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If there is a common theme to the cross country skiing World Cup, it is change. Tweaks, adjustments, selections, illness, and injury all factor into who even makes it to the starting line; certainty is just too much to ask for. For many seasons, Jessie Diggins has been an outstanding performer on the Women’s circuit, though in past weeks she has looked anything but her best. Today in Les Rousses, Diggins returned from time off; she was ready to start anew. And the 10 k skate—an event that relies on speed, confidence, and guts—seemed the perfect event for her to do so. Diggins’ efforts paid off with a return to the World Cup podium, finishing third behind first-place Ebba Anderson (SWE), and runner-up Delphine Claudel (FRA).
“That was an awesome day,” Diggins said. “I want to make sure I never take a great day for granted. It was just so fun to be back on the podium.”
Rosie Brennan (5th) and Julia Kern (11th) both skied exceptional races in Les Rousses. Other American finishers included Hailey Swirbul 23rd, Alayna Sonnesyn 32nd, Sarah Goble 34th, Alexandra Lawson 35th. Nordiq Canada did not enter racers in today’s World Cup events.
When Diggins started today’s 10 k Individual Start Skate, it marked new steps taken toward the World Championships in Plainça, less than a month away. Diggins has preached patience this year, both for herself and for the ever-expanding ensemble of American women on the Team she leads. That US Ski Team ensemble today included Swirbul who returned to the World Cup after an early season spent patiently pursuing goals on the domestic circuit, and becoming a triple National Champion in the process. It also included World Cup debuts for Goble, the Michigan native and Bridger Ski Foundation Pro Team skier, and Lawson, the through-and-through Vermonter from Craftsbury Green Racing Project.
“[I’m] honestly just so happy for the whole team,” commented Diggins. “It’s been so cool this week, seeing Alex, Will, and Peter all start their first World Cups. I’ve been thinking a lot about that . . . when you do something for a while, you kind of forget how cool it is; you kind of lose the magic a little. I kind of made a promise to myself that I was going to ski it like it was my first World Cup.”
Diggins wore bib 11 on the day, the first of the main contenders to race the three laps of Les Rousses’ 3.3 k loop. Diggins had the job of setting the bar; from check-point to check-point, she did so. When she crossed the finish-line, she was in first place with over a 20 second gap to second place. No matter what happened in the field that followed, it was clear that Diggins had raced as Jessie Diggins could.
For Americans, extra excitement abounded on the day as Rosie Brennan sped around the course, trading close margins with Diggins at the time-checks. Brennan continued her steady, season-long march toward the top of the World Cup field, finishing her race in fifth place only 20 seconds from the podium. Julia Kern also put in a strong performance on the day, finishing in 11th place.
Behind Brennan, Ebba Andersson was leaving no doubt about who was the strongest skier in the field. In a testament to the depth and strength of the Swedish Women’s Team, it was almost easy to forget that Andersson herself was also returning to the World Cup for the first time since Lillehammer’s races in December (after an extended period of illness). She remained at the top of the field at each time check, and crossed the line 20.5 seconds ahead of Diggins to win her second World Cup of the season, and third of her career.
Andersson and Diggins were both across the finish line, and the World Cup podium for the day looked reasonable enough for a World Cup podium. But one skier wearing the red and blue of the home country began drawing attention as she hovered around Diggins’ time in the check points. It was Claudel, bib 39, who a few weeks ago summited the Alpe di Cermis to win her first World Cup. Claudel had been on the World Cup podium before that win, but they had all been on the Alpe di Cermis Hill Climb. She was always considered a climbing specialist. Was, that is, until she finished today. As she closed in on the last three kilometers of the race, her split times showed a back and forth battle with Diggins. As Claudel entered the stadium in Les Rousses, the French crowd rose in unison for their countrywoman. Les Rousess has been on the World Cup for three years running, but has been denied its day in the sun by pandemic cancellations. Now, after three years of waiting, the French were watching one of their own sprint toward an implausible result. Claudel closed in on the line, lifted two poles towards the sky, and found herself on a World Cup podium in second place, 13 seconds behind Andersson and just ahead of Diggins. Andersson, rose from the leader’s chair, ran to Claudel in the finishing area. “That crowd was incredible,” she said to Claudel, still elated. The energy of the day had lifted both women, and Claudel’s performance affirmed for Les Rousses that the wait had been well worth it.
Ebba Andersson added another win for a dominant Swedish National Team. Jessie Diggins returned to the World Cup, and returned to the podium. The skier who came between them on the podium, though, had showed that arriving at those conclusions is not simply an accident. Defying expectations, Delphine Claudel skied herself onto a World Cup distance podium. It was a reminder that for Claudel—and for the skiers surrounding her on the podium—the uncertainty of ski racing was one that could be met with will, patience, drive, and belief in one’s self. It was all there in the return of the World Cup to Les Rousses.
Ben Theyerl was born into a family now three-generations into nordic ski racing in the US. He grew up skiing for Chippewa Valley Nordic in his native Eau Claire, Wisconsin, before spending four years racing for Colby College in Maine. He currently mixes writing and skiing while based out of Crested Butte, CO, where he coaches the best group of high schoolers one could hope to find.