By Morgan Hartley and Conner Truskowski
The FIS Tour De Ski continued earlier Tuesday in Oberstdorf, Germany, with the men taking the first start at this venue. The views here were definitely a change from snowy, high altitude, yet warm Val Müstair, as the Oberstdorf course sported a solitary ribbon of snow surrounded by healthy green grass and temperatures well above freezing.
The warm weather may be a bummer to the athletes, as it is a harbinger of changing times in our sport, but it can also stir mixed emotions in some.
“Racing in warm weather is always kinda bittersweet. It reminds me a bit of home and it simplifies little things like warming up compared to racing in subzero temps,” said California native JC Schoonmaker.
“It’s also a little sad to be on a ribbon of snow in January and realize that this is becoming the norm these days.”
Ben Ogden, Gus Schumacher, and Hunter Wonders adapted well to the white ribbon, setting impressive times out of the gate. Through the 2.1-kilometer time check, Ogden had held off most of the field, including boldface names such as Francesco de Fabiani, Emil Iversen, Pål Golberg, and Tour leader Johannes Høsflot Klæbo.
At the finish, Ogden, who skied in bib no. 13, took the lead for the group of early starters by nearly 30 seconds, getting to spend a good amount of time in the leader’s chair. The lead began to fade just after the halfway point, with Golberg coming in 6 seconds ahead and Klaebo coming in 11 seconds ahead of him. As the race continued to progress, it looked again to be a loose Norwegian pack at the top with everyone else trailing in a tight pack behind.
Ogden’s time in the leader’s chair may not have lasted the entire race, but it took a seemingly all-out effort by Golberg, who finished fifth, to unseat him by only 3.5 seconds. Klæbo followed shortly thereafter, taking the lead, and eventually the win, by about 26 seconds.
Simen Hegstad Krüger and Didrik Tønseth were late arrivals to the top of the men’s standings, ultimately taking second and third, respectively. Calle Halfvarsson of Sweden finished fourth.
Ogden would eventually land in a career-best sixth place, with Hunter Wonders finishing 11th, Gus Schumacher finishing 15th, and Scott Patterson finishing just inside the historical points cutoff at 29th. Zak Ketterson, Finn O’Connell, JC Schoonmaker, and Kevin Bolger would find themselves in 38th, 54th, 69th, and 73rd, respectively.
It was a truly outstanding performance by Ogden, Wonders, and Schumacher to all ski into high spots on the results sheet and to finish so close together.
“It is not easy to do what they did with all of them in the top 15,” said Schoonmaker of his teammates. And even though he commented that he still isn’t racing quite where he wants to, he wanted to highlight the boys’ achievement. “I am so proud to see them all have a great race and get some red white and blue up there on the results sheet,” Schoonmaker wrote to Nordic Insights.
Ben Ogden said the course was a ton of fun even given the conditions, noting that with a salted course it held up quite well.
Regarding the preparation for today’s race Ogden said, via text to Nordic Insights, “Coming down from altitude was nice as always. I had a ton of energy thanks to low elevation and the nice warm sun. Today was a little rainy but I was still feeling energized so I tried to keep that feeling going.”
Looking forward to the rest of the Tour with the last three races in mind, Ogden wrote, “My goals remain largely the same, be smart with energy and just push hard for every race. I think the results will settle out how they should if I keep doing that!”
Watching today’s race you could see that the kick, and the skis in general for the American men, were exceptional. The kick was performing on the climbs with the on-off freeness that we all aspire to every time we go out, and the techs were able to nail the glide as well, resulting in what can only be described as hero-skiing on course today.
Ogden wrote, “My skis today were really good. I had great kick and they were good and fast. Madshus green base, what can I say?? They are built different in Oberstdorf :)”
Bolger told Nordic insights that he’s been feeling a little disappointed in his performance, saying, “So far it’s been a rollercoaster with more lows than highs — the sprint was going in the right direction until I crashed so that was upsetting since I was aiming to have some good sprint results — and the two distance races just haven’t gone as planned.”
On a brighter note, Bolger added that it was “so sick to see the other boys take advantage and throw down some insane results.”
Wonders commented on his day, telling Nordic Insights, “Today felt great. It’s hard to tell how the day will go until you’re out on the race course. But I’ve been feeling good this season and there is some confidence starting to build. It’s nice knowing that my 16th in Beitostølen wasn’t a fluke and I feel like there’s more in reach.”
Looking to the next few races he said, “There’s more room to fall backwards in the pursuit, but I also have a lot of confidence and think I can hang with those guys. It’s cool to feel like I’m in the fight this season.”
The scoreboard agrees. Wonders has been a skier on the edge of breaking through for several seasons, with his first World Cup start in 2021 following a remarkable junior and domestic senior career. These two reporters are really happy to know that kicking our butts around the course every weekend in high school has once again proven to be a successful development model for the U.S. Ski Team. [See also Luke Jager and Gus Schumacher. – Ed.]
Patterson said that he was happy to be moving in the direction he wants, results- and performance-wise, telling us via email, “I feel that I am still only putting together about 3/4 of a full quality race, but I did feel that today was moving the right way. I am quite excited for tomorrow with a longer skate race always suiting me a little better.”
Indeed it would seem that based on his career-best results all of the races so far this season have simply been too short for Patterson to really show us what he can do. If anything, seeing these positive results in such a short intense distance as 10 kilometers could be a really good sign for his performances to come in the longer distances later in the season.
Ketterson, who improved on his results from Val Müstair, also praised the techs and his teammates for their performance. Commenting on his race he told us, “Today was a completely average race for me where I didn’t feel great but not too bad either. I don’t have much to say about my own performance besides maybe starting a bit too slowly.”
All-in-all, it ended up being a lot more broken up at the top (nation-wise) than we’re used to seeing with a lot of big names struggling today; about half of the Norwegian and Swedish teams finished outside the top 10, potentially due to changing conditions late in the race affecting the quality of the wax. Andew Musgrave of Great Britain finished 7th, further breaking up the Scandinavian dominance we’re used to seeing, just behind Ogden.
“I felt like I managed an even, fairly decent race, without it being an amazing day. I definitely feel like my form is on the way up again though, so hopefully the next few days should be good,” Musgrave told Nordic Insights.
He continued, “I was impressed by Ogden today! From the splits I was getting it seemed like he started off pretty hard. He managed to finish off well though — which was a good effort!”
On the women’s side the Finnish classic specialists came out swinging, with Krista Pärmäkoski and Kerttu Niskanen setting very good times out of the gate at the 2.1-kilometer time check, with Katharina Hennig close behind.
Frida Karlsson of Sweden would then come through to take the early lead over Niskanen by 7.1 seconds at 2.1km. Anne Kjersti Kalvå and Rosie Brennan would then come through to take second and third respectively early on, only one second between them.
Tiril Udnes Weng skied a hard second half of the race, coming back from 5 seconds down on Pärmäkoski to be one second up at 6.2km. However, it would not be enough to stave off the strong effort from Karlsson, who would consistently grow her lead over the course of the race.
Karlsson would go on to win the day by 16.6 seconds over Pärmäkoski. Kalvå would take third, with Tiril Weng fading in the final 1.7km to finish 1.9 seconds off of third.
Rosie Brennan would end up 11th on the day, tied with Astrid Øyre Slind and just behind Heidi Weng. Brennan would be the top American woman, followed by Julia Kern in 38th, Jessie Diggins in 40th, Sophia Laukli in 44th, and Alayna Sonneysen in 54th.
Brennan said of her 11th-place performance today, in an email to multiple media outlets, “Today was a wet and wild day. It was a classic Oberstdorf day with rain throughout and very much above freezing temperatures. They salted the course so it actually held up quite well and was very fast albeit wet skiing. I started strong and was in the game for the first lap, but really struggled with my skis the 2nd and 3rd lap which led me to fade quite a bit. This is never what you want, but is a part of ski racing so hopefully we can all learn and move forward. I’m still in the game and will have some good people to ski with tomorrow so I’m really looking forward to that.”
Today’s result from Karlsson saw her take the overall leader’s jersey from Tiril Weng. Only time will tell if she can hang on to it for the next stages. She has a 20-second gap to Tiril Weng for tomorrow’s pursuit, which may give her an advantage since she seems to do well with distance interval/individual-start races.
Finally, it must be said that Diggins’s result of 40th on Tuesday was uncharacteristic for her, and followed equally atypical finishes (40th and 30th) in the first and second stages of the Tour over the weekend. This is somewhat hard to quantify, but a general look at Diggins’s formidable FIS results page suggests that it has been several years since she had comparable finish positions in three consecutive World Cup races.
The most recent historical parallel here is probably Period 1 of the 2014/2015 season, when Diggins was 63rd, 38th, and 53rd in three races in a row early in the year. She writes in her memoir that she had experienced overtraining earlier that year, requiring two weeks’ complete rest in fall 2014 when she would otherwise have been building intensity to sharpen race fitness for the World Cup season.
Diggins won a silver medal at 2015 World Championships in Falun a few months later.
Following her failure to qualify for the sprint heats in the Tour’s opening stage, Diggins wrote on Instagram on Saturday, “Sometimes your body feels great and your brain is ready and it just doesn’t work out — and, that’s ok. The only thing that’s not ok is to give up. Doing the best I can to prepare for tomorrow and going to enjoy having no pressure on my shoulders for this tour, just doing the best I can one day at a time.”
Diggins remained upbeat on social media after stage three, writing earlier today on Instagram (embedded above), “‘If the seas were always calm, we would never build a better boat.’ All of these photos show what it looks like to be building a better boat; sometimes mentally and sometimes physically, sometimes with good results and sometimes not, sometimes enduring public speculation and learning how to listen only to the people who truly care about me. It’s no secret that this tour has been tough, and I’ve learned that it takes so much more courage to fail very publicly and keep going. [broken heart emoji]”
Diggins added, “To me, building up is trusting the process and the plan, focusing on the amazing people I’m lucky to have around me and remembering to feel gratitude for all the things that are going well. Lucky to feel that my body is still in a good place, so I’m hoping to have a good race tomorrow where all the elements (both in my control and outside it) line up.”
International news coverage was somewhat more pointed. “Frida Karlsson got revenge on her Norwegian rivals. But the most sensational thing about the 10 kilometers in Oberstdorf was Jessie Diggins’ sporting collapse,” as NRK wrote in the subhead for its story.
Diggins herself spoke with NRK in that story, telling them, “I have worked very hard, and I felt that the preparations went as well as they could. The body felt good and the energy feels good, today I made a mistake by not asking for enough support [kick wax], and it was very challenging,” according to an auto-translation of her remarks.
The article continued, “‘It’s tough when I have to run in [herringbone technique], but I decided that this is my opportunity to work on this, and try to get better at my weak points, so that’s what I did,’ she elaborates,” before Diggins continued on through the mixed zone.
Another Norwegian outlet, VG, appears to have asked similar questions after the race.
“Diggins obviously reacts sourly when VG confronts her about this,” the VG story notes. “‘So sweet that they care about my best interests. That is very kind of them. I’m fine,’ says Diggins.”
U.S. Ski & Snowboard representatives have not yet responded to an emailed request for comment on how Diggins is doing.
More thoughts on snow conditions:
The snow looked sloppy today, although it firmed up after a good salting and most racers were choosing to forgo the tracks for the less stable but apparently faster untracked snow. These conditions seemed to suit the American men and their wax techs perfectly, with the American skis looking fast with comparatively reliable kick. With regard to conditions and skis today, Hunter Wonders commented, “Our techs crushed it today and gave us some sweet skis, kick was outstanding for me. I just tried to start fast and keep the momentum…” along with Patterson, Ogden and Bolger all praising the wax techs in the USA service truck.
“Racing on the ribbon is definitely sad, but the organizers have done an awesome job of preparing the snow and putting together good races.” Said Patterson, “they extensively salted the course today and it seemed to stay firm through both races”
Bolger echoed this sentiment, saying “The weather is unfortunate but it’s something we are all having to adjust to when racing in Central Europe now. But the skiing was bulletproof — really nice conditions for what we have”
Hopefully this trend in skis and positive energy continues in Oberstdorf and beyond, helping propel the American team to more strong results for the rest of the tour.
Tomorrow’s race will be a skate 20km pursuit and with a good helping of Americans in contention, it will not be one to miss. To quote Patterson again, “Today’s race should have me in the mix with lots of others. I think it should be a fun race to ski and watch.”
— Gavin Kentch contributed reporting, including the section on Diggins