Two Stages, Two Podiums - Bjornsen Follows Caldwell in Tour
Two stages, two podiums. The U.S. Ski Team women continued their strong performances Sunday as Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, Wash.) notched a career first Tour de Ski podium in the women's 10k classic in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. Norway's Ingvild Flugstad Østberg took a convincing win over 2017 Tour de Ski champion Heidi Weng. Russia's Sergey Ustigov won his second straight for the men.
The USA had five women and one man in the points. Jessie Diggins (Afton, Minn.) was strong for the second straight day in seventh. Sophie Caldwell (Peru, Vt.), on the podium in Saturday's opening freestyle sprint, was 21st, Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, Vt.) was 28th and Ida Sargent (Orleans, Vt.) was 30th. Erik Bjornsen (Winthrop, Wash.) was in the points for a second straight day in 27th in the men's 15k classic.
The Americans now have three women in the top seven in the Tour de Ski standings - a first in Tour history. Diggins held onto fourth, Bjornsen moved up to fifth and Caldwell stands seventh.
“Wow, what a dream day,” said Bjornsen. “That was one of my crazier experiences in ski racing.”
It was a tricky day of waxing with icy conditions and tough to kick with any wax combo.
“I decided before the race I was just going to get scrappy and make it work and never give up,” she added. “I had an awesome talk with my wax tech, JP, right before the start of the race, where he told me the most important thing that day was to trust what I do well, and never give up.”
Bjornsen had been running strong throughout the race, but didn’t get a full perspective until 7.5k when coach Matt Whitcomb screamed out to her that she was running second and had a chance to win.
“Suddenly, I had a fire lit under my butt, and I just gave every last bit for the last 2.5k,” said Bjornsen. “It was kinda fun not knowing what was happening, because it felt like a true surprise! A distance classic podium has been a dream of mine since I first started racing World Cup, so that was so fun to achieve that dream goal of mine today. Massive thanks to the team for great skis and congrats to our entire team for a collection of awesome races!”
Diggins echoed Bjornsen on the challenges of the classic track. “Today was such a weird and tricky day with the snow being totally different in different sections of the track,” said Diggins. “But I had no doubt that Sadie would crush it - she’s such a classic skiing machine and I couldn’t be prouder of her! She’s on fire!”
For the second straight day, Diggins had to dig deep into her gut to pull out a strong performance. “I was really proud of how I held it together out there,” she said. “This is not my kind of condition and it was really hard to find kick out there - I felt like I was running, herringboning and bounding up the hills! But just a few years ago a day like today would have wrecked my overall tour time and now I’m able to hold my technique together and keep it flexible as conditions change, so I’m really happy about that!”
In the men's 15k, Erik Bjornsen continued his strong season. "I’m satisfied with the start to the tour," he said. "I was hoping for a little better result in today’s 15k classic, but I can’t be too disappointed with a top 30 finish. I just couldn’t find my rhythm in those tricky conditions today. Glad the big sis could though, that was one exciting finish! Tomorrow should be another great opportunity, I’ll be starting around some big names!"
Action wraps up in Lenzerheide, the first of three stops in the seven-stage Tour, on New Years Day with a men's 15k freestyle pursuit and a women's 10k pursuit. The start of the pursuit will be seeded by results from Sunday's classic races, putting both Bjornsen and Diggins into great position to solidify their Tour standings.
"I'm looking forward to tomorrow's skate pursuit," said Diggins. "I’m starting in a little bit of no-mans land but I love the chase and I’ll just put my head down and hammer!"
The Tour de Ski is being live streamed and broadcast daily on the Olympic Channel. The women's 10k pursuit will air on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA TV beginning at 5:00 a.m. EST Monday. The men's 15k classic will stream live at 7:00 a.m. EST.