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Stage 3 of the Tour de Ski, the halfway mark in this year’s edition, and the venue has shifted to Oberstdorf, Germany, site of the 2021 World Championships. The race on tap was a 10-kilometer skate and the first mass start event of the season. Temperatures were warm and sunny though the courses were located on the shady side of the valley, creating fast, firm conditions. After an exciting battle, it was the American Jessie Diggins who claimed the victory in Stage 3, using her speedy free skate technique to move from third to first down the finish lanes. Diggins finished in a time of 21:30.8, lightning-fast by the distance. Let’s examine what happened out on the course during those twenty-one minutes.
The course was made of three laps of a 3.3 k loop and the fast conditions made it challenging for any one athlete to break away from the rest of the pack. Immediately from the gun, Diggins was at the front, clearly looking to push the pace from the start. Through the first time-check at 2.1 k, the pack was largely still together. As the group navigated one of the many v-board rimmed corners, Frida Karlsson (SWE) got caught on the inside, taking a fall just before the end of first lap.
At 3.3k, Diggins was in the lead, shadowed by Ebba Andersson (SWE) and Heidi Weng (NOR), though the top twenty athletes were all within 10 seconds of each other. Stepping over broken pole remnants from the previous lap, the racers headed out on the second, towards the bonus points opportunity at 4k.
Weng (NOR) was first through the checkpoint to gather 15 points with Andersson (SWE) earning 12 and Karlsson, having recovered from her fall and making up significant ground, taking 10 in third place. Andersson, Weng, and Diggins continued to work hard up front and at 5.4k, a small break seemed to be forming.
Unlike many women’s mass start races we have seen in the past few years (Johaug pulling away, the chasers strung out behind), this race was tight from start to finish. As the front pack took shape it initially held five athletes but was soon joined by another five. Andersson (SWE) was often at the front, followed by Helene Marie Fossesholm of Norway, Diggins, Teresa Stadlober of Austria, Karlsson (SWE), Weng (NOR), Tatiana Sorina (RUS), Katharina Henning (GER), Natalia Nepryaeva (RUS) and Delphine Claudel (FRA).
Despite the various efforts of Andersson and Diggins to break, the fast conditions and course profile seemed to make this difficult.
Rounding another v-board corner, Karlsson nearly fell again, catching herself with her hands. As the front pack sped towards the finish, Fossesholm (NOR) faded and dropped, leaving nine. Heading towards 8.7 km, Karlsson lengthened her stride and began to pull away, creating a gap of +1.7 to Diggins. Diggins and Sorina worked to close the gap on the next and final hill, though they didn’t overtake the Swede. Ending in a fast downhill finish where many of you may recall last year’s World Championship drama, Diggins was poised to use her strengths.
As the front three athletes came into sight of the finish lanes, Karlsson still held the lead, Sorina in second and Diggins closing fast in third. Choosing the outside lane Diggins free-skated hard, passing Sorina and then Karlsson to cross the line in first.
“It felt pretty extreme,” said Diggins to FIS when asked about her finish, “it probably didn’t look very graceful or pretty, but they did such a good job preparing the course in such warm conditions so it was awesome that it was hard. But in my head I was ready for the finish lanes to feel unstable, so I thought just stay as low to the ground as possible. That way if you fall you don’t have far to go.”
Karlsson (SWE) hung onto second place +0.5 behind Diggins and Sorina (RUS) grabbed third (+0.8).
This win marks Diggin’s ninth World Cup distance victory, all coming in skate technique.
Talking about course conditions Diggins said, “It was tricky because if you’re leading, you’re doing so much work, but if you’re not in front it’s easy to get swallowed up. I have to say I had the best skis in the world.” In a separate interview, Diggins reiterated this point, emphasizing the importance of her ski speed, “[our team] gave me some absolute rockets and that was the difference maker, being able to trust the draft, and trust the skis and know that they would help me pick up places and get me to where I want to be so that was crucial to me out there.”
Post-race audio clip from the mixed zone, recorded by U.S. Ski & Snowboard cross country communications manager Tom Horrocks.
Julia Kern was the next American finisher in 24th position (+43.8).
“It was fast and furious, a lot of fun,” said Kern afterwards. “I didn’t have the best energy out there but it was a hard fight. Skis were competitive and good, it was a really icy day so it was hard to stay on your feet.”
Post-race interview with Julia Kern hosted by Tom Horrocks.
Katharine Ogden finished just outside the top thirty in 32nd place (+56.7).
“I was psyched with my strategy of just staying relaxed and trying not to get too swept up in the mass start chaos,” Ogden explained in a post-race interview. “I was definitely a little bit bummed to be so close to the points, but not quite in them. But everyone wants to be Top-30, so that’s okay. It was encouraging, makes me really excited for Val di Fiemme.”
Full audio clip with Katharine Ogden, interviewed by Tom Horrocks.
Following her was Sophia Laukli in 37th (+1:00.4), Alayna Sonnesyn in 52nd (+1:39) and Novie McCabe in 54th (+1:42.5). Hailey Swirbul did not start.
Diggins now leads the Tour standings again, +0:13 ahead of Kerttu Niskanen (FIN). Natalia Nepryaeva (RUS) is in third, just one second behind Niskanen.
Kern is the next American behind Diggins and is currently in 17th (+1:47). Katherine Ogden is sitting in 31st (+2:48), Sophia Laukli is 41st (+3:11), Novie McCabe is 46th (+3:31) and Alayna Sonnesyn is 58th (+4:58). The fourth stage of the Tour will take place Saturday, featuring a classic sprint, before they change venues for the final time on January 3rd.
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.