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Stage 5 of the 2023 Tour de Ski was a sprint, but not a “normal” sprint. Typically, sprint races are won by pure sprinters, those who control the pace of heats, and rely on mad dashes in the homestretch to secure victory. Unlike a typical World Cup sprint race, Val di Fiemme’s sprint stage was a race that was bound to affect the overall Tour de Ski standings: any distance skier who could advance to the later heats would be sure to rise in the ranks with just two more stages remaining. A number of significant sprint specialists were absent from the Tour de Ski startlist, and other skiers normally known for distance prowess were vying for sprint advancement. Those skiers would use the tools available to them to make that possible. Predictably, the pacing was fast, and the tactics merciless. This was not a sprint that could be taken: this was a sprint that would be earned.
A number of those all-arounders advanced to the final, including Finland’s Krista Parmakoski who set a brutal pace in both her quarterfinal and semifinal heats. The final podium was pure Norwegian red: Lotta Udnes Weng in first, her twin sister Tiril Udnes Weng second, and Myhrvold third.
Canadians in the final standings included Catherine Stewart-Jones who qualified 28th, but did not advance beyond her quarterfinal (finishing 29th), and Dahria Beatty 34th.
Americans failed to advance to the final, but had fine showings, nonetheless. With a hard-fought 10th place finish, Rosie Brennan showed that her form is returning to the world-challenging status that’s become her norm in recent seasons. Week after week on the World Cup tour, Brennan delivers a level of consistency that rivals that of any American skier from the present, or the past. While this week’s Sprint in Val di Fiemme was not a stand-out result for her, it was an indication that Brennan is once again rounding into form, and preparing herself to contend in races—both sprint and distance—in the remainder of the World Cup season.
“I was very happy to make the semi finals today,” Brennan said. “Sprinting has been such a struggle for me this year, so it felt good to make a small step forward. There isn’t much snow here and it’s warm so the tracks were fast and breaking down, but everything held on just enough and my skis were good. I lacked the punch I needed to make the final, but any step forward is all you can ask for. There is still a lot left in the Tour, so I’m still just trying to focus one day at a time and take things as they come. ”
Behind Brennan’s 10th place finish, American finishers included Julia Kern 14th, Jessie Diggins 21st, Alayna Sonnesyn 38th , and Sophia Laukli 44th
Val di Fiemme offers a rolling sprint course with very little time for recovery. An initial uphill is followed by a rolling middle section. Later in the loop, the racers navigate a tight, tactically significant lefthand bend, a narrow spot in the course where speed can be gained, or lost. A wax-revealing downhill needs to be timed to create a slingshot effect over the final small rise.
With a number of Team Sweden’s sprint specialists sitting out the Tour de Ski, the Women’s field would be marked by racing that was likely to affect the overall standings (with a 60 second bonus for the winner). Distance skiers had great motivation to attempt to reach the later heats, meaning that the heats would be fast: no sprinters jockeying for position. It would come as no surprise that sprinters would be a bit tired after four challenging stages of Tour de Ski racing, and race strategy was dictated by the pace of the distance skiers.
The quarterfinals turned into tests of sustained speed. Heat times were incredibly fast, with blistering paces set by Parmakoski, Kerttu Niskanen (FIN), Eva Urevec (SLO), and current Tour de Ski leader Frida Karlsson (SWE). The sprinters appeared surprised by the early pace, with specialists like Dahlqvist and Faendrich finding themselves needing to accelerate late in their quarterfinal heats in order to advance. But those efforts took too much out of both of them, and neither would advance beyond the semifinals.
In her quarterfinal heat, Diggins found herself cut off at the narrow lefthand turn, and was unable to recover her speed by the finish. she would finish fourth in her quarterfinal. Julia Kern avoided that traffic jam in the same heat, but was only able to finish third. Neither would advance to the semifinals.
Semifinal 1 pitted the season’s dominant sprinter (Faehndrich) against four of the main TDS contenders: Parmakoski, Katherina Hennig (GER), L. Weng, and T.Weng. Parmakoski returned to her original strategy, driving the pace at the front and stringing out the semifinal field. Appearing exhausted, Faehndrich dangled off the back early on, and would not be a factor in the outcome of the heat. T. Weng and Hennig both caught Parmakoski in the finishing straight, with Brennan finishing fifth, and Faehndrich sixth.
Semifinal 2 was the days first race that was not run all-out, but stayed tightly grouped for most of the lap, seemingly playing to the advantage of Dahlqvist. Tereza Beranova (CZE) charged forward at the sharp left turn, but did not manage to gap the field. Finishing lanes became totally clogged behind her at the finish with Anna Dyvik (SWE) and Dahlqvist literally having nowhere to go. Mathilde Myhrvold (NOR) found an unobstructed lane, sprinting forward to win the semifinal, followed across the line by Beranova.
Women’s Sprint Final
The women’s final involved Parmakoski, Myhrvold, Beranova, T. Weng, L. Weng, Hennig. Parmakoski had already succeeded in gaining time on Karlsson, who failed to advance beyond the quarterfinal. Her goals accomplished on the day, she seemed content to let the more others set the pace in the final. Hennig, on the other hand, seemed determined to make the other racers work for the win: she drove the pace through the rolling middle of the course, marked comfortably by T. Weng. Beranova lingered at the rear with L. Weng.
Racers crowded through the notoriously tight left-hander. Hennig exited in the lead, but both T. Weng and L. Weng executed the hill slingshot to perfection, passing Hennig in the finishing straight where she also lost the battle with Myhrvold for third.
Norwegians—and Twin sisters—atop the Tour de Ski podium. Lotta Udnes Weng with the win, followed by her twin sister, T. Weng, and Myhrvold in third. In a post-race interview, Lotta Weng commented on her victory: “We planned to let the other girls do the job, and we can just chill behind them.The waxers are doing a great job,” she continued. “That makes it easy for us.”
The overall Tour de Ski standings are tightening. Karlsson continues to lead, though with a smaller the margin over T. Weng, Parmakoski, and L. Weng. Brennan moves into 7th overall with two stages remaining.
Women’s Classic Sprint RESULTS
John Teaford—the Managing Editor of FasterSkier — has been the coach of Olympians, World Champions, and World Record Holders in six sports: Nordic skiing, speedskating, road cycling, track cycling, mountain biking, triathlon. In his long career as a writer/filmmaker, he spent many seasons as Director of Warren Miller’s annual feature film, and Producer of adventure documentary films for Discovery, ESPN, Disney, National Geographic, and NBC Sports.