World Cup Update: Tour de Ski Stages 6-8 Recap

by Jeremy Hecker
January 12, 2021

Skinnyski: What an exciting conclusion for the Tour de Ski, especially for the US women. Friday was a mass start classic race, a little rougher for Rosie Brennan and Jessie Diggins was in the front right up to the final lap. What was your take?

Jeremy: Going into Friday’s race, I knew that this is where the Tour was going to be made or broken for Brennan and Diggins. Out of the three remaining races, the classic mass start was by far the weakest event for the two Americans. The strategy for Diggins and Brennan would have been not necessarily to try to win the race, but to mark the dangerous individuals like Stupak and Karlsson. Diggins did well with this, letting a group go off the front to make sure that any moves made by the Russian and Swede were covered. Unfortunately, Brennan was involved in a tangle early in the race that sent her to the back of the field. It looked like Brennan lit a couple too many matches to get back to the front of the field and that took a lot of gas out of her legs. In a normal race, she probably would have been able to recover from an effort like that. But with this being the 6th race in eight days, it sent her over the edge and she ended up bleeding a lot of time to the field.

At the end of the day, Jessie was able to solidify her position on the top of the leaderboard for the TDS, while Rosie fell to seventh overall, 2:11 behind Jessie.

Skinnyski: Saturday featured classic sprints, and the US squad didn't qualify anyone for the finals for the first time maybe this season?

Jeremy: It was an interesting day to watch on Saturday. It was the first time this season that an American was kept out of the women's finals which seems like a bit of a let down. But looking closer at the results, this was still a great day for the team! Sprinting on the World Cup level is a different animal compared to even the national level here in the US. There is less of a spread in talent level across the top 30 qualifiers on the World Cup compared to the top 30 qualifiers at a Super Tour event here in the US. Because of this, tactics and split second decisions made during the heats and semifinals will make a large impact on the results at the World Cup level and a fast qualifier might get bumped out, or a slow qualifier might move on. The US women had Diggins (8th), Kern (10th), Swirbul (13th), and Brennan (17th) all qualify for the heats with equal chances to move up. Kern and Swirbul were both narrowly knocked out of their heats, ending their day prematurely. Diggins and Brennan were both able to move past the heats, but couldn’t find that extra little bit of power down the finishing stretch to move on to the finals. Both should have been happy with their results on the day as once again, Jessie was able to hold her position in the overall standings, and this was the first semi final in a classic sprint for Rosie.

Skinnyski: Sunday was the big day - the epic hill climb finish. Jessie Diggins was on fire, defending her title against Sweden's Ebba Anderson to claim her first Tour de Ski title! She's battled for that title a number of times, so it was great to see her finally achieve that goal. She looked strong on the final climb, what's your thoughts?

Jeremy: Pretty much since the first few days of the Tour when Jessie and Rosie were on top of the leaderboards in the 1st and 2nd positions I think that everyone, including myself, was anticipating the final climb. This is such a unique event being a point to point race that finishes with a 1200ft climb that has portions over a 40% grade. Even with nearly a minute lead to her nearest competitor, there was still a risk of the wheels coming off on the final climb. In the early portions of the race that traveled along the valley, there were two bonus sprints for World Cup points that pushed some of the sprinters towards the front of the field. After the second sprint was where the real race began. Ebba Andersson continued to push after the 6.6 km sprint and tried to see if anyone would be able to respond. Diggins was the only competitor that was able to even remotely challenge the pace of Andersson. While she was never able to bridge the gap, she kept the distance to within 10 seconds for the entire climb, only finishing 9 seconds back of the leader.

This was a historic day for Diggins and the US ski team. It marked the first time in the events 15 year history that a non-European (male or female) was able to reach the top step of the podium at the end of the Tour. In addition to winning the overall tour, she was also able to push her way past Brennan in the overall World Cup standings where Jessie and Rosie now sit 1st and 3rd overall.

Skinnyski: Gus Schumacher really launched his pro career with this Tour, getting better almost every day! He had some incredible races, including Friday when he stuck with the classic leaders and finished 8th! Just how big is this for the US men's squad?

Jeremy: Not enough can be said about the performance from Schumacher over the past 10 days. Unlike how many athletes in the Tour progress, Gus was able to get stronger as the Tour went on. These were his daily finishes through the Tour in order: 31st, 36th, 32nd, 14th, 15th, 8th, 24th, 19th. He was able to climb to 18th overall for the entire Tour which only had five athletes under the age of 23 (Gus is 20) out of the 84 person field. This was the best ever finish for an American male at the Tour de Ski. Gus was able to show that he is able to compete with the best skiers in the world and the future is definitely shining bright for the young star.

Skinnyski: It was fantastic to see so much snow at Val di Fiemme, Italy for those final stages. It seems like in recent years the skiers have been on a ribbon of snow through a brown countryside. What can you share on the conditions for those final stages; how did the waxing go? Sweden seemed to have some screaming fast skis!

Jeremy: The conditions were really easy and relaxing to wax for. It was cold, fresh snow with very consistent tracks each day. The tricky part is having fast skis while still having enough kick because these courses are some of the hardest, if not the hardest, on the tour. The US team had 8 days of very competitive skis and that's the key to success on winning any long tour. If you have one off day on the skis you can drop from 1st to 8th in the blink of an eye. The Swedish team saw this happen in Val Müstair when some of the team had a little too slick of skis and weren't able to hang onto the group. Overall the US Techs gave the athletes the chances they needed to go out and win and they were definitely able to capitalize on that.

Skinnyski: Jessie Diggins takes over the World Cup lead with Rosie Brennan in third. What kind of recovery will they go through now after such a brutal series?

Jeremy: There will definitely be some time for the entire US squad to decompress from this long event. The team will be spending time in Italy for a training camp/recovery session before traveling back north to Finland for the next period of racing. While they will be able to get some much deserved rest, they will still remain active during the recovery period. Everyone on the team is in really good shape right now and taking even a couple of days off for full rest can take some of the edge out of the body. They will need to do some short skis with some light pick-ups to make sure the muscles stay fresh while trying to fully recover from the tour. The next major target that the team will set their eyes on will be the World Championships which are now 6 weeks away at Obersdorf, Germany.

Skinnyski: What's up next for the US squad? Will Sadie be joining the team for Period 3?

Jeremy: The next set of races for the team will be in Lahti, Finland on the 23rd and 24th of January. I have heard that Sadie plans to join the US team again during period three, but may not be starting the first weekend in Lahti. There will be a skiathlon and the first team relay of the season.

  • January 23rd - 15/30km Skiathlon
  • January 24th - 4x5/7.5km Team Relay

About the author...

Jeremy Hecker is the current racing service manager at Pioneer Midwest and Rex Ski Wax technical representative for the US. He has been skiing for his entire lifetime, racing competitively in college for St. Scholastica. Since graduating in 2013 he has coached for numerous teams including Endurance United, Stratton Mountain School, and the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. In addition to his coaching experience, Jeremy has a Masters degree in the Biology of Physical Activity which he obtained from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland.

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