World Cup Update: Falun
Skinnyski: A long three day weekend event in Falun, Sweden. And things start off with a huge exclamation point by Jessie Diggins! What can you tell us about the freestyle race on Friday?
Jeremy: Friday could have been one of the highlight races of the season for the US team. Pretty much across the board the men’s and women’s team had fantastic results. When Johaug has been present in a distance race over the past few years, she has been overwhelmingly dominant, winning nearly every freestyle race she enters. The last time that Johaug did not win a Freestyle Distance World Cup was during the Ski Tour Canada in March of 2016! Jessie taking down the queen of distance skiing was an unprecedented day for her. In addition to the stellar performance from Diggins, Rosie Brennan continued her stellar season finishing 8th on the day and in her debut race for the 2020/2021 World Cup season Sadie Maubet Bjornsen finished in 10th.
In addition to the women’s great days, the men’s team also had some great performances. Schumacher powered his one to one position off his season best in 9th place. The difference between this 9th place finish and his 8th place finish at Val di Fiemme is the presence of the entire squad of Norwegian skiers. There were five Norwegian men ahead of him on Friday that did not race in Italy just a few weeks ago. The other standout performance from the men’s squad was Scott Patterson. Patterson finished in 15th position which is a season best for him. Like Gus, this result is much stronger in comparison to his previous season best in Davos where the Norwegian, Finnish, and Swedish squads were absent.
Skinnyski: Saturday featured mass start classic races. Diggins was again in the mix, and while not in the podium pack at the finish, had a very strong race. How'd the team do on Saturday?
Jeremy: This was a very cold race that was difficult to make gaps in both the men’s and women’s races. In the women’s event, Johaug and Weng tried to push the pace early but no gaps were made until over halfway through the event. Even into the last kilometer there were still nearly 10 women that had a shot for the podium. Diggins lost contact with the podium pack over the last part of the race and ended her day in 7th place.
It was a similar, if not more crowded race for the men’s field. Through nearly the entirety of the race, there was a wave of red at the front of the field. Norway and Russia dominated nearly the entire event controlling the pace at the front and making it difficult for any other teams to move to the front of the pack. This showed in the results as well with only 2 non-Norwegian or Russians cracked the top 10. The field came through the finish line in a blur. A great example is to look at the fantastic day by newcomer to the World Cup scene this year Hunter Wonders. He finished only 32.4 seconds behind Bolshunov which would normally translate to a great finish on the results board and hopefully a few World Cup points. Wonders ended up outside of the points finishing in 36th place! Schumacher is another example of how tight this race was finishing in 28th, but only 18.4 seconds back from the winner.
Skinnyski: Sprints wrapped up the weekend on Sunday. Diggins' quarterfinal was particularly impressive. And how about JC Schoonmaker?
Jeremy: Sprint racing with a full field is always exciting to watch. Diggins had a decent qualifier, but her performance in the quarterfinal was nearly textbook. She was able to hang on to the back of the group and use momentum coming wide out of the final corner to set her up for an amazing finish to move on to the semi’s. Unfortunately in the semis the tactic did not work out as Linn Svahn and Tiril Udnes Weng were able to make a small gap up the second climb in the course. Brennan and Caldwell Hamilton also qualified for the heats, but did not move out of the quarterfinals.
In the men’s event, only one American qualified for the heats. JC Schoonmaker had a fantastic qualifier finishing 11th only a few seconds behind winner Erik Valnes. Schoonmaker was not able to move on to the semi finals after being outmaneuvered on the second and final climb in the course after being towards the front of the ground in the first half of the heat. The heartbreaker for the US men’s squad was the consecutive finishes by Kevin Bolger, Luke Jager, and Logan Hanneman in 31st, 32nd, and 33rd positions just missing out on qualifying for the heats.
Skinnyski: The weather appeared quite cold for the first two races? How cold was it? And how did waxing go, it seemed like the US had good skis?
Jeremy: It was a cold event in Falun over the weekend. Single digit temperatures made for hard and fast conditions where it was difficult to get any advantages with the skis. This is shown with the tight finish times on both Friday and Saturdays events. While wax is still a very important part of the races, it becomes less impactful on the top of the results board. Conditions warmed up a little for Sundays classic sprint and the tracks began to break down as the day went on. This will make it slightly more difficult to find solid grip and the athletes would have had to make a decision to add more grip at the cost of potentially slowing skis down. It is in these types of conditions that the feedback and adjustments that the athletes and wax techs make between the qualifiers, heats, and finals make a difference.
Skinnyski: Sadie Maubet Bjornsen was back in action, how'd she fair for the weekend?
Jeremy: It was a great season World Cup debut for Maubet Bjornsen this weekend. After taking the first couple months of the season off to focus on her physical and mental fitness, she was able to dust off the cobwebs. One interesting piece for her weekend was because she took the first part of the season off, she had different start positions than she is used to. She had to start towards the front half of the field for the individual skate race which would affect the splits that she received. In the classic race she wore bib 24 which put her further back in the field than she is used to. Maubet Bjornsen probably burned a couple matches during the event to try to move her way up the field. With this first set of races in the book for her, I believe that her results will continue to improve as she races herself into World Cup shape!
Skinnyski: What's on tap for next weekend? And any word on preparations for the World Championships - will some athletes begin a break from the World Cup circuit?
Jeremy: The World Cup will be moving south to Ulricehamn in Sweden. This will be a double sprint weekend with a skate sprint and team sprint. Because it is a double sprint weekend, there will be new faces that come as sprint specialists and a few notable absences that will be taking a small break before the World Champs.
- February 6th - Freestyle Sprint - 4:00 am CST
- February 7th - Team Sprint - 5:45 am CST
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.