World Cup Report: Tour de Ski Stages 3 and 4 Recap

by Erika Peterson
January 1, 2022
Jessie Diggins (left), Frida Karlsson, Ebba Andersson, and Tatiana Sorina sprint to the finish of the women’s 10k freestyle mass start in Stage 3 of the FIS Tour de Ski Friday in Oberstdorf, Germany. (Credit: Modica/Nordic Focus)

The recent stages in Oberstdorf were crucial to the overall rankings in the Tour de Ski; everyone was looking to head into Val di Fiemme in the best possible position before the final races. Some were able to turn bad results around with solid performances, while others lost important places at a critical time. American Jessie Diggins had perhaps the highest highs and lowest lows with a win in the 10km skate and an untimely fall in the classic sprints. In the men’s field, Johannes Klaebo only increased his lead, all but securing an overall victory with wins both days.

Oberstdorf

  • December 31 Freestyle 10/15km
  • December 29 Classic Sprints

Freestyle Distance

As the first mass start distance events of the World Cup, Friday’s races offered a chance for athletes to demonstrate their tactical abilities alongside their endurance. The warm weather and ice-like conditions made for a technically challenging course, especially with the entire field racing en masse. In the women’s field, Diggins immediately took to the front, using her rocket-like skis to their fullest capacity instead of slowing down to avoid anyone ahead of her. Swedish distance specialists Frida Karlsson and Ebba Andersson also took turns leading, though a few tangles with other skiers left Karlsson on the ground more than once, forcing her to play catch-up. Karlsson was certainly not the only one with this experience—broken poles could be seen scattered across the trail. From the gun, there was always someone pushing the pace, though the pack stayed largely together for the first half of the race. Norwegians Helene Marie Fossesholm and Heidi Weng spent some time at the front, as did Russians Tatiana Sorina and Natalia Nepryaeva and Teresa Stadlober of Austria. By the final lap, a lead group of around ten had formed, with Karlsson making her way back to the front in the final kilometer. Using her long, powerful V1 to push over the top of a hill, Karlsson opened a gap on Sorina and Diggins, but a hard effort from Sorina on the downhill was enough to close it and the group quickly reformed. Heading into the last descent, it was Karlsson, Sorina, Diggins at the front of the pack—but with a combination of downhill technique, well-timed drafting and fast skis, Diggins moved herself into the perfect position for the final stretch. Karlsson sprinted hard, but Diggins skated harder: using a freeskate technique all the way to the line, Diggins closed the gap to take the victory. Karlsson finished second, and Sorina was third. The next several skiers finished close behind, including Tour de Ski leader Kerttu Niskanen in 22nd. It wasn’t close enough for Niskanen to keep her overall lead, however, and Diggins reclaimed the yellow bib. Several other American women also gave strong performances, including second highest placing American Julia Kern in 24th and midwesterner Alayna Sonnesyn who took 52nd in her fourth World Cup of the season.

In the men’s field, the race got off to a much slower start with none of the leaders pushing the pace until much further in the race. Alexander Bolshunov and Ivan Yakimushkin of Russia took turns at the front, as did Klaebo. The leaders could frequently be seen signalling to the rest of the pack that they were easing up before a descent, trying to avoid any unnecessary risk of crashing. At the 4.4-kilometer mark, Klaebo beat out Bolshunov in a sprint for bonus points, but the pace quickly relaxed again. Nearly two-thirds into the race, Bolshunov put in a hard effort, giving the top seven skiers a slight gap. Andrew Musgrave of Britain was hot on Bolshunov’s heels, as were Norwegians Sjur Roethe and Klaebo. By the final lap, it was these four on their own, playing cat and mouse to see who would take the lead. On the penultimate downhill, Klaebo used his fast skis to come around Musgrave, opening a significant gap and holding it to the line for what appeared to be an easy win. Bolshunov got the better of Roethe in a sprint for second, and Musgrave got stuck with the wooden medal, coming in fourth.

Classic Sprints

The warm weather stuck around for the classic sprints on Saturday with air temperatures at 49ºF, as did the fast conditions. Staying upright proved to be the key ingredient to success for many; races were filled with crashes and broken poles. The 1.2km women’s course consisted of two main climbs with a downhill finish, leaving opportunities for varying tactics and waxing. Some opted to lean on the side of kick over glide, making their moves with powerful striding on the climbs. Others leaned toward a downhill-centered approach, finding a draft and utilizing a powerful double pole at the line. Johanna Matintalo of Finland struck a balance that worked for her, posting the fastest time in the qualifier and winning her quarterfinal round. Johanna Hagstroem of Sweden and Anamarija Lampic of Slovenia were second and third fastest respectively, and Diggins was the top American with the seventh fastest qualifying time. Unfortunately, Diggins didn’t get the chance to live up to that placement—on a flat section coming out of a downhill in her quarterfinal, Diggins was forced out of the tracks by Karlsson, getting tangled in the process and falling. Karlsson remained upright to finish third, but was ultimately disqualified for the incident and ranked last on the day. American Katharine Ogden was also unable to advance, but her race was exciting nonetheless as the first time she’d qualified for a World Cup sprint heat.

In the semifinals, new nations dominated the races—without sprinting powerhouses Maja Dahlqvist and Jonna Sundling, Hagstroem was the only Swede who qualified. Nepryaeva and Lampic both raced well, winning their semifinal rounds, and Matintalo gave a strong effort as well.

In the final round, it was Matintalo and Lampic who took the early lead. Hagstroem’s striding on the final climb was more powerful than anyone’s, however, and she moved to first. Her kick may have cost her, though—coming into the line, Nepryaeva closed the gap to Hagstroem, surpassing her and taking the victory with an impressive final burst. Hagstroem held on for second, and Matintalo came in close behind, rounding out the top three.

The men’s race was unsurprisingly dominated by Klaebo yet again. Starting the day with both the overall lead and the top qualifying time, it was clear that he was the one to beat. He and Valnes qualified easily for the semifinals in the first quarterfinal, with Norwegian teammates Paal Golberg and Even Northug winning separate heats to advance as well. The young Russian Alexander Terentev also won his first round, hoping to defend his victory from the most recent classic sprint in Ruka. Americans Ben Ogden and Luke Jager both qualified for the quarterfinals, but neither were able to advance. Other US skiers just outside the top 30 were both from the Midwest: Kevin Bolger was 33rd, and Zak Ketterson placed 34th in his fourth ever World Cup race.

In a competitive first semifinal, Klaebo, Valnes, Bolshunov and Terentev went head to head for spots in the final. Bolshunov took an early lead while Klaebo sat in the back, waiting for the right time. Over the top of the last hill, Klaebo and Terentev had a slight gap on the rest of the athletes after powerful climbing from both of them, but when Terentev caught a ski on the downhill it was Klaebo who took the win. Valnes beat out Bolshunov for the second qualifying spot. In the second semifinal, the Norwegians continued to dominate as Golberg and Northug clinched the top two places. The second heat was fast enough for Italian Francesco De Fabiani and Calle Halfvarsson of Sweden to move on as lucky losers.

Without Terentev, no one came close to matching Klaebo in the final. He used his running technique on the final climb once again, opening a gap with Valnes on the rest of the field to take the win. Valnes was second and Golberg was third in a Norwegian podium sweep.

Val di Fiemme Preview

The final stages of the Tour de Ski take place in Val di Fiemme, Italy after a one-day break. The two distance races are sure to be exciting as athletes do their best to close time gaps before the end of the Tour. Although the next race is classic distance, look for the strong skate skiers to move up in the next few days; the famous final climb Alpe Cermis is sure to favor skate climbers. One such skier is Jessie Diggins, who will be looking to make up some time after losing places in the classic sprints. She is currently in third place, 38 seconds back from new leader Natalia Nepryaeva. Kerttu Niskanen is just in front of Diggins at 34 seconds back from Nepryaeva. The men’s leader is unquestionably Johannes Klaebo, who has over a minute on second place skier Paal Golberg. The third place ranking overall goes to Bolshunov at +1:19 off of Klaebo. Karlsson won’t be seen fighting for the win in Italy, however; after being penalized three minutes in the Tour standings for her second yellow card of the season, she decided to pull out of the Tour de Ski to focus on remaining events in the season.

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.