World Cup Report: Ruka Recap, Lillehammer Preview
The first race weekend is behind us and with that the US ski team makes history. This weekend marks the first time ever for a US Ski Team (USST) member to wear the yellow World Cup overall leader bib! Ruka is a very tough place to race because of the climbs but also the ever-changing weather conditions. To start the week we had only transformed artificial snow and by the weekend we had 15” of new snow on the course. The temperatures also changed from mid 20s to the low single digits on the last day. It was snowing on and off all weekend, which makes for extremely difficult waxing conditions. Teams are now well on the way to Norway for the Lillehammer World Cup.
- Nov 29 Classic Sprints
- Nov 30 Classic 10K, 15K individual start
- Dec 01 Freestyle 10K, 15K pursuit
What an opening weekend it was for Sadie Bjornsen and the USST in Ruka, Finland. The weekend started with a snowy classic sprint on Friday. The US women qualified four to the quarterfinal heats, leading the pack was Bjornsen who qualified second overall and hot on her heels was Sophie Caldwell in fourth. The qualification was dominated by the Italians however; they qualified Lucia Scardoni in first and Greta Laurent in third. For the qualifications the Italian duo had by far the fastest skis on the course and there results supported this notion.
On the men’s side for qualification it was none other than sprint specialist Johannes Klæbo walking away with the first spot, Norwegian teammate Erik Valnes was second and Italian Federico Pellegrino finished third. The US team failed to qualify a male for the heats as Wisconsin native, Kevin Bolger, just missed out with a 32nd place finish (only 0.4 seconds away from a qualifying spot).
Between the heats and qualifications the course conditions changed drastically. The snow had stopped falling and the tracks turned into a firm glaze and teams were frantically trying to change wax for the quarterfinal races. Some teams adapted well to the change in condition and others, like the Italians, failed to do so. Scardoni and Laurent did not advance past the first quarterfinal as they didn’t have the ski speed as Norway, Sweden, and USA. Besides Bjornsen and Caldwell the USST also qualified Jessie Diggins and Rosie Brennan to the quarterfinals. Diggins and Brennan however had very difficult heats in the quarterfinals and were unable to advance to the semifinals. Caldwell looked strong but just didn’t have enough in the tank for the semifinals and missed out on the final heats. Bjornsen on the other hand was able to hang tough in the semis and qualify for a very interesting final race for the day. The sprint course has a U-turn on one of the uphills and in the final heat Sadie got tangled up with Ane Stenseth of Norway and it looked like Maiken Caspersen Falla of Norway, Jonna Sundling of Sweden, and Stina Nilsson of Sweden would run away with the competition; the small stutter from Bjornsen caused them to fall 10 meters behind the best sprinters in the world. On the final climb Bjornsen was able to overcome the gap and pass Nilsson and would secure a third place finish on the opening day of competition. In the men’s finals it was all about the Klæbo shuffle. Using his unique style, Klæbo ran away on the final uphill to take the victory by almost 5 seconds over Norwegian, Paal Golberg, and Frenchman, Richard Jouve. From start to finish Klæbo appeared he wasn’t going to let anyone take his place on top of the podium as he dominated the rest of the competitors.
Saturday was a day for the distance skiers to show off their talents. The day was stolen by Finnish skier Iivo Niskanen and Norway’s Therese Johaug. Local favorite Niskanen fought off a strong race from Klæbo, who finished 13 seconds behind, and Emil Iversen, of Norway, who finished 15 seconds behind the leader. Iversen is poised to have another strong season and his experience will help him in these tough first races of the season. The US men started all six skiers and were lead by Erik Bjornsen who finished in 28th position. Simi Hamilton had a surprisingly strong distance race and finished 35th only 13 seconds behind Bjornsen. David Norris finished off the top three for the US at 48th place.
On the women’s side it was all Johaug on a hilly distance course and no one stood a chance. From the start of the race she had a pace that was unequaled. Finlander Krista Parmakoski was the closest competitor, 30 seconds behind, with Russian Natalia Nepryeva finishing the podium 44 seconds behind Johaug. The US was led again by an excellent performance from Bjornsen in 4th place, 1.3 seconds off of the podium. This result was good enough to earn her the overall leader of the World Cup points -- the first time in US history! Brennan had an outstanding race and finished in 6th place only 13 seconds from the podium. Rounding out the top three female skiers for the US was Diggins with a 12th place finish.
Freestyle Distance Pursuit
Sunday was a pursuit race based on a formula using the results from the previous two days. Johaug ended up walking away with the women victory by over a minute. The fight was for 2nd through 6th place in this race was the real story with Norway’s Heidi Weng and Astrid Jacobsen, Bjornsen, Parmakoski, and near the end Diggins, all having a shot at the podium. It was a back and forth race for much of the 9km but in the last lap and on the final uphill it was all team Norway where Weng and Jacobsen were able to sprint away from Bjornsen and hold off a late charging Diggins. Bjornsen would end the day 4th overall and Diggins would earn 5th, moving up 7 spots after starting the day 12th; Diggins skied the third fastest time of the day and closed a huge gap on the podium finishers but fell just short at the end. Rosie Brennan continues to surprise, as she finished 10th overall on the weekend and looks to build off of the success for this coming weekend.
The men’s race was a tighter battle for the podium positions. Klæbo was the first to start and he was able to stay away from competitors for about half of the race. Once he realized he was going to be caught by Niskanen and Iversen he decided to jump on the back of their train. He was content sitting behind them until the sprint to the finish. In the end Klæbo was too strong for the competition and out sprinted the other two for the second win of the weekend. Iversen made it interesting all the way to the line and Niskanen didn’t have enough in the legs to compete with the sprint speed of the Norwegians. Erik Bjornsen lead the US men for the second straight day and finished the pursuit race in 25th position overall, moving up three spots from 28th. Norris was the next American to finish as he moved up two spots to 47th on the weekend Minneapolis native Kyle Bratrud ended up moving up 11 spots to 59th position. Hamilton was a scratch for the day because of illness.
- Dec 7 15km/30km Skiathlon @ 4:00AM CST for the women and 5:30AM CST for the men
- Dec 8 4x5km/4x7.5km Team Relay @ 3:15AM CST for the women and 4:45AM CST for the men
- Race website - Facebook
- Live results
- Live coverage - NBC Sports Gold Snowpass
Lillehammer, like Ruka, is a very difficult course. These are two of the hardest courses in the world and will favor the climbers. We will have our first glimpse of the men and women’s relay races. The women are eyeing a podium spot which is something they have been so close to getting but it has been just out of the grasp. Norway will be the favorite to win with Sweden, Russia, and possibly Finland putting up a good fight. On the Men’s side Norway will be the outright favorite but Russia and Sweden could put some pressure on them in the final legs. We will look for both Sadie Bjornsen and Jessie Diggins to fight for the World Cup overall points and Erik Bjornsen to build on his strong start to the season. Another thing to look for is resurgence from team Sweden. After a strong sprint day they were a non-factor on Saturday and Sunday. They had areally strong start to the season last year, so more was expected out of this young core of athletes; in the coming weeks we expect to see them to put up a much larger fight.
About the author... Chris Hecker is a Rex Wax representative and wax technician working on the World Cup this season for both cross-country and biathlon events. Hecker hails from Ham Lake, Minnesota, racing for Anoka high school and St. Scholastica College. Hecker will be providing regular updates on the World Cup racing scene this season.
Chris can be reached at:
About the author...
Chris Hecker is a Rex Wax representative and wax technician working on the World Cup this season for both cross-country and biathlon events. Hecker hails from Ham Lake, Minnesota, racing for Anoka high school and St. Scholastica College. Hecker will be providing regular updates on the World Cup racing scene this season. Chris can be reached at: