FIS Cross-Country Tour de Ski Stage 5 (Toblach): 5/10 k freestyle
Two U.S. women on the podium. Remember when that happened with Kikkan Randall and Sophie Caldwell back in March of 2014 in the skate sprint in Lahti, Finland? Or at 2015 World Championships, with Jessie Diggins and Caitlin Gregg in the 10 k freestyle? Well, it just happened again, this time with Diggins placing first and Sadie Bjornsen third in the women’s 5-kilometer freestyle individual start on Friday at Stage 5 of the Tour de Ski in Toblach, Italy.
“This is just my thing I guess,” Diggins said in a televised post-race interview after her third-consecutive 5 k freestyle victory. That puts her on par with the record set by Russia’s Elena Välbe for most 5 k freestyle races won in a row in the 1990s, according to FIS.
“My coaches and I were joking around, saying, ‘OK, just go for top 23 and see what you can do, and we were just having a lot of fun,” Diggins continued. “I love this course.”
Diggins experienced her first World Cup win a year ago in Toblach at the Tour de Ski in the same race. Since then, she’s been on the podium seven more times, including today’s victory in Toblach — her third-career World Cup win.
A clear race favorite ranked fifth going into Stage 5, Diggins blasted the competition. She started 12th and finished in 12:45.6, nearly 15 seconds faster than Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla at the finish. Bjornsen in bib 26 ended up bumping Kalla to third by 0.3 seconds after finishing 14.6 seconds off Diggins’ time in second. Finland’s Krista Parmakoski then finished 13.6 seconds behind Diggins for second, bumping Bjornsen to third, where she would remain for her first World Cup podium.
For the U.S., it was the first time having two U.S. women on the podium in this Tour. For Diggins, it was her second podium of the multi-stage series, after placing second in the Stage 3 skiathlon.
“To see sadie on the podium with me, I knew she was going to do it this year, I had so much belief in her and to see her up here is just making me so happy,” Diggins said.
Also for the U.S., Rosie Brennan notched 23rd (+43.3) for her second individual top 30 of the season, Liz Stephen was 32nd (+49.7) and Randall 40th (+1:38.6).
Sweden’s Kalla ended up fourth (+14.9) for her best result this season. Norway’s Heidi Weng was 17.5 seconds off Diggins’s winning time in fifth for her first time off the podium in this Tour. Finland’s Kerttu Niskanen placed sixth (+18.0), Switzerland’s Nathalie von Siebenthal was seventh (+20.5), ahead of Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Østberg in eighth (+23.5).
The Tour leader heading into Friday, Sweden’s Stina Nilsson dropped to third overall after placing 20th (+40.5). She is now 16.3 seconds behind new Tour leader, Weng, who has an 11.1-second lead on Østberg. Parmakoski remains fourth (+36.8) ahead of Diggins in fifth (+1:23.3). Bjornsen is up to ninth overall (+3:18.1), and fewer than seven seconds behind Germany’s Nicole Fessel in eighth (+3:11.3).
Randall dropped from 10th to 22nd overall (+4:44.9), Stephen improved to 25th (+5:01.7), and Brennan is 37th (+8:07).
Sergey Ustiugov of Russia is beginning to seem like quite a familiar face atop the Tour de Ski podium. He took a fifth-straight win, this time in Toblach, Italy, in the 10 k freestyle. It was hard-earned as Maurice Manificat of France clocked a time just 0.4 seconds slower; Ustiugov had the later bib, so knew what time he had to beat.
Norway’s Simen Hegstad Krüger, the U23 World champion in the 15 k skate last year, was third – his first World Cup podium – 16.6 seconds back. After that it was a list of veteran favorites with Matti Heikkinen of Finland fourth (+17.3), Marcus Hellner of Sweden fifth (+25.8), Didrik Tønseth of Norway sixth (+27.2), and Dario Cologna of Switzerland seventh (+27.9).
Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway, second place in the Tour behind Ustiugov, lost ground on the Russian. He finished 14th (+36.9) and also missed out on bonus seconds awarded to the top three.
Meanwhile, Canada’s Alex Harvey finished 11th (+34.2). Harvey had been in third place in the Tour, but will be narrowly overtaken by Cologna leading into Saturday’s 15 k classic. Both, however, gained time on second-place Sundby.
Overall, Ustiugov leads the Tour by a whopping 1:34.1 minutes over Sundby. Cologna is 2:07.5 back in third, and Harvey another 0.5 seconds back in fourth with two stages to go. Manificat is up to fifth (+2:14.5) and Heikkinen is sixth (+2:32.3) ahead of Krüger in seventh (+2:34)
Harvey’s teammates Devon Kershaw and Graeme Killick were 32nd (+1:06.0) and 35th (+1:11.9), respectively, and currently rank 24th (+5:56.2) and 39th (+9:43.3) overall in the Tour.
For the U.S., Noah Hoffman placed 25th (+55.8) for his first top 30 of the Tour to move into 31st overall (+8:14.8). Erik Bjornsen just missed the points in 31st (+1:04.6) for 42nd overall (+10:13.6).
The Tour now moves to Val di Fiemme, Italy, for the Stage 6 10/15 k classic mass starts on Saturday and Stage 7 final freestyle hill climb on Sunday.
IBU World Cup (Oberhof): Women’s 7.5 k sprint
In the first IBU World Cup women’s race of the new year , Gabriela Koukalová of the Czech Republic came out firing on all cylinders, shooting clean in the 7.5 k sprint for a 21.3-second victory in 22:28.5 on Friday in Oberhof, Germany.
Finland’s Kaisa Mäkäräinen placed second with two penalties in her standing stage (0+2), and France’s Marie Dorin Habert reached the podium in third with one miss (0+1).
Canada’s Rosanna Crawford led the North Americans with her best result of the season in 21st (+1:32.3), with clean shooting (0+0).
American Susan Dunklee got the top 60 needed to qualify for Saturday’s pursuit in 50th (+2:36.3), despite two four penalties (2+2). Clare Egan is in there as well in 52nd (+2:40.5) with two prone misses (2+0).
Canada’s Megan Tandy missed the cutoff in 65th (+3:17.1) with two penalties (0+2), as did her Biathlon Canada teammates Sarah Beaudry in 85th (+5:02.9) with three penalties (0+3) and Emma Lunder in 87th (+5:28.0) with five misses (4+1).