The story line from today’s near-to-the-end chapter of this World Cup season will not include the words high-tempo. News came from FIS earlier that Therese Johaug, winner of all the individual distance medals at the 2021 World Championships, was sitting out the weekend due to an inflamed wrist. Add to the injury list Sweden’s Frida Karlsson, who is recovering from an injury sustained in the World Championship 30 k classic. For her part, Karlsson placed second to Johaug in the three individual distance races in Oberstdorf. Those two preeminent skiers would be watching from home.
So there you have it, with the usual lock for the win out, the prospects for the podium’s top spot, or a step up on to the podium for for the field became a few percentage points better. With the weekend’s racing moved from Oslo to Engadin, Switzerland due to COVID related Norwegian travel restrictions, premier cross-country racing immersed itself in a Swiss mountain dreamscape. The 3.3 k course primarily flowed out in the open valley, with long climbs inserted that edged up along the side of the valley.
Diggins, who earlier this season secured the overall World Cup crystal globe, the first North American woman to do so, and the first North American since Bill Koch in 1982. With the overall wrapped up, this final weekend of distance racing would finalize the position for the still-up-for-grabs distance globe. Coming into the day, Diggins led that category too by a 62 point margin over Andersson in second, and 108 points ahead of Stupak and Brennan, tied for third, 108 points behind.
Early on, during the first of three laps on a course sculpted along the valley sides for the climbs and descents and returning to the floor for the double poling terrain, Sweden’s Ebba Andersson was the primary pace agitator. She strung out the field as she sent it up front. Coming through the lap area at 3.3 k, Andersson pulled teammate Linn Svahn, Diggins, Norway’s Heidi Weng for the top-four past the time check in close contact. American Rosie Brennan was 15th, 7.2 seconds off the pace.
By the time the second lap concluded, a distinct front group had formed including Andersson, Yulia Stupak of Russia, Weng, and Diggins. With the pedal down on the third lap, Diggins began to fall off the pace while the trio upfront became the likely podium. With 1.5 k remaining, Diggins 7.9 seconds behind.
Stupak stamped her authority on this race on the final climb. Striding, running, poling, she crested the climb with about ten meters back to Weng and still more ground to Andersson. Stupak won in 25:13.3 minutes, with Weng second (+7.1), and Andersson third (+8.5). This was the fourth World Cup win for Stupak.
Germany’s Laura Gimmler (27) caught and passed Diggins to place fourth (+16.4), with Diggins coming through in fifth (+20.7). According to FIS, this is Gimmler’s best career distance result and her first top-10 outside of a sprint.
Hailey Swirbul placed 12th (+49.1) for a near best career result. She placed third in this season’s 10 k skate in Davos and had a seventh fastest time of day on the way to 13th in Val Müstair’s 10 k skate pursuit during the Tour de Ski.
“My best classic result to date,” Swirbul emailed. “That was exciting! First, I’d give a huge shout out to the waxing staff for coming through with bomber skis today. That really gave me a platform to have a good day! I enjoyed being back at altitude again, and on another Swiss-field course… those have tended to serve me well. It was a good day to start a bit more gradually and really work into the race for me. Once you cross the red line on an altitude, gradual course like this one, I find it difficult to come back, so I really tried to make sure that didn’t happen. Overall, I’m proud of our team and really looking forward to giving it one last go in the 30k tomorrow!”
Brennan, trying to remain in the hunt for a top-three in the distance cup, placed 14th (+58.0). Her efforts on Saturday were stymied early. She began strong, racing near the front end of the starters. Near the 2.5 k mark, she was involved in tight-pack racing and broke a pole.
“We are racing our last weekend of World Cups in the Engadin Valley in Switzerland which is a new location for the World Cup,” Brennan emailed. “That brings a lot of excitement and learning as we are all doing this race for the first time. We are at altitude and I consider that one of my strengths so I was really looking forward to this weekend. I felt really good off the line today, but unfortunately got my pole kicked and broken about 2.5km into the race. It was a bad place to break a pole and it took me awhile to get my spare pole so I lost the lead pack at that time. I did what I could to climb my way back, but did not have enough in me. I am really heartbroken that I couldn’t find another gear to fight back because I had great skis and had a lot riding on this weekend for the Overall World Cup. Tomorrow we start based on our finish today so it was a really bad day to not finish strong, but I will give it all I have tomorrow and do what I can finish the season strong.”
Also for the U.S., and outside the points, were Katharine Ogden in 33rd (+1:45.8), Sophia Laukli in 46th (+2:10.8), and Julia Kern 47th (+2:27.7).
Canada’s Dahria Beatty posted her best result of the season in 23rd (+1:15.9). Outside her racing at the recently concluded World Championships, this is Beatty’s sixth World Cup race of the year.
“I’m really happy. It has been a tough season for me so far, but just really happy to have this race today before the end of the season,” said Beatty to Nordiq Canada after the race. “I started with bib 58 so I had a lot of moving up to do. I watched the men’s race, and how Antoine skied having started in a similar position. I just tried to stay relaxed, ski as smooth as I could and not lose contact with the pack.”
“I knew I had the ability to have a strong distance race,” added Beatty. “It has been a weird season. I had the best training season ever and my body felt amazing, but when I got to Europe in January my body felt off and I wasn’t skiing how I normally feel which was frustrating.
“It took until the World Championships to feel better. I have been trending in the right direction and finishing 34th in the 30km on an extremely hard course put me in a good mindset for today’s race. The combination of people not liking altitude and I do, great skis and feeling good – it all came together today.”
Canada’s Katherine Stewart-Jones was 44th (+2:04.9), and Cendrine Browne 49th (+2:30.2).
Tomorrow’s racing is a 30 k skate pursuit. Stupak will lead off that race. As far as the distance crystal globe is concerned, the standings tightened slightly. During Saturday’s race, bonus sprint points were on offer. The top racers on the day, gobbled those valuable points up, knowing the final distance standings would be close.
Diggins still leads after accruing 51 points with 603 points. Andersson is second, 43 points back, Stupak third, 44 points back, and Brennan falling off to fourth 141 points behind Diggins.
The 30 k racing should be visually epic as the race organizers have laid out a stunning point to point course up the Engadin valley.
Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.