sprint out there today! After feeling a little shy getting back to the full contact world cup sprint racing yesterday, I was feeling extra lucky to have six more chances to ski that course smarter today.
Lampic is currently leading the World Cup sprint standings with 377 points, 96 points ahead of Faehndrich who is in second. For Lampic’s teammate, Eva Urec, today’s victory represents her first career WorldCup win. “It was amazing, it’s my first victory so it feels amazing” said Urec in a post-race interview with FIS.
Also competing for the U.S. was team USA II, Sophie Caldwell Hamilton and Julia Kern, who dropped back in the final lap of semi-final B and finished 6th (+14.8), not quick enough to advance.
After being briefly obstructed during semi-final A when Victoria Carl, skiing for Germany I, lost a ski and went down, team Canada I (Cendrine Browne and Maya Macisaac-Jones) faded to finish seventh. In semi-final B, Canada II (Katherine Stewart-Jones and Dahria Beatty) finished 8th, +46.6 back from Sweden I (Linn Svahn and Maja Dahlqvist) who won the heat.
Racing continues on the World Cup in Nové Město, Czech Republic on February 20 with a classic sprint.