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After a day of rest, the Tour de Ski kicked off it’s final two stops in the mountains of northern Italy. After a dramatic freestyle sprint in Stage 4, there was a lot on the line with little time to go in the Tour for many of the women who lined up for today’s 10-kilometer mass start classic in Val di Fiemme. With blue skies and sunshine illuminating the spectacular Italian Dolomites, the stage was set for a spectator’s dream over the four lap course.
First, a quick look to the overall Tour standings to set the tone. Natalia Nepryaeva (RUS) took the lead in Stage 4. With the 60-second time bonus for a sprint win, Nepryaeva entered Stage 5 with a 34 seconds lead on Kerttu Niskanen (FIN) in second, and 38 seconds ahead of Jessie Diggins (USA) in third.
A favorite for a second consecutive Tour win, Diggins led the standings heading into the fourth stage, during which she was taken out by Frida Karlsson (SWE) in the quarterfinals, losing vital time in the Tour standings. Karlsson was later disqualified for obstruction and withdrew from the Tour after being issued a three minute time penalty that put her out of contention for the overall win.
While Diggins typically responds well to pressure and has put together impressive performances up the final hill climb, the classic tracks in Val di Fiemme have historically challenged Diggins, who would need to minimize time lost in order to still be in a position to fight for the overall win in the final stage. In last year’s Tour, Diggins was 10th in the 10k classic in Val di Fiemme, 17th in 2020 and 2019, and 4th in 2018. The odds were, perhaps, not in her favor, but the potential was there.
Within the race, there were two opportunities for bonuses, one for Tour points and one for bonus seconds. These opportunities arose at 2.3 and 6k, respectively.
As racers took to the course, the congestion of a mass start was apparent. A pole snapped within the first minute as racers jostled for position in the lanes before settling in.
As the second lap started, a gap began to form behind a large lead pack of about 14 women, which included Diggins, Nepryaeva, and Niskanen. The lead women created a roughly eight-second lead on the chase pack at 3.5k.
At the halfway mark a group of six skiers began to thin out the lead group, led by Krista Pärmäkoski (FIN), Heidi Weng (NOR), Ebba Andersson(SWE), Katharina Henning (GER), Nepryaeva, and Teresa Stadlober (AUT). They opened up about a six-second lead on the chase pack which included Diggins and Niskanen.
As the women lapped through the stadium for the last 2.5k, this lead group, now led by Andersson, had stretched their lead to more than 20 seconds over the next chase pack.
Working together through most of the final lap, the group of six women skied together until the final climb before the stadium where Nepryaeva began to surge.
Charging up the hill and pushing hard over the top before dropping into a tuck, she quickly dropped the women in pursuit. Cruising through the stadium with a powerful doublepole, Nepryaeva had a comfortable lock on the win, stopping the clock with a fist pump in 29:51.3.
In second at the top of the climb, but gaining ground in the descent and double pole, Weng pulled ahead of Pärmäkoski to finish second (+3.7), with the Finn just behind in 3rd (+4.7). The remainder of the lead group skied through the finish evenly spread with Andersson in 4th (+7.5), Henning in 5th (+10.9), and Stadlober 6th (+14.3).
In a FIS Interview, Nepryaeva was asked how she felt about the race and about the course. “I am really happy to win here, it is a really important place for me, as it was my first win at World Juniors here.”
Outside the lead group and fighting hard to minimize time lost, Diggins crossed the finish line in 13th (+58.0). Diggins explained after the race that the icy conditions in Val di Fiemme were tricky for many of the women racing, as the speed checks needed to stay in control through the downhills in mass start conditions also cost them some grip in the final laps.
“I think it was one of those [days] where I had to really catch myself and be thinking really, really hard about standing tall and thinking about technique, which is harder for me in classic,” Diggins explained post-race. “I’m really proud of staying in the moment and never giving up and doing what I could with what I had.”
Looking ahead to the Alpe Cermis, where her time deficit may prove insurmountable, Diggins once again showed her never-give-up attitude
“I’m excited. It’s so hard, but it’s such a feeling of accomplishment making it to the top of that mountain… You can rest assured I will be crossing that finish line with nothing left.”
Full audio clip from Jessie Diggins, interviewed on-site by Tom Horrocks, U.S. Ski & Snowboard cross country communications manager.
Missing the Top-30 by just 13 seconds, Katherine Ogden raced to 31st (+2:17.4) as the next American finisher. Also with strong finishes, Novie McCabe crossed the line in 36th (+2:38.3) just ahead of her teammate Sophia Laukli, who took 39th (+2:57.7). Alayna Sonnesyn rounded out the women in stars and stripes in 51st (+5:32.1).
Post-race interview with Katharine Ogden and Novie McCabe, interviewed by Tom Horrocks.
Looking back on the bonus opportunities, Johanna Hagström (SWE) made a move just before the 2.3k point bonus to pull away from the pack to snag the maximum of 15 points. Pärmäkoski and Weng tied for second to both get 12 points. Diggins crossed the 2.4k mark in 8th, earning 3 bonus points.
At the 6k time bonus opportunity, Andersson was the first over the line, giving her 15 bonus seconds in the tour. Weng was able to continue her bonus streak on the day by crossing second and getting a 12-second bonus, while Pärmäkoski crossed in 3rd for 10 bonus seconds. Nepryaeva finished in 5th, collecting six seconds.
After today, Nepryaeva was able to not only hold on to her lead in the Tour, but expand it. Now leading Andersson by 1:12 seconds, heading into the final stage of the tour tomorrow. Diggins dropped down to sixth place from third, now behind by 1:42.
The final stage of the 2021/22 Tour de Ski, the infamous Alpe Cermis hill climb, kicks off at 11:30 CET / 5:30 EST.
Growing up in New England, Ian found his love for cross country skiing and running at a young age. As a lifelong lover of the sport, he fostered his connection to skiing as a coach for a local high school in Maine and a board member for the New England Nordic Ski Association. He's also a regular at the Birkie. In his free time you can find him on the running trails, ski trails, or just enjoying the New England outdoors with his son, Bear.