By Morgan Hartley and Conner Truskowski
Moving to the women’s race, which started at 4:30 a.m. Alaska time… cheers to former UAA coach Andrew Kastning (he coached an obscure athlete named JC Schoonmaker, among others), another Alaskan ski coach, for inverting his sleep schedule to bring live English commentary to cross-country skiing!
Frida Karlsson would take a strong pace out of the start, looking like she wanted no part of the pack skiing of the men’s race. Two chase groups followed, a small one containing Krista Pärmäkoski, Tiril Udnes Weng, and Anne Kjersti Kalvå, and the other containing Kerttu Niskanen, with Rosie Brennan just off the back in 12th behind Heidi Weng.
Jessie Diggins would lead the largest group of the race, also containing Julia Kern, moving up to 17th at about 6k.
Despite Karlsson’s best efforts, the first chasers would steadily gain on her until catching her at about 7km in. On the next downhill after she was caught, it became clear that the Swedish skis were struggling after Pärmäkoski and the two Norwegians glided right by her on the flat. Meanwhile, Brennan moved up to sixth overall, third in her group, looking strong after her effort to catch up to that chase pack.
Diggins and Kern would continue to control their group, looking to close the gap to the chase group containing Brennan. Despite her slower skis, Karlsson would continue to make up ground on the climbs. Moving from third or last in the lead group to taking second behind Pärmäkoski who continued to set a relentless pace at the front. Kalvå would drop out from the lead group at 11km, seeming to solidify the podium for the day out in front.
Diggins would make her way up to 13th by the same marker, putting the second chase group into sight with Kern sitting in 17th.
Pärmäkoski and Karlsson would open up a massive gap to Tiril Weng as they came around to finish lap four, with Pärmäkoski leading the charge. They would continue to swap positions with Karlsson taking the lead on longer climbs and Pärmäkoski taking the lead on the downhills and flats; the speed of Pärmäkoski’s skis forced Karlsson to take the lead on the climbs in order to stay in contact on the downhills.
Diggins would continue her charge, catching Brennan at about 14km and not stopping to rest at the back of the group, quickly moving to sixth at 14.5km.
Diggins and Brennan would then take the lead of their group at the end of lap 5, quickly closing in on Kalvå. However, a final-lap surge from Kalvå would bring her back into contact with T.U Weng, bringing her back into podium contention. Karlsson would put on an attack at the base of the biggest climb on the course, opening up a sizable gap to Pärmäkoski by 18.6k. This would prove to be more than enough with Karlsson taking the win over Pärmäkoski by 14 seconds.
Tiril Weng would beat out Kalvå for the last podium spot. Diggins would come home in a very impressive eighth place, with Brennan in 13th. Kern would be the next American to finish in 17th, with Sophia Laukli and Alayna Sonnesyn finishing 30th and 31st.
Diggins easily claimed the fastest time of day with an incredibly well-skied race, a return to the form we’re used to seeing from her and hopefully quelling any speculation of her performance during the Tour (Diggins speaks to this in her audio comments, embedded below).
Count it: That’s 5 American women in the top ten time of day.
In deference to the late hour for this editor, please accept mostly audio files with athlete and coach comments in lieu of transcribed remarks. Thank you for your patience. (Introductory comments and questions are from USSS press officer Tom Horrocks, on site in Europe with the team.)
Rosie Brennan, via email:
“I didn’t have the legs I hoped for today but was able to stay strong and remain in the pack I started with so while it wasn’t a stellar finishing place, it kept me steady in the tour and sometimes that’s the best you can do. It was a strong day for the team and some strong bounce backs from a tough day yesterday. I’m looking forward to a day of rest and hopefully finding some strength to finish this off with a bang.”
Jessie Diggins audio:
Diggins begins by addressing the “what happened to Jessie” question asked implicitly or explicitly through much of the ski world over the past few days:
“I knew my body was fine the whole time… but no one else knew it. Except for our team. So I think honestly I had to just keep believing, and trusting the plan, and really trusting people close to me who were looking out for me. I finally had great skis. … It’s no secret within the team that we’ve been struggling with that, and it was kind of just a perfect storm the first three stages of not having kick and glide in conditions where that really causes me to bleed time. … It is honestly a relief to know that my body is fine.”
Listen to the full audio, above, for much more.
Julia Kern audio (“I had to throw up in the middle of the race, and that slowed me down for a bit.”):
Alayna Sonnesyn audio:
Matt Whitcomb audio: