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Diggins Challenging for Tour Podium

By Tom Kelly
January, 6 2018
tds 1-6-18
Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg of Norway leads as Jessica Diggins, Heidi Weng of Norway, Teresa Stadlober of Austria, and Kerttu Niskanen of Finland follow during the FIS Nordic World Cup 10k classic in Val di Fiemme, Italy Saturday. (Getty Images/Agence Zoom - Laurent Salino)

Americans Jessie Diggins (Afton, Minn.) and Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, Wash.) continued a strong U.S. Ski Team performance on the Tour de Ski Saturday, setting themselves up for landmark finishes in the prestigious stage race that ends on Sunday. A stage six assault by defending Tour de Ski champion Heidi Weng of Norway also narrowed the gap on tour leader Ingvild Flugstad Østberg who kept the leader’s bib but saw her nearly one minute lead disintegrate to just 1.8 seconds in the 10k classic mass start, setting up a thrilling finale for Sunday’s climb up Alpe Cermis. 

Diggins finished fourth and now stands fourth in the Tour de Ski after six of seven stages, 10 seconds behind Finland’s Krista Parmakoski, who finished second. Bjornsen was 10th and stands eighth. She is 46 seconds ahead of Austrian Theresa Stadlober, who was third.

She went out strong, holding her own against the powerful Norwegian duo of Weng and Østberg, even holding the lead for a time in the first few kilometers. She remained strong in a five-skier lead pack before Weng made a move around 7k. The remaining chase pack of four began to splinter around 8k with Finland’s Krista Parmakoski and Austria’s Theresa Stadlober moving up. Diggins passed Østberg and held on to finish fourth.

“I was really happy with my race today,” said Diggins. “It was so much fun to be in the lead pack for so long in a classic race and to be feeling this good after so much racing in the tour.”

The U.S. Ski Team wax truck once again produced fast skis for Diggins and the team. “I have to give props to our techs for working so hard throughout this entire tour and getting up to the venue hours ahead of the race over and over again to help us out.” 

Diggins’ strategy was to stay near the front of the mass start and out of trouble, especially after breaking two poles in the Lenzerheide sprint a week earlier. ”I faded slightly in that last lap and could’t go with Krista and Teresa but it was so fun to see exactly where the podium was since it’s mass start - seeing where I can improve a little bit for the next time. Always learning and taking notes.”

Bjornsen had a good race but still one that left her wanting for a bit more. “After falling in the last race, I was determined to make up some time that I had lost in my overall tour position. I have been feeling really great on my classic skis and felt like I had some power left in my legs this morning. So my goal was to just go with the leaders as long as possible.”

Unfortunately Bjornsen had a few tactical errors at the start that left her far back in the pack on the first lap.

“Once I was finally finding position again, I got trampled over and fell,” she said. “Once again, I fought my way back to the front after getting stuck behind some traffic, but just burned a few too many jets getting yo-yo'd around today.”

Still poised for her best Tour de Ski finish, Bjornsen has learned a lot about the mental side of the stage race. “When things go great, you can convince yourself you are invincible. When you get rattled a bit, it takes an extra amount of mental power to fight back to where you want. I think that is what got me today.“

If Diggins and Bjornsen remain in the top 10, it will be the first time in history two Americans have finished that high. The American benchmark in the Tour de Ski is fifth, which was achieved by Diggins a year ago and Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, Vt.) in 2015.

“I’m really happy with my overall tour placing,” said Diggins. “To be starting 10 seconds behind Krista is awesome and I’ve been racing better than any other year, for sure. It’s fun to feel strong in sprint and distance, classic and skate. My goal for years has been to become a true all-rounder. It’s fun to finally be getting there!”
Diggins knows going into the Alpe Cermis hill climb finale that she’s not a natural-born climber. “But I know how to be a fighter and I know to suffer,” she said. “I’m going to go give that climb everything I’ve got left.”

“Considering the swings of this Tour de Ski, I am thrilled to be fighting for top 10,” said Bjornsen. “I have never done that in a Tour event, so it is a good goal for me when I am pushing myself up that mountain tomorrow with every last bit of energy I have tomorrow.”

Diggins now stands fifth in the overall World Cup standings with Bjornsen eighth.

In the men's field, Paddy Caldwell (Peru, Vt.) was 48th - the lone American man still in the Tour. Erik Bjornsen (Winthrop, Wash.) and Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, Vt.) withdrew.

The Tour de Ski is set up for a dramatic finale with the 9k freestyle pursuit up the face of Alpe Cermis. Live coverage of the women’s final stage will be live streamed beginning at 5:30 a.m. EST with broadcast coverage at 7:30 a.m. on NBCSN. The men’s stage will stream live at 8:30 a.m. EST and broadcast on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA TV at 1:00 p.m. EST.

Men’s 15k Classic Mass Start
Women’s 10k Classic Mass Start

Men’s Tour de Ski Standings (after 6 of 7 stages)
Women’s Tour de Ski Standings (after 6 of 7 stages)