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With starting positions based on individual finishes in yesterday’s racing, Wednesday’s 20 k Freestyle Pursuit appeared likely to confirm who the leader of the 2023 Tour de Ski truly was. Frida Karlsson entered the day with an advantage, one she would surrender by mid race, only to regain it by the finish. At the line, it was Frida Karlsson (SWE) first, ahead of Krista Parmakoski (FIN) in second, and Tiril Udnes Weng (NOR) third.
Pursuit racing can be a confusing affair . . . the times and placings don’t always mean what we think they mean. There’s a skier’s finishing place in the field, and then there’s a skier’s finishing time on the day. The Pursuit field behaves like a mass start race, offering many opportunities for skiers to move up through the field. Good fitness and good fortune combine to create numerous ways for skiers to shine. On this day, the Americans took full advantage of those opportunities. Diggins (who started 40th) raced forward to a remarkable 8th, signaling that her racing form may be returning. Rosie Brennan finished 13th, Kern 17th, Laukli 30th, and Sonnesyn 31st. However, the compelling story of the Americans’ day of racing was told by their finishing times on the day: led by Diggins’ fastest finishing time of all competitors, Americans placed five skiers among the top finishers as Alayna Sonnesyn skied to a remarkable 5th, Julia Kern 6th Sophia Laukli 8th, and Rosie Brennan 11th.
“I finally had great skis, and that’s really what I needed,” Diggins said, while continuing to praise the team’s crew of technicians. “I was just so grateful,” she said. “They’ve been working so so hard. I knew my body was fine the whole time, but no one else knew it! Honestly, I had to just keep believing and trusting the plan. My fitness is still there; it’s been there all along. I just needed a chance to let it fly.”
“I’m really proud that I was patient throughout this tour and throughout this season,” said Sonnesyn. “I was really optimistic, and didn’t know really what to expect. And this, by far, exceeded my expectations.”
Canadian racers all improved their positions on the day: Katherine Stewart-Jones skied from 29th to 21st, Lilian Gagnon skied from 51st to 44th, and Dahria Beatty skied from 52nd to 45th.
Women’s 20 k Freestyle Pursuit
In this recently-arrived age of World Cup distance equality, the women—like the men—raced six laps of a 3.3 kilometer course. Temperatures in Oberstdof continued to rise throughout the day, with thermometers hovering around 48 degrees by the time the Women’s 20 k Freestyle Pursuit began. Staged a few hours after the Men’s Pursuit race, the Women’s 20 k Pursuit developed into a harder-hitting affair. Racers in the women’s field raced like they had more to protect today . . . with a small chase group forming in pursuit of early leader, Karlsson. Karlsson, herself, appeared indecisive in the early kilometers: she seemed to question whether or not to drive her advantage, or to wait for the chasers? Unlike Klaebo (who won the day’s men’s pursuit by waiting for chasers, and sprinting at the end), Karlsson is not a dominant field-sprinter, so if she allowed the chasers to catch her, she’d be likely to surrender the race win (along with her time-advantage in the overall). Her choice was not an easy one . . . but if the chase group grew no larger than three racers, Karlsson knew she might have a chance to hold them off. After two kilometers of ambivalent pacing, Karlsson seemed to decide to forge ahead, and to test her own limits against the 20 k distance.
While Karlsson entered the Pursuit with a 20 second lead in the overall standings, the story of the day may have been Jessie Diggins and her American teammates. Diggins and Kern moved steadily up through their group, with Diggins having made up 20 spots by the end of the second lap. As Kern faded, Diggins drove toward the chase group (leading with Patricia Eiduka (LAT), and Lotta Udnes Weng (NOR). Together, they caught on to the Brennan/Urevec/Hennig group at 14 k, forming a group of eleven that continued in pursuit of the leaders.
At seven kilometers, Karlsson was caught by the chasers (Parmakoski, T. Weng, and Anne Kjersti Kalvaa), perhaps a cause for concern that she had used too much energy in attempting to hold them off. This group of four stayed together through the halfway mark with Parmakoski doing most of the pace making, and Kalvaa seeming vulnerable at the rear. With a minute lead over the chase group, they were in no danger of being caught, though their pace proved too hot for Kalvaa who was dropped at 11 kilometers. One kilometer later, Parmakoski (with Karlsson in tow) dropped T. Weng, and the lead group was reduced to two. They proceeded to open a considerable gap over the next few kilometers—ten seconds, twenty, forty, sixty. The race at the front would only involve Karlsson and Parmakoski.
Karlsson made her move up the final big climb, opening an 11 second gap over Parmakoski at the 18.6 kilometer mark. That would be enough for Karlsson to claim the win. Parmakoski crossed the line soon after for second. Behind them, Kalvaa and T. Weng tangled as Kalvaa put a pole between her own skis, but they were not slowed enough to allow the larger chase group to catch them. Kalvaa led up the final uphill near the stadium, but T. Weng was able to slingshot past her on the downhill to capture third.
Karlsson’s win in the Freestyle Pursuit extended her lead in the overall Tour De Ski standings, though Karlsson, T. Weng, Kalvaa, and Niskanen, all sit within 40 seconds of each other. With three stages remaining, much is still left to be decided, including a daunting climb up the Alpe de Cermis in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
Tour de Ski Women’s 20 k Freestyle Pursuit RESULTS