The day began in Trondheim with a centimeter of snow, which then transitioned to big blue skies for the thousands of fans attending the fifth stage of the Ski Tour 2020, a 1.5 k classic sprint. The Norwegians can throw a cross-country race party. The scene, despite the different setting, was reminiscent of the festive cowbell and camp-out sideshow of Holmenkollen’s Frognerseteren. It’s not quite the Yankee stadium of cross-country skiing, but a sign that in the hot-beds of the sport, fans arrive in droves.
The sprint course was more traditional, meaning this was no simple VO2 max test of an effort — that went down on Stage 3, in Åre, Sweden as athletes ascended an uber steep alpine ski hill to close out that event. Trondheim’s classic sprint was bolstered by two punchy climbs on a three-terrace course, long and fast glide outs, and two speedy corners which swung skiers through a 180-degree direction change to keep it spicy.
Sweden’s Jonna Sundling laid down the fastest qualifying time in 3:22.75, shadowed by her teammate, Linn Svahn, 0.24 seconds back. Maybe, not surprisingly, Therese Johaug was the third-fastest qualifier, 0.83 seconds back. Johaug won her first career sprint on Stage 3 of the Ski Tour.
The U.S. packed five skiers into the heats. Sadie Maubet Bjornsen qualified in 10th (+6.20). Rosie Brennan in 11th (+6.34), Sophie Caldwell 15th (+7.32), Jessie Diggins 20th (+8.58), and Julia Kern 24th (+9.54). Yet the story on the U.S. women’s side ended earlier than their highwater mark norm, which is most often, representation in the six skier final. In no uncertain terms, this is the golden age of U.S. women’s cross-country skiing. A stars and stripes void marked the semis and final. No U.S. skiers advance beyond the quarterfinals.
In the third quarterfinal, Kern and Brennan lost contact with Sundling and Tiril Udnes Weng who came in 1-2, respectively. Kern was fourth in the heat (+3.7), Brennan fifth (+7.71).
Maubet Bjornsen and Diggins fell off the pace as well in the fourth heat, placing fourth and fifth respectively. Both were over four seconds off Norway’s Anna Svendsen’s pace of 3:19.34 who won that quarterfinal.
The last U.S. athlete eliminated was Caldwell. She placed third in the fifth quarterfinal, 1.53 seconds back on Norway’s Heidi Weng in first. Caldwell placed 14th in the final standings, Maubet Bjornsen 16th, Kern 20th, Brennan 21st, and Diggins 23rd.
Post-race interview with U.S. World Cup Coach Matt Whitcomb
Wintry weather moved in during the men’s quarterfinals. The blue-bird scene morphed quickly into an intermittent snowglobe. With the swift winds swirling around the stadium, the snow squalls eventually moved on as the semifinals progressed.
The 12 skier field in the two women’s semis consisted of six Norwegians, four Swedes, and two Swiss skiers in Laurien van der Graff in the first semi, and Nadine Fähndrich in semi two. Fähndrich kept Swiss hopes alive by advancing to the finals after winning her semi.
The first semifinal featured Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla and Sweden’s Sundling. These two athletes were the skiers to watch. For Falla, by her own high standards, this has been an offseason, as the young Swedish sprint team has pushed her aside for precious top-of-the-podium real estate. Falla won the opening World Cup sprint in Ruka, Finland, otherwise, it’s been a first-place void for the former Crystal Globe sprint winner.
In Falla’s semi, she and Sudling took first and second, respectively, with Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen and Linn Svahn of Sweden in close contact, only a few tenths of a second back. In the final, Falla was locked in. Although at moments Sundling was side by side with Falla, the Norwegian dictated the decisive move off the front. Over the second climb, at roughly 2:25 into the race, Falla powered over the hill and into the glide out transition with only Sundling able to match two meters back.
Falla took the win in 3:15.55 with Sundling in second (+0.48). Fähndrich was third (+2.88), Anna Dyvik of Sweden fourth (+3.71), Svendsen fifth (+5.26), and Heidi Weng sixth (+6.64).
“This feels always like the [World Championships] so crowded and so many people screaming my name at the start and after the finish,” Falla told FIS after the race. “It’s an amazing atmosphere and I’m so happy to be here. There has been some hard distance races for me now. The 30 k and also 10 k was really hard so I’m really happy that I stayed in the tour, didn’t go home and got this opportunity to win here and race in this amazing atmosphere.”
This was Falla’s 21st individual sprint win. She sits second overall in total World Cup sprint wins. Marit Bjørgen of Norway still reigns with 40 World Cup sprint victories. For Fähndrich, this was her second career individual podium. Prior to her third place on Saturday, the Swiss skier posted up a second place in Cogne, Italy’s 2019 10 k classic for her first World Cup podium.
Katharine Ogden in 37th was the top-U.S. skier outside the top-30. Alayna Sonnesyn placed 42nd, Caitlin Patterson 48th, and Rosie Frankowski 51st.
For Canada, Emily Nishikawa finished in 34th, Katherine Stewart-Jones 35th (+14.19), Cendrine Browne 40th,
The Ski Tour overall looks certain for Johaug who placed ninth in Saturday’s sprint. She leads with a total time of 2:19:28. Weng remains in second (+2:33), and Ingvild Flugstad Østberg third (+2:34). Østberg finished 22nd in Stage 5. This Norwegian trio is the likely overall podium, as Sweden’s Ebba Andersson is fourth at 4:48 back. Racing concludes for the Ski Tour on Sunday with Stage 6, a 15 k classic pursuit for the women.