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The women’s classic sprint was contested today in Les Rousses, France. It was an anniversary of sorts as it marked the 100th time a sprint classic race has been held on the World Cup. Women’s classic sprinting does not have the predictability of the men’s: there is no Klaebo-equivalent who dominates the women’s field. As proof of that point, the last eight women’s classic sprints have been won by eight different individuals.
The day for American contender, Jessie Diggins, certainly took a wrong turn, as she veered off course in qualifying and failed to advance to the quarterfinals. After yesterday’s podium, it appeared that Diggins’ struggles were behind her, but today’s performance was surely not what had been hoped for. In the qualifier Diggins said that while navigating a curve she stumbled, caught an edge and actually went off the course. She continued that, “Flying off into the field and doing a little ski-cross powder racing definitely wasn’t part of the sprint plan today.” She emphasized that she was not injured. She managed to keep her balance and finished the qualifier.
American Julia Kern finished fifth, despite recently needing stitches on her thumb from an accident while cutting cheese. Tape across her gloved hand could be seen throughout the day. She told FasterSkier that she was cutting podium cheese from last weekend when her Swiss Army knife slipped and “Took a chunk out of my thumb. It resulted in having to do a bit of a jury-rigging with my pole strap.” It was a gutsy performance by Kern who even needed help tying her laces. American coach Kristen Bourne shared with FasterSkier that there had been concern about Kern’s thumb in advance of the race, but that everyone was satisfied that she could ski without injuring herself. “She worked with our team doctor and had it taped,” Bourne said. “She wasn’t having any pain…we felt confident that she’d be able to handle it.”
Rosie Brennan (USA) failed to advance out of her heat (finishing the day in 17th). After the race, Brennan commented that “I have such a love/hate relationship with sprinting, and today was a bit of the latter.” She continued that her heat “ended up being a little more than I had today, and I am frustrated by that as I feel I am a better skier than I was able to show today.”
Recently returned from her triple-championship performance at US Nationals, Hailey Swirbul (USA) had an especially strong day, qualifying 18th and advancing to the semifinal. She would finish the day in 12th.
Other American finishers included Sonnesyn 33rd, Lawson 36th, and Jortberg 39th. Nordiq Canada entered no skiers in the Les Rousses sprints.
Women’s Classic Sprint
Coming into the race, there were several themes that emerged:
- Would the Swedish women’s sprint team, now mostly healthy, be able to continue to reassert its dominance? Sweden swept the podium last week, in a freestyle sprint, with familiar names re-establishing themselves.
- How would the Norwegians fare with Tiril Weng on the sidelines still recovering from illness? At the last classic sprint race, held in Val Di Fiemme, Italy, Norway swept the podium. Tiril Udnes Weng, currently first in the overall World Cup standings, could afford to sit things out since the woman in second place overall, Frida Karlsson (SWE), also was not racing. Joining those on the sidelines was Nadine Faehndrich (SUI) the current World Cup sprint leader.
- Then there were the questions surrounding the Americans: could a fully stocked U.S. team find its way onto the podium? With Jessie Diggins finding the podium yesterday and Rosie Brennan fifth, the Americans were poised to pounce. Joining the Diggins-Brennan one-two punch was Julia Kern, who has had an outstanding sprint season, currently fifth in sprint points. Rounding out the American team were Hailey Swirbul, who is recovered from illness and coming off winning every race at the U.S. National Championships, Lauren Jortberg, and Alexandra Lawson.
Norway proved it didn’t need its full team to win. Kristine Stavaas Skistad (NOR), who had qualified first, ended up taking the victory, followed by Emma Ribom (SWE) and Maja Dahlqvist (SWE).
Swirbul advanced out of her quarterfinal as a lucky looser; the first time she had advanced to a World Cup sprint semifinal. In that semifinal, Swirbul faced the daunting task of going against three of the top Swedes: Ribom, Johanna Hagstroem, and Linn Svahn. Skistad, was also in the same semi. Ultimately, Skistad dominated the heat with Ribom coming in second. Swirbul was unable to advance, ultimately finishing the day in 12th. Swirbul told FasterSkier that the time she spent racing domestically had paid off. “I got to practice sprint heats every weekend on the Super Tour and I think that helped me stay calm and ski true to myself.” She was clearly excited about her performance and the venue. “It was a wild scene to have a combination of trumpets, cowbells, loudspeakers, music, and screaming up the big climb. Crazy!”
Kern won her quarterfinal, having benefited from a crash that took place behind her midway through her heat. She was in front of the tangle-up that took out much of the field, and she was able to coast to victory. Kern told FasterSkier that she felt great today. “The atmosphere in France was unbelievable,” she said. “So many loud fans, so much cheering…” Kern reported that she had unbelievably fast skis which had been prepared by Eli Brown. Bourne added that the crash helped Kern who would have made it through the quarterfinal regardless, but that, “The crash gave her a little bit of extra breathing space, it definitely played in her favor.”
Kern’s semifinal included an equally talented field. Jonna Sundling (SWE) (qualifying third) took the early lead and Kern gamely hung with her for the first half of the race. Kern skied a tactically brilliant race, drafting where it worked to her advantage and negotiating the tight corners extremely well. She jumped into the lead at the finishing straight and was able to out double-pole the rest of the field to the finish line.
Prior to the heat, Kern had strategized with Bourne that it would best to try to be in the top three and stay on the left side of the course. Bourne said that, “The snow was a little better for the wax we had there, and we didn’t feel that this course made much sense to try and position yourself in the back.” The course narrowed very quickly which also added to the incentive to go out fast. Bourne noted that, “If you didn’t have a hot start, you were going to get cut off right away.”
In the final, Kern faced the full force of the Swedish team: Ribom, Dahlqvist, Svahn and Hagstroem. Norway’s Skistad rounded out the field. Skistad shot out to the lead from the start. Half-way through Kern was at the back of a tightly bunched pack which had slowed considerably and was now racing strategically. Kern didn’t have quite the start she wanted and said that “The start really mattered, no position changes really happened after the high-point. I was a little stuck in the back.” She said her energy was good but “I was battling for position more than I had hoped for.” After the slowdown, the group a tightened, and Skistad was then able to put in a quick acceleration and separate herself from the pack. Kern was unable to propel herself past the Swedes and ended up fifth. Still, a very satisfying performance by the American whose sprint prowess continues to grow each week.
Women’s Classic Sprint RESULTS
Les Rousses podium. (l-r)Emma Ribom (SWE), Kristine Stavaas Skistad (NOR), Maja Dahlqvist (SWE) (Photo: NordicFocus)