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Women’s 20K Pursuit.
Today, Ruka, Finland was home to the inaugural running of the women’s 20K pursuit. The format is now a 20-kilometer skate race with interval starts based upon skiers’ finishing times taken from yesterday’s classic race. The weather has stayed consistent over the weekend. Temperature at the start was 21 (-6.0 Celsius). The humidity has been high all weekend, this morning it was 93 percent.
The course was different from yesterday’s 10-kilometer race. Skiers raced six laps on a 3.33-kilometer course.
Ebba Andersson (Sweden) started first with a six second advantage over Frida Karlsson (Sweden) and 13 seconds over Katharina Henning (Germany).
American Rosie Brennan started 29 seconds back. Her teammate Jessie Diggins started at plus 1:18. Diggins usually performs well in this format but had a long way to come back to reach the podium. However, the new longer format could work to her advantage. The other Americans, Novie McCabe, Sophia Laukli, Alayna Sonnesyn, and Julia Kern, all began over two minutes after the starting gun.
Prior to the race Rosie Brennan expressed her excitement on the 20-kilometer format. “I’ve never done 20k on the world cup, but it is a distance I’ve done in the U.S. before, it’s super tight at the top ten and it will be fun and exciting.”
First: Frida Karlsson (Sweden)
Second: Ebba Andersson (Sweden)
Third: Tiril Weng (Norway)
Fourth: Heidi Weng (Norway)
Fifth: Silje Theodorsen (Norway)
Sixth: Rosie Brennan (U.S.A)
Seventh: Maja Dahlqvist (Sweden)
Eighth: Anne Kalvaa (Norway)
Ninth: Krista Parmakoski (Finland)
Tenth: Jessie Diggins (U.S.A.)
Other American finishers: Novie McCabe, 25th, Alayna Sonnesyn 33rd, Sophia Lauklia 34th, and Julia Kern 35th
One minute before the race, competitors were part of one of the stranger sights at a World Cup start. The entire field of athletes were holding their hands over their ears trying to block the incredibly shrill piercing noise of the pre-race alarm going off. It was much like the frequency of a smoke detector. The athletes were visibly bothered, but the race began without a hitch.
Within the first two minutes, Karlsson had closed the initial gap on Andersson. The unanswered question arose: was this intentional team tactics to try and work as a group or was it simply two skiers racing?
At the 1.1-kilometer mark, Brennan had reduced her deficit by three seconds, and was only six seconds out of third place. Diggins had already shaved six seconds from her deficit moving into 19th place.
Pacing for the new 20-kilometer distance was going to be a challenge. It remained to be seen how racers would manage the new event. Brennan hooked up with a seven-person chase pack at about 2.5-kilometers. It included Maja Dahlquist, Heidi Weng, Tiril Weng, and Anne Kalvaa. Kalvaa had put in a strong performance yesterday, barely missing out on a podium.
By the 3.3 mark, the leading Swedes had slightly extended their advantage over the chase group. Brennan was 27.6 seconds back. But the lingering question of whether the leading Swedes were working together had been answered: they were.
At the 3.3-kilometer mark Diggins was 1:03.8 behind the two leaders and was now skiing in a group. She had trimmed 15 seconds from her original deficit. But the lead Swedes continued to press their advantage, increasing the gap on the next chase group by another couple of seconds at the 4.4-kilometer time check.
Going into the 6.6-kilometer mark, the lead Swedes continued to swap spots, while the chase group had now increased to ten racers. Brennan—perhaps realizing that the pace was not good enough to catch the leaders—moved to the front of the pack, but the group was still bleeding time to the lead Swedes, now 38.3 seconds behind.
Meanwhile, the second chase group—which contained Diggins—was working hard. Diggins was now only 57.2 seconds behind with over 13-kilometers to go. But, closing the gap to the next chase group would be a monumental task.
At 7.7-kilometers Brennan was clearly trying to push the pace and began to try and pull away from the rest of the chase group.
By the halfway point, the lead Swedes had extended their lead over the chase group to 49 seconds. It appeared that much of the chase group had given up the hunt and were jockeying for third place. Their pace had slowed enough to allow Diggins to join the group. At this point the chase group had swelled to twelve athletes with Diggins tucked in the middle.
Meanwhile, the front running Swedes calmly exchanged the lead, skiing in tandem, in almost perfect rhythm which each other.
At the start of the fifth lap, if any doubt had remained, it was clear that the chase group was now competing for third place. The chasers were about 50 seconds behind the leading Swedes.
It was at this point that Norway tried to assert itself as a wave of red suits went to the front of the chase group. But Diggins would have none of it, and at 14.3 kilometers she had broken through the Norwegian wall and pushed herself to the front of the pack and was now in third place overall, having started the day in 19th.
With 3.5-kilometers to go, race tactics took over as the skiers in the chase group began to position themselves for what would surely be a sprint finish. The chase group was now over a minute back from the leaders, but it didn’t really matter as the top two spots had been conceded.
At the front of the race, Karlsson put in a gigantic turn of speed to establish a small gap over Andersson. It was the first time since the start that there had been any space between the two Swedes. Karlsson then shot up the next big climb putting several more seconds on her compatriot.
At about the same time, the chase group pushed the pace and began racing for third.
With 2.4 to go Karlsson had amazingly gapped Andersson by over 18 seconds; a remarkable push to the lead in the short span of only 1.1-kilometers.
By the time the chase group reached 2.4-kilometers to go, the Norwegians created a gap on much of the group; fracturing it. Kalvaa went to the front trying to earn the podium spot which had barely eluded her yesterday.
Diggins gamely held onto the surging Norwegians. She then jumped to the front of the group with about 1.5- kilometers to go trying to break the Norwegian red suits. Having committed so much energy into making up her original deficit would she have enough left to gain a podium spot?
While the rest of the field was still fighting, Karlsson calmly skied across the finish line having broken away from Andersson, never looking back. Karlsson had put in such an impressive burst of speed that she ended up finishing 33 seconds ahead of Andersson.
Coming into the stadium the large chase group mounted a frenetic charge toward the finish with Diggins remarkably out front. But it was too much to ask, even for Diggins, as she faded slightly going up the final hill and the Norwegian skiers swallowed her up. Diggins eventually slowed up the final hill, as she stumbled slightly, but American hopes were kept alive as Brennan asserted herself and moved into third position in the chasse group. Coming into the finishing straight it was T. Weng, H. Weng, and Brennan.
Brennan gave it everything and tried to outsprint the Norwegians, but she fell just short as T. Weng, H. Weng and Silje Theodorsen beat her out at the finish. Brennan, having started seventh, ended up finishing sixth, in a photo finish with Theodorsen, missing the podium by just under one second!
Having started 19th, Jessie Diggins ended up in tenth, but, Diggins final placing didn’t reflect just how close she had come to making the podium as she lost several spots going into the finish. She ended up missing the podium by just eight seconds. A remarkable comeback.
Overall, the inaugural women’s 20-kilometer did not disappoint.
After the race Karlsson said that she went hard from the start to maintain the gap and had planned to not push the pace until the final lap.
U.S. coach Matt Whitcomb was pleased with the day. “We are satisfied with our opening World Cup weekend. We had some very good results, but not as many big fireworks compared to what we are capable of. This is the fourth year of a team strategy of not doing a longer training camp prior to the first weekend of racing. The idea is that we shorten the amount of time on the road between day one, and World Championships. It’s a strategy to win races in February. Next season, we’ll consider a longer pre-camp, as it’s a non-championship year, and a good opportunity to test our strategies and try new things.”
For complete results: https://www.fis-ski.com/DB/general/results.html?sectorcode=CC&raceid=41541#details