Toblach 10 k Freestyle: Diggins Silver Leads Three Americans in Top 10, Andersson Wins Third Straight

John TeafordFebruary 4, 2023

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Jessie Diggins (USA) recovered from a hard. mid-race crash to speed into second place in the World Cup Freestyle 10 k at Toblach, Italy. (Photo: © Modica/NordicFocus)

A lot can happen out on a World Cup race course: sometimes, the on-screen coverage makes results seem straightforward, but 10 kilometers is a long way to race, and fortunes are known to change between the start line and the finish line. Athletes must contend with racing conditions, with their own level of fitness, with the relative speed of the skis delivered to them by wax technicians, and with the determination of other athletes who may be sharper, more rested, or more resurgent. Things don’t always go as planned.

The podium in Toblach revealed who made the most of the cards they’d been dealt. Ebba Andersson (SWE) first, Jessie Diggins (USA) second, Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg (NOR) third.

Americans had even more to celebrate as Diggins was joined in the top 10 by Rosie Brennan in fifth, and Julia Kern in 10th. Continuing to show fine form in her World Cup campaign, Hailey Swirbul raced to a laudable 26th. Other American finishers included Alexandra Lawson 40th, Alayna Sonnesyn 48th, Sarah Goble49th. There were no entrants from Nordiq Canada.

But much would happen on the way to that podium . . .

Always an aggressive descender, Diggins would suffer a high speed crash in the middle of the race, whacking her knee hard enough to seek attention from her trainer after the race. She would scramble back to her feet in time to finish the day in second. Diggins described the incident:

“It was difficult pacing because the sun had baked a couple of the uphills, making them really slushy. Certain sections were really icy, other sections were pretty slushy. My exciting part was that I had a little crash just after the 5 k when I was headed out on my second lap. I was skiing on the very edge of the course where it was iciest and fastest, and the very tip of my ski got stuck in the snow. I hit my left knee (honestly) really hard. I spun around and got back up and kept going as hard as I could. I lost … some seconds for sure, but what I think was really challenging was that my whole knee was numb (but) I was able to keep racing and put it behind me.”

Tour de Ski champion and overall World Cup contender, Frida Karlsson (SWE), began the day in contention (close behind Diggins at the first check point):  she would fade in the final kilometers, finishing 11th (perhaps there’s more to the story that broadcast cameras failed to capture).

Julia Kern (USA) showed off her distance-racing skills with a 10th place finish in Toblach. Photo: © Modica/NordicFocus)

Sprinters pushed forward to swipe a number of coveted top 10 finishing places:  Nadine Faendrich (SUI) 4th, Victora Carl (GER) 7th, Jonna Sundling (SWE) 8th, Julia Kern 10th.

And—whatever the reason—Norwegian skiers had an off day (finishing 14th, 17th, 19th, 28th, and 29th) . . . except, that is, for Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg who would finish the day on the third step of the podium. Winner of Olympic and World Championship medals—and the 2019 Overall World Cup—Oestberg had experienced a number of interrupted seasons. Her return to the World Cup podium in Toblach was definitely a cause for celebration.

Ebba Andersson (SWE) reflects after her victory in the Women’s 10 k Freestyle Individual Start in Toblach, Italy. This was her third straight World Cup distance race victory. (Photo: Modica/NordicFocus)
Women’s 10 k Freestyle

Bright sun and relatively warm temperatures greeted racers in Toblach. On trails described as firm and fast, the 10 k Freestyle looked to be  a straightforward test of prolonged speed. In this distance, there is little time for pacing or patience. Winners will be those who start fast, and hold that speed through the finish. It’s a high-risk race strategy, but a less bold plan is unlikely to succeed.

Racing bare headed, her pony tail tucked up for tracing in the warm sunshine, Diggins started 27th (among the earliest of the day’s contenders). With so many of her rivals starting after her, Diggins would not receive much information during her first lap, but would need to rely on the aggressive racing strategy that she so often employs. Early in her career, Diggins was often a contender during the rare staging of five kilometer races. At this point in her career, however, she is certainly a contender for the win at every distance. She raced with that goal in mind today (as she so often does).

Diggins was fastest of the early starters at the 2.1 k checkpoint, 6.3 seconds ahead of Jonna Sundling (SWE). Later contenders crossing the 2.1 k mark confirmed Diggins fast start, with Karlsson three seconds behind. Starting 37th, Andersson later arrived to supplant Diggins by 3.1 seconds. The chase was on . . .

Diggins crossed the 6.7 k checkpoint 4.7 seconds ahead of sprinter Nadine Faendrich (SUI). Faehndrich would not normally have been a significant marker among the leaders in a 10 k skate race, but she was in the middle of a remarkable day that would earn her a rare fourth place finish in a distance race. Diggins would rebuild her advantage over Faendrich to eight seconds by the 8.1 k checkpoint. It was later revealed that Diggins crashed hard mid-race, explaining her loss of time during that section of the course.

Rosie Brennan (USA) spent the Toblach World Cup 10 k freestyle battling for a podium spot. She would finish the day in fifth, only 5.9 seconds from third. (Photo: Modica/NordicFocus)

Other American skiers were significant players throughout the race. Brennan was in fourth at the 2.1 k checkpoint, and fourth again at 8.1 k. She would race with her typical grit and flare, holding her pace to finish the day in fifth.

“We had a very spring-like day in Toblach today,” Brennan said. “The skiing was mostly very fast with a few wet sections. I wanted to do my best to hold an even pace and push a bit on every section. I did this to the best of my ability, but ended up on the wrong side of a tight battle for third.”

“I am happy with my focus today,” Brennan continued. “[I] felt that I was able to push hard the whole time so with that I am satisfied with the result. I hope we see some cooler temps now and can get back to winter. But most importantly, it’s relay day tomorrow!!!!”

Kern led the race after 21 finishers, only to be supplanted by Faendrich two finishers later. She was one of the notable sprinters to claim a spot in the top 10.

While Norwegian headliners were floundering, former star Oestberg was returning to the form that saw her claim numerous World Cup, World Championship, and Olympic victories a few years ago. She skied steadily throughout the day, crossing the line to finish 10 seconds behind Diggins.

Race leader at every checkpoint, Sweden’s Andersson confirmed the form that has led to three straight World Cup distance race victories. She’ll hope to carry that momentum into the FIS Cross Country World Championships beginning in three weeks in Planica, Slovenia.

Women’s 10 k Freestyle RESULTS

Jessie Diggins (USA), Ebba Andersson (SWE), Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg (NOR) celebrate on the podium in Toblach, Italy. (Photo:  © Modica/NordicFocus)

John Teaford

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