Brennan Claims Fourth in TDS Classic Mass Start, Karlsson Extends Overall Lead

John TeafordJanuary 7, 2023

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Today, the leaders of the Tour de Ski went to the front, and the standings were put into stark perspective. This late in a long and challenging stage race, no one wanted to risk the daring move. There was too little to gain, and far too much to lose. With a very difficult (and potentially consequential) stage tomorrow, there was very little incentive to push the pace. The Tour de Ski will whittle down the contenders all by itself; the distances and the schedule and the elevation and the stress will see to that. The selection will just happen naturally . . . and those who benefit will be those who hang on. That was the nature of the racing in Val di Fiemme, Italy today in Stage 6 of the 2023 Tour de Ski.

Katharina Hennig (GER) sprints to victory over Rosie Brennan (USA), Kerttu Niskanen (FIN), Frida Karlsson (SWE),  (l-r) in Stage 6 of the Tour de Ski from Val di Fiemme (ITA). Brennan would finish fourth, with Niskanen and Karlsson second and third. (Photo: NordicFocus)

In the end, Katharina Hennig (GER) won the sprint finish, followed by current Tour de Ski leader, Frida Karlsson (SWE) and Kerttu Niskanen (FIN).

American Rosie Brennan finished a sensational fourth in Stage 6, one second behind the winner, and only .2 from the podium. Other American finishers included Diggins in 24th, Laukli 26th, Kern 31st, and Sonnesyn 36th.

Canadian finishers included Katharine Stewart-Jones who remained in contention among the chasers throughout the day, and skied to a very impressive 10th place finish, and Dahria Beatty who finished 37th after a mid-race fall.

“Today was a lot of fun!” said Stewart-Jones. “I have been close to the top 10 a couple of times so it is exciting to have finally cracked it. Being in the ‘mix’ and watching my teammates also have some great performances makes racing even more fun. For the rest of the season, I want to continue hunting down some PBs!”

Krista Parmakoski (FIN) who was third in the overall standings (1:05 behind the leader, Karlsson) withdrew before the race began, citing illness that had developed overnight. Parmakoski described stomach pains rather than Covid symptoms, which allows her to remain hopeful for maintaining her condition and being prepared for the FIS World Championships in a few weeks.

Women’s 15 k Classic Mass Start

It was a warm and sunny day in Val di Fiemme, Italy with air temperatures of 7.7 degrees Celsius, and snow temperatures just below freezing. The grind of the Tour de Ski had taken its toll, and the starting field had been whittled down to just 37 starters.

The Women’s 15 k Classic Mass Start followed six laps of the Val di Fiemme course. The early pace was dictated by a group of contenders—Karlsson, Niskanen, Hennig—though the pace was fairly moderate. Brennan moved to the front just before halfway point, (at 6 k), stringing out the field with her pace making. A lead group forms: Hennig, Niskanen, Karlsson, Tiril Udnes Weng (NOR), and Astrid Oyre Slind (NOR). Teresa Stadlober (AUT) managed to catch on before the significant gap formed.

Chasing them were Delphine Claudel (FRA), Lotta Udnes Weng (NOR), Anne Kyllonen (FIN), Katherine Stewart-Jones (CAN), and Heidi Weng (NOR). Diggins and Laukli settled into a third group as Kern began to be gapped.

Classic mass start racing can be a daunting challenge. What if the skis are too slow? What if the kick is too slippery? And descending on classic skis is a tricky prospect under even the friendliest of conditions. In the deep ruts and soft snow of the Val di Fiemme course, the high speed descent—a 45 kmh sweeping left turn—claimed a few unfortunate victims. Among them were Nadine Faehndrich (SUI) and Dahria Beatty (CAN) whose falls left them near the back of the pack.

Niskanen began pushing the pace in the fifth lap, while Karlsson began to show signs that her kick wax was beginning to fail, skiing out of the tracks early on each uphill, and cutting diagonally across each slope to gain some purchase with her edges. Brennan and Hennig also made the selection, and the lead group was established at four.

Rosie Brennan (USA) and Katharina Hennig (GER), (l-r) testing their limits on the Val di Fiemme downhills. (Phtoo: NordicFocus)

Brennan seems to excel during the toughest racing, and a classic mass start on an overly-warm day in the sixth stage of an exhausting Tour de Ski is particularly tough.

“I decided to go to the front and just ski my own pace for a lap. I don’t know if it really strung things out or not, but then the next lap was the sprint bonus and the speed got turned up really hot there . . . I did have a moment of ‘I don’t know if I’m gonna make it.’”

Niskanen continued to lead, pressing the pace through the final kilometers, knowing she would need to take the sprint out of Karlsson, Brennan, and Hennig. At 34 years of age, Niskanen seems to be experiencing a resurgence that goes well beyond her early-career specialization as a classic skier. Even so, she knew that if she failed to separate herself from her rivals that they would be likely to overtake her in the sprint. Ultimately, the strongest sprinter prevailed in a four-up finish, as Hennig charged across the line ahead of Karlsson and Niskanen. Only a second behind, Brennan was forced to settle for fourth.

Rosie Brennan (USA) raced to fourth in the 15 k Classic Mass start in the Tour de Ski Stage 6 at – FIS world cup cross-country, tour de ski, mass, Val di Fiemme (ITA). (Photo: NordicFocus)

“I felt really good, actually. I’ll be honest; I’ve never had a good race here, so I was sweating bullets about today. I was very nervous,” Brennan said. “I’ve made some really strong improvements in my classic over the last year, and I have a new wax tech that I really enjoy working with, and so I decide I just needed to believe today and see what was possible, and take a chance on myself. I’m really glad I did.”

When asked what she was looking for in tomorrow’s race up Alpe di Cermis, Brennan laughingly replied, “The top!”

After the race, American Jessie Diggins spoke of the many challenges that her team has been experiencing during the Tour de Ski, and the pride she feels at being part of this group: “We’ve had some serious staff shortages due to illness . . . I get choked up thinking about how everyone’s pulled together,” she said. “The Kern parents are out there running skis and doing feeds, Rosie’s boyfriend Tyler is out there testing kick . . . people have just banded together to make it work.”

Diggins finished 24th on the day, and sits 15th overall, 5:23 behind the leader.

Karlsson did all that was required to maintain her overall advantage, and enjoys a considerable lead as the Tour de Ski approaches the final stage on Alpe de Cermis. Her lead in the Tour de Ski is 1:12 to T. Weng, 1:37 to Niskanen, 2:00 to Hennig, and 2:28 to Brennan who sits in fifth place.

Women’s 15 k Classic Mass Start RESULTS

Katharina Hennig (GER) earns her first Tour de Ski stage win ahead of Frida Karlsson (SWE) and Kerttu Niskanen (FIN). (Photo: NordicFocus)

John Teaford

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