World Cup Report: Dresden Recap, Tour de Ski Preview

by Erika Peterson
December 21, 2021

The last race of Period 1 took place this past weekend in Dresden, Germany with two sprint races on a tight, technical course. Rainy weather and limited snow posed challenges for athletes, with many utilizing ski ergs or stationary bikes for warming up and cooling down. Highlights of American racing in Dresden included a career-best freestyle sprint from Hannah Halvorsen and a second place team sprint from Jessie Diggins and Julia Kern.

Jessie Diggins rounds the final corner before the exchange zone in Sunday’s team sprint finals. (Credit: Tumashov/Nordic Focus)

Dresden

  • December 18 Freestyle Sprints
  • December 19 Freestyle Team Sprints

Freestyle Sprints

With air temperatures at 42.4º F, icy snow conditions, and a drizzle in the air, Saturday’s sprints were warm and fast—many athletes opted to use white base skis. Cornering and tactics were especially important on such a flat and technical course, with many of the stronger sprinters opting to stay at the front to avoid chaos in the back. The women’s qualifier saw some new faces at the top with Jonna Sundling of Sweden posting the fastest time and young French skier Lena Quintin in second. This was Sundling’s first World Cup of the season after a thumb injury in November left her unable to race. Hailey Swirbul was the first of four American women to qualify, taking seventh. Sundling and Swedish teammate Maja Dahlqvist both performed well in their heats, staying near the front to avoid crashes. Americans Halvorsen and Diggins were able to advance to the semifinals as well; Halvorsen took second in her heat by a boot throw and Diggins claimed a lucky loser spot. The Swedes continued to dominate in Semifinal 1 with Dahlqvist in first and Sundling in second. Slovenian Anamarija Lampic and Norwegian Skistad also advanced from this round as lucky losers. In the second semifinal, Mathilde Myhrvold of Norway and Eva Urevc of Slovenia took the top two places, knocking Halvorsen and Diggins from the final. Halvorsen’s finish was strong enough to land her the top American place of the day in seventh with Diggins just behind in eighth. Quintin was also eliminated, unable to close the gap to the front after breaking a pole.

The final round was dominated by the Swedes—Dahlqvist and Sundling traded the lead back and forth to the line, staying out of trouble at the front. In the end, Sundling’s kick wasn’t strong enough to beat her teammate, and Dahlqvist collected her fourth sprint victory of the season. Sundling came in second with Lampic rounding out the podium in third.

With Norway’s dominant sprinters Johannes Høsflot Klæbo and Erik Valnes absent from the races this weekend, the men’s race was left with a wide open opportunity for the win. Fellow Norwegian Haavard Solaas Taugboel posted the fastest qualifying time, with Americans JC Schoonmaker and Logan Hanneman qualifying in third and 30th, respectively. 2021 Overall World Cup winner Alexander Bolshunov was just outside a qualifying spot in 31st. Taugboel led the first heat to the fastest time of the five quarterfinals, with JC Schoonmaker advancing as a lucky loser from the same heat. 2020 Dresden sprint champion Federico Pellegrino of Italy also won his heat with Lucas Chanavat of France and Alexander Terentev of Russia delivering strong performances as well. Not everyone had such smooth races, however: Canadian Graham Ritchie finished on one ski after breaking the other, and several others fell in crowded and slippery corners. In the first semifinal, it was Chanavat who went to the front, but after his teammate Richard Jouve and Pellegrino came around to take the top two spots he ended up in a lucky loser position. The second semifinal produced the very unusual case of a three-way tie for first, with Russian Gleb Retivykh and Norwegians Sindre Bjornsted Skar and Even Northug all finishing within 0.01 seconds. Although their times were slower than the sitting lucky losers from the previous heat, because the places were indistinguishable, all three from semifinal two advanced and the second lucky loser was eliminated.

In the final round, Chanavat led the field out again, but didn’t have the speed to hold it to the end. Taugboel and Pellegrino came around him just before the final stretch, neck and neck with each other to the line. Pellegrino initially looked like he might take the win, but after clipping his ski on the lane markers twice, his balance faltered and he came in second. Taugboel’s finesse in the final meters led him to his first ever victory on the World Cup circuit. Chanavat held on to third to take the last podium spot.

Freestyle Team Sprints

Sunday’s team sprints were all about tactics and staying upright to navigate the large fields of each round. With 14 teams per semifinal and 10 in the final, positioning proved even more difficult than individual sprints, which yield six racers per heat. In the women’s field, Saturday’s top two sprinters Jonna Sundling and Maja Dahlqvist were paired up for Sweden I, easily winning their semifinal to advance. Russia I, Norway I, Finland I, and Sweden II also advanced from the first semifinal. USA powerhouses Jessie Diggins and Julia Kern won the second semifinal, with Slovenia I, Germany II, Norway II, and France also moving on.

In the final round, Sundling and Dahlqvist continued the same strategy they’d been using all weekend, leading the race almost every lap. Diggins and Kern also stuck to the front when possible. On lap five, Diggins put in an effort to push the pace, but got tangled with Eva Urevc of Slovenia and both athletes went down. This shake up allowed Natalia Nepryaeva of Russia to take the lead for a lap, but by the next exchange the Swedes were back up front. The Americans recovered quickly from the fall, rejoining the lead group just as other teams were getting dropped on lap six and seven. After Kern took the final corner well on lap 10, Diggins was set up for a great position going into her final leg of the race. Sundling led the pack with Diggins in second, Finland and Slovenia close behind, and a slight gap to the rest of the field. On the twelfth and final lap, Dahlqvist pushed the pace, and there was no question of who had the strongest sprint of the day when she crossed the line in first. Kern stuck with the lead pack, coming around Lampic of Slovenia to take second in a close finish. Hailey Swirbul and Hannah Halvorsen placed 15th, representing USA II.

Norway was the dominant nation in the men’s race even without their top stars, taking the first two spots in the first semifinal. France II, Italy I, Sweden I, and USA I also qualified for the finals with Kevin Bolger and JC Schoonmaker representing the American team. In the second semifinal, Russia I took the top spot, followed by a surprise second place from Great Britain. Other qualifiers included France I and Switzerland. USA II’s Luke Jager and Logan Hanneman took tenth in their semifinal to place 20th overall.

In the finals, the Russia-Norway rivalry continued with the two nations controlling most of the race. Both Norwegian teams kept close to the front with one of the two leading almost every lap. The pace started slow, not really heating up until halfway through the race. The American men stayed primarily in the back of the pack, but were able to stay upright and maintained contact with the leaders for most of the race. On lap ten, Gleb Retivykh made a move for Russia, but by the final lap it was the Norwegians who led the race again. Even Northug ultimately took the victory anchoring for Norway II, and Haavard Solaas Taugboel came in second for Norway I. Retivykh held onto third for Russia with Pellegrino leading Italy to fourth. The Americans finished ninth.

Tour de Ski Preview

Period 2 of the World Cup begins in Lenzerheide, Switzerland next week with the 16th edition of the Tour de Ski. The race takes place over the course of six stages (shortened this year because of the upcoming Olympics), modelled after the Tour de France cycling race. Places are based on a combined time from the distance races with time bonuses corresponding to finishing positions in the sprints. From Switzerland, the races will make their way to Oberstdorf, Germany and finish in Val di Fiemme, Italy on the famous Alpe Cermis climb. Some athletes will opt out to take some time off of racing before the Olympics while others will use the race as preparation, including some who may participate for the first few races before dropping out. The unstoppable Swedish distance skier Frida Karlsson will make her way back to the World Cup for the Tour, while her teammate Maja Dahlqvist has chosen to skip it. Therese Johaug will also be missing from the events, although fellow Norwegians Klæbo and Valnes will be racing. The usual American favorites will all be racing, including Jessie Diggins, Rosie Brennan, JC Schoonmaker and Gus Schumacher. Expect to see some fresh faces, too: Midwesterners Alayna Sonnesyn and Zak Ketterson will be joining their American teammates on the start line as the current US SuperTour leaders.

About the author...

Erika Peterson is a senior at South High School in Minneapolis. She skis for Loppet Nordic Racing as well as her high school team. When she’s not out on the trails, you can find her listening to Lorde and creating oatmeal recipes.