The Toppidrettsveka race festival wrapped up yesterday with a 15 kilometer classic pursuit in downtown Trondheim. 30,000 to 40,000 people lined the 3.7 k lollipop-shaped course. The first and last kilometer were a flat 1 k long section that the race went out and back on, while the middle 1.7 k section featured a steep uphill that tapered out before the summit and a technical downhill that even involved jumping on and off of the sidewalk after a sharp corner. The course made for an excellent test of double pole proficiency and quick, efficient climbing ability.
According to Jessie Diggins, it also felt like a World Cup. “The course was lined with people, music, cheering and cameras everywhere so it was a real world cup atmosphere, that’s for sure!”
The U.S. Ski Team women again made an impression with some strong results to finish off the race series. Diggins had the most impressive day, making up 15 seconds and 10 places to finish in 10th overall.
“I felt much better than I expected after 3 races in two days, but sometimes I feel like I get stronger throughout the tour,” Diggins wrote in an email.
Diggins’ teammate Kikkan Randall also had a strong day, managing to finish only one spot behind her starting position in 11th, despite falling and breaking a pole at the top of the final climb. After a consistent week with an especially strong skiathlon, the decorated sprinter is feeling good about where she is with her form.
“I feel satisfied that I got what I came for and that was a good gauge of where my fitness stands against other top World Cup skiers. It was so great to go through the full race routine multiple times, something we should do more often in the summer I think,” Randall commented.
Norwegian Heidi Weng wrapped up a very successful week with another strong day, expanding on her 47 second lead and winning the Toppidrettsveka stage race by 1:14.2 over her teammate Therese Johaug.
“It has been three wonderful days here with three wins. I’m very pleased that I managed to stay away. The aim was to keep the throttle down all the way so that Therese would not take me in,” Weng told Langrenn, according to a translation.
Another Norwegian, Kathrine Harsem, rounded out the podium in third, 2:15.2 behind Weng.
Liz Stephen, Sophie Caldwell, and Caitlin Gregg also had strong days for the USST, finishing in 15th, 16th, and 24th overall. So all five United States women were in the top 25 for the festival. Caldwell was particularly pleased with her race, as her energy returned after a tough skiathlon.
“I felt significantly better than yesterday and was able to do almost the entire race with a big pack of girls,” she wrote.
If not for a fall at the beginning of the last uphill, Caldwell might have been even further up the results list.
For Stephen and Gregg, who tend to be stronger in the skate discipline, the final stage was a learning experience. Both are coming away from the week knowing that their fitness is in a good place, and also with a good idea of how they can improve their double pole and be even faster come winter.
Double pole strength and technique is something USST Head Coach Chris Grover had a feeling the team could use some work on coming into the week, and the race series showed that to be true.
“We knew double pole strength and technique was an issue for many of the USA skiers and indeed we saw the deficiencies up close the past 3 days,” Grover explained in an email. “The Norwegians have so many athletes with excellent double pole technique, power, and endurance. As a nation, we need to work harder to close the gap.”
Unlike the women’s pursuit that had large time differences at the start, the men’s pursuit went out with small gaps between many of the racers. Starters 9 and 39 had only 22 seconds separating their start times. This gave the North American men a chance to get into the top 10 during the pursuit, as throughout the race there was a large pack featuring positions 6 through 21.
American Andy Newell was the one North American who was able to stay with the large pack for most of the race. After ascending the final climb with the group, he was in a great position for the double pole into the finish. Unfortunately, he was bumped into the boards on the final downhill and broke both his poles in the crash. After limping to the finish line, Newell finished in 57th.
Still, Newell was very pleased with his effort.
“Overall I’m stoked because fitness feels good despite doing a ton of hard training this time of year,” Newell explained.
Off the front of the large pack for much of the race were Petter Northug and Calle Halfvarsson, who struggled to work together and ended up skiing on their own, and the lead pack of three Norwegians, Simen Østensen, Didrik Tønseth, and Eirik Brandsdal.
Østensen and Tønseth skied away from Brandsdal over the top of the steep section of the hill on the final lap and then finished in first and second, separated by only 0.6 seconds. Brandsdal held onto his third place position, finishing 38.8 seconds behind Østensen.
“It’s a very good feeling, especially with the atmosphere as amazing as it is here,” Østensen told Dagbladet about his victory, according to a translation. “I knew that I was good in a sprint [with Tønseth], so I’m not really surprised. But it is gratifying to see that I am in such good shape.”
USST member Simi Hamilton finished in a sprint with Canadian Devon Kershaw; the pair finished in 32nd and 33rd. Hamilton, like Newell, was able to catch and ski with the large pack, but broke a pole on the second lap right before the downhill and lost the group since he was unable to get a replacement pole for a few minutes. Regardless, Hamilton managed to maintain a good effort the rest of the way.
“As soon as I got one of my spares and calmed myself down a bit, I was able to put together a solid second half of the race and dig deep all the way across the line,” Hamilton wrote about his pursuit race.
The final North American racing was Noah Hoffman. Hoffman was the 11th starter off the line, but he was unable to stick with the pack and finished the Toppidrettsveka in 52nd.
“I was having a very hard time matching the pace of the other skiers, especially in the double pole sections,” Hoffman wrote. “Double pole has always been one of my biggest weaknesses, but yesterday in particular I felt like I was struggling even more than I have in the past… I feel like I have a lot of work to do before the season.”
For the U.S. Ski Team, it seemed that regardless of how the pursuit went, every athlete had an exciting time. The atmosphere in Trondheim is what really made the final race special. Here are some written quotes about the last day from the athletes:
“Racing in Trondheim was incredible! There were so many people lining the entire length of the 4K course… Everyone was really nice and cheered for each athlete by name! It was reminiscent of the Hollmenkollen in Oslo!” – Caitlin Gregg
“Racing in downtown Trondheim was one if the more exciting ski experiences I’ve ever had. We are used to doing little time trials on roller skis during the summer to prepare but this felt almost like a real word cup with the course lined with spectators and something like 80 guys out there racing.” – Andy Newell
“The atmosphere for all of these races, but especially the last one in Trondheim, was frankly amazing. The fact that there is so much enthusiasm and interest in a roller ski race is mind blowing, even for someone who’s raced in Norway dozens of times.” – Noah Hoffman
As for takeaways from the camp, the USST as a whole is feeling good about their fitness, but definitely excited to improve their classic and double pole strength especially. A big reason the USST attended the Toppidrettsveka was to see how they were measuring up to the competition, something the team was definitely able to do.
“It was incredibly valuable being able to get back into the race mindset and gauge where we are in our training and speed against a field that consisted of a ton of high caliber world cup skiers,” Hamilton wrote about the camp.
Now the team parts ways again to soak up all the training from Norway and spend some time at home. However, they will not be home for long as many will attend the next USST camp at Lake Placid on September 13, where there will also be the National Elite Group, the National Training Group, and various domestic clubs and racers.
Toppidrettsveka Overall Results: