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This weekend, the World Cup travels to Toblach, Italy for three days of racing. First up are the freestyle sprints. This is the last full weekend of racing before the tour takes a two-week break leading into the World Championships. This timing resulted in full fields for both the women and men. The women had 57 entries on the start list—more than they’ve had in weeks—with all the heavy hitters in the women’s sprint world participating. Likewise, the men’s field had a large group of 69 starters, though many of the top American men were still in Canada for the U-23 World Championships.
Toblach is a tight course with few opportunities for passing. The course has short, steep climbs that would provide most of the limited passing opportunities. Otherwise, smart tactics would rule the day.
In the women’s race Jonna Sundling (SWE) finished first followed by Maja Dahlqvist (SWE). Jessie Diggins (USA) finished third. Other American finishers were Rosie Brennan, 26th, Julia Kern, 28th, Hailey Swirbul 30th, Lauren Jortberg, 32nd, Sarah Goble, 39th, and Alayna Sonnesyn, 42nd. No Canadian women participated in today’s races.
In the men’s race Johannes Klaebo (NOR) took first place, followed by Haavard Taugboel (NOR), and Federico Pellegrino (ITA).
No Canadian men participated today. The top American finisher was Ben Ogden, who finished 17th. He was followed by Logan Diekmann, 27th, Kevin Bolger, 38th, Will Koch, 45th, and Finn O’Connell, 52nd. For Diekmann, it was his first time reaching a World Cup sprint quarterfinal.
The Women’s Race
The deep field took its toll on qualifying, but the U.S. team still managed a strong showing for the heats. For the American women, Jessie Diggins, Rosie Brennan, Julia Kern, and Hailey Swirbul qualified. Diggins posted the third fastest qualifying time and was looking to avenge last week’s sprint performance where she missed a turn and skied off the course. Diggins has a great history in Toblach. Three of Diggins World Cup victories have been in Toblach, including her first World Cup victory. In her post race comments Diggins acknowledged the special place that Toblach holds for her. The field was so deep that each quarter final had names who could be considered favorites to win it all. All of the American qualifiers were in separate quarter finals.
Rosie Brennan began her quarterfinal in the middle of the field, but was not able to hold the pace and faded toward the finish. She ended up sixth and did not advance. After the race, Brennan commented on the difficult Toblach course: “The course was fast and had many turns making it very tricky to find space and navigate safely. I struggled to find places to move up after getting tangled in the beginning… I’m glad Jessie could provide a light for us all on a tough day.”
In Diggins’ quarter final she went out fast and slotted in second place at the start. She passed Johanna Hagstroem (SWE) on the first hill and moved into the lead. She continued to push her advantage which was fortunate as there was a crash behind her. It didn’t matter, as Diggins powerfully gapped the field by a large amount. The gap narrowed by the finish, but Diggins won her heat comfortably. She later said that, ” The qualifier didn’t feel good, but it went well, which is sometimes a nice reminder that how you feel doesn’t always indicate how you will race.”
In Kern’s quarterfinal she was pushed to the outside early and forced toward the back of the pack. She meticulously picked her way through the group and worked herself toward the front on the course’s steep hill moving into second. She aggressively stepped through the corners to maintain her second place standing, and looked very strong. Kern was vying for the lead when coming into the final turn she tangled skis and crashed. It was way too late in the race for a recovery. It was especially disappointing given how well she had worked through the crowd and how strong she looked.
In Swirbul’s quarterfinal she faced the unenviable task of going against Linn Svahn (SWE), Nadine Faehndrich (SUI) and Tiril Udnes Weng (NOR). Given the daunting task, Swirbul threw caution to the wind, and shot to the lead from the start trying to avoid the traffic which had claimed her teammates. It was a high risk, high reward strategy. She led throughout the first half of the race, but as she came over the steepest hill, she was dropped to the back of the pack and was gapped with no chance of catching the group. She ended up sixth in her heat. U.S. Coach Kristen Bourne had praise for Swirbul’s willingness to lead, “She got out front and was trying to execute her plan, she skied super confidently…having the confidence to lead definitely stood out today.”
That left Diggins as the only American woman to make it to the semifinals. Diggins drew an outside lane and was pushed wide and back at the start. A minute into the race, she was in fifth place. Diggins acknowledged that, “My starting speed has never been that impressive…so I needed to chill and look for my window to move up.” She pushed up the steepest hill on the course and propelled herself into the top four. But the tight Toblach course proved to be a nemesis as she didn’t have enough room to work and was again forced to the back of the pack. As the field sprinted toward the finish, she was able to somehow pick her way into third place and would have to wait and see whether her time would hold up for a lucky loser spot. The second semifinal was slower, and she was ultimately able to move on to the finals as a lucky loser.
In the finals, Diggins faced an intimidating field of four Swedish sprint standouts and Laura Gimmler (GER). At the start, Diggins went to the rear of the pack with a wall of Swedish skiers in front of her. Sundling took the pace very hot from the beginning. At the top of the first big hill Diggins had moved into fifth, and Sundling had not budged from the lead. Over the top of the second steep hill Diggins had moved into fourth with three Swedes ahead of her. Going into the sprint finish she put the hammer down and was able to gain a podium spot by out-sprinting Swedish sprint star Emma Ribom and finishing third. It was an impressive feat to be able to break up a Swedish quartet in such a talented field. It was an equally impressive piece of tactical skiing on a very challenging course, and showing supreme maneuverability as she worked her way through the field. As Coach Bourne noted, “It’s a pretty challenging [course] and turning left most of the time, it’s difficult to pass. It makes sense to be in the front.” Diggins was able to go against the grain and grab a podium position despite not being in the best spot toward the end of the race. Bourne continued that “She skied that so well, to tactically figure that out and get onto the podium is pretty awesome. It was one of her coolest races for me to watch…seeing her maneuver so well and confidently ”
The Men’s Race
In the Men’s Sprint quarterfinals, Johannes Klaebo showed why he is the best sprinter in the world as he was able to pick his way through the field at will, starting in the back and working his way to the lead. Something no one else had been able to do all day.
Richard Jouve, last week’s hero on home soil in Les Rousses, France could not advance out of his quarterfinal.
In Ogden’s quarterfinal he advanced to the front third of the race early. At the first hill he worked to maintain contact with the top three skiers. The lead group coalesced at the finish with Ogden unable to outsprint the field and finished fourth. The time was not fast enough for a lucky loser spot and his day ended in the quarterfinal. Ogden told FasterSkier that, “Everyone in my quarter final qualifier was within a second and a half of each other so it was really tight the entire time. It ended up coming down largely to the last downhill, final corner and finishing stretch. I was just out of the semi’s in 4th but it was a decent effort given that I have been a little tired lately. Now my plan is to rest up and put all eyes on champs in Planica!”
For the Americans, Logan Diekmann finished sixth in his quarterfinal and did not advance. Nonetheless, it was a good day for Diekmann as it was the first time he had reached a sprint quarterfinal.
In the semifinals, Klaebo employed a similar strategy as he had in the quarters, electing not to lead from the start. He was fourth two-thirds of the way through the race and was able to find space to get by his opponents to win the heat. It was a magical sleight of hand that seemed improbable at the moment, and a tactic that, once again, only Klaebo could pull off.
In the finals, Lucas Chanavat (ITA) and Federico Pellegrino(ITA) hoped they could duplicate Jouve’s feat from last week of using the home soil advantage to defeat Klaebo. Klaebo employed a different strategy in the final than he had in the previous heats, moving relatively early toward the front of the field, but not taking the lead immediately. At the first steep hill he moved into second place and it looked like a script ski fans have seen before. Once again, two or three powerful hops on the last climb and he surged to the lead. At the finish he had a large enough margin to raise his hands in triumph well before reaching the finish line.
Women’s Freestyle Sprint RESULTS
Men’s Freestyle Sprint RESULTS