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Schumacher 8th; Diggins Holds Tour de Ski Overall Lead

By Tom Horrocks
January, 8 2021

Gus Schumacher led the Davis U.S. Cross Country Ski Team with a career-best eighth place in Friday’s stage 6 of the 15th Tour de Ski, a 15k classic mass start in Val di Fiemme, Italy. In the women’s race, Jessie Diggins maintained her overall Tour lead with a ninth-place finish in the 10k classic.

Coming into the latter stages of a tour, racers usually have two different mindsets. The first is to protect their lead or place in the overall standings without going too deep into the red zone. The second, to move up in the overall standings or simply go for individual stage glory. These situations create a race within the race, and this is exactly why organizers offer multiple leader bibs, such as points, and the Audi e-Tron Bonus Trophy, in addition to the yellow race leader’s bib.

Most racers also gain a bump in fitness as a stage race wears on. However, that area between going fast or going too hard into the red zone and blowing up becomes increasingly smaller. Fatigue from efforts in previous stages can also sneak up. Thus, it is very important for an athlete to “listen to their body” down the stretch.

All these different mindsets and scenarios played out for U.S. athletes Friday. For Jessie Diggins, she kept the pace high for the first two laps of the race, then settled in to protected her overall race lead, finishing ninth. Diggins holds a 55-second advantage over Russia’s Yulia Stupak in the overall standings, with Sweden’s Frida Karlsson in third overall at 1:42 back. With her victory Friday, Andersson moved up to fourth overall at 1:45 back. Katharine Ogden put in another top-20 finish, crossing the line in 19th, to move up to 22nd in the overall standings. 

“Today was a big day for me in terms of mental toughness - my body was numb from the waist down for the entire last lap but I just kept digging deep because I knew every second counted and I had a job to do,” Diggins said. “I managed to hold on to the leader bib and with a classic sprint and the hill climb coming up, I’m really excited for both these stages and focused on getting all the little details of recovery right! I was proud of the grit I had out there today but way more proud of the amazing Salomon skis our techs made me! Wow, that was key in today’s race.”

For Rosie Brennan, bad luck and fatigue snuck up on her in Friday’s race as she finished 31st, more than two minutes behind race winner Natalia Nepryaeva of Russia, and she fell to seventh in the overall standings. Germany’s Katrina Hennig was second, and Sweden’s Ebba Andersson finished third. 

"I was ready for a tough battle and had the confidence to do well today," said Brennan, who got tripped up on the second climb and skied over by a number of racers before she could get up. "Because it was so early, we were all still in a big pack and I worked really hard to try to pass people and get back to the front. I think I wasted a lot of energy doing that when my body didn't have much extra left in the tank. I truly fought with all I had and I am very disappointed that I couldn't do more out there. Tour racing always brings big up and big downs so I will do my best to pick up the pieces and continue to fight hard the next two days."

In Schumacher’s case, his fitness continues to improve as the races grind on. The 2020 Junior World Champion has adapted well to the faster World Cup pace and continues to climb up the overall Tour de Ski standings, moving up to 18th overall with two stages remaining. 

“The strategy today was to relax as much as possible in the pack and make sure I was skiing well technically to conserve as much energy as possible,” Schumacher said after dropping back on the first couple of laps while the leaders gassed the pace while going for bonus sprint points. Schumacher then started making his way through the pack and eventually found himself in fifth with 2.5k to go. Down the stretch, he lost a few places but glided across the line just 11 seconds back of race winner Alexander Bolshunov of Russia. Maurice Manificat of France was second, followed by Ivan Yakimushkin of Russi in third.

Racing his first full season on the World Cup Tour, Schumacher has received a ton of advice from the coaching staff and other athletes. But most importantly, the team atmosphere has provided a huge advantage for not only Schumacher but the entire team. 

“With 2 races to go, I’m feeling physically medium to good, but very excited with the end in sight,” he said. “And I’ve received good pieces of advice from a lot of people on the team. I love hearing everyone’s perspective on each course and race, coaches too. It’s been a really fun team atmosphere and I’m excited to finish this thing off!”

Saturday’s penultimate stage features a classic sprint for both men and women. Sunday’s final stage is a freestyle mass start hill climb up the alpine slopes Val Di Fiemme that averages 12% gradient, with stretches up to 30%, over the last 3.5k. 

Heading into Saturday’s classic sprint, the Davis U.S. Cross Country Team has four women in the top 25 overall, with Diggins holding the yellow leader’s bib. Brennan in seventh, Hailey Swirbul 19th, and Ogden in 22nd. Caitlin Patterson was 29th Friday and sits 35th overall. Julia Kern was 42nd Friday and sits 39th overall. For the men, Schumacher sits 18th overall, Scott Patterson is 37th, and Kevin Bolger is 49th. 

Stage 6
Women’s 10k classic mass start
Men’s 15k classic mass start

Women’s Tour de Ski overall (through stage 6)
Men’s Tour de Ski overall (through stage 6)
Women’s World Cup overall
Men’s World Cup overall

Saturday, Jan. 9, Val di Fiemme, ITA
Men and women’s classic sprint

Sunday, Jan. 10, Val di Fiemme, ITA
Women’s 10k freestyle mass start hill climb
Men’s 10k freestyle mass start hill climb

Saturday, Jan. 9
7:00 a.m. FIS World Cup Cross Country Tour de Ski Men and Women’s Classic Sprint - LIVE, Val di Fiemme, ITA, Streaming Peacock

Sunday, Jan. 10
6:45 a.m. FIS World Cup Cross Country Tour de Ski Women's 10k Mass Start - LIVE, Val di Fiemme, ITA, Streaming Peacock
9:30 a.m. FIS World Cup Cross Country Tour de Ski Men's 10k Mass Start - LIVE, Val di Fiemme, ITA, Streaming Peacock