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Caldwell Opens Tour de Ski in Second

By Tom Kelly
December, 30 2017

A sea of Swiss flags waved proudly as Laurien Van Der Graaf broke away in the finish to take her first career win over American Sophie Caldwell (Peru, Vt.), who was second in the Tour de Ski opener at Lenzerheide, Switzerland. Jessie Diggins (Afton, Minn.) broke a pole mid-race and finished fifth in the freestyle sprint. It was a strong overall day for the U.S. Ski Team with five U.S. women and three men qualified into the heats. Sergey Ustugov of Russia won for the men.

Diggins qualified second with Caldwell third as four U.S. women cracked the top 15 coming into the heats. Course conditions were soft with freshly fallen snow and temperatures just below freezing.

In the opening quarter-final, Caldwell took the win with Rosie Brennan (Park City, Utah), who qualified 15th, finishing third. Diggins advanced in the second heat with Ida Sargent (Orleans, Vt.) fourth. Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, Wash.), qualifying 13th, was in the mix in the third heat before getting boxed out and losing momentum, finishing third. Bjornsen ended up 14th, Brennan 15th and Sargent 20th.

The finish was Caldwell's best ever in a freestyle sprint. “I really like this sprint course and I was psyched to have some good feelings today,” said Caldwell. “It's a tricky course because it's at altitude, so pacing is important.”

Caldwell’s strategy was to ski smoothly start to finish, saving pop for the finish stretch. In the finals, Caldwell was in the mix from the start. “I got a little tired in the final stretch, but was thrilled with second place,” she said. “Our techs did an incredible job with skis and my tech and I chose a pair that felt like they were climbing really well.”

Diggins showed some truly gutsy performances across the heats - snapping poles in both the quarterfinals and finals due to the fierce pack racing. “I was really proud of how I skied today,” said Diggins. “I raced with guts and never, never, never gave up. My fitness is definitely there and ready for a good tour. It feels good to feel strong, and not tired! Wow!” 

Not far out of the start in the opening heat, another athlete kicked into the tip of Diggins’ pole just as she had planted all her weight on it, so it shattered. Technician Eli Brown came running, throwing a replacement pole like a javelin but couldn’t reach Diggins. What was most impressive was that she stayed in contact with the pack for nearly a hundred meters before Coach Matt Whitcomb reached her with a replacement. Diggins then hammered up through the field to get back into contention.

In the final, Diggins’ was in the heart of the pack rounding a corner when Van Der Graaf contacted her pole and it broke. While she got a replacement quickly, it took her out of the prime racing line and with only 700 meters to go, there wasn’t enough time to catch the pack.

“It wasn’t the fault of my Swix poles at all,” said Diggins. “If a pole gets kicked when under weight, it’s going to shatter to pieces.”

“I worked hard on my sprinting all summer in hopes of being able to be more competitive in Tour events,” said Brennan, whose 15th was a career-best sprint finish. “So I am thrilled to have a strong result to back my summer training. Christmas break is always challenging because it's not all that long and it's a hard balance of rest and training. I managed to stay healthy over the holidays so I think this result lets me know I did a good job with  my training and my fitness is still good.”

Three U.S. men made the heats but were unable to advance to the semi-finals. Simi Hamilton (Aspen, Colo.), a past winner in Lenzerheide, was 15th, Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, Vt.), skiing in his eight Tour de Ski, finished 20th and Erik Bjornsen (Winthrop, Wash.) was 25th.

“This result definitely gives me a boost of confidence going into another race I love in Oberstdorf,” said Caldwell. “It was also really fun to ski some heats with Jessie today. We train with each other all summer and fall, so it's always fun to be racing well together. I'm very impressed with her result, especially since she broke two poles. I have no doubt that today could have been a podium day for her as well.” 

Saturday’s opener was the first of seven stages in nine days for the Tour de Ski. Sunday’s race will move over to classic distance racing. The entire Tour de Ski will be streamed live by the Olympic Channel with broadcast coverage of all women’s races on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA TV.

Men's Freestyle Sprint 
Women's Freestyle Sprint 

All times EST
*schedules subject to change

Dec. 31
4:30 a.m. – Men’s 15k mass start – Olympic Channel TV
9:00 a.m. – Women’s 10k – Olympic Channel TV