Sweden's Stina Nilsson, Sophie Caldwell of the US and Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg compete in the women's 1.5 km sprint final at the Tour de Ski event on January 1, 2016 in Lenzerheide. (Getty/AFP-Fabrice Coffrini)
LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (January 1, 2016) – For the third time this season, Sophie Caldwell (Peru, VT) led the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team in a freestyle sprint race. In the first round of the eight-stage Tour de Ski, Caldwell qualified second in the 1.5k freestyle sprint and just missed the podium, finishing fourth and leading three American women into the top 10.
“I was really happy with fourth place,” Caldwell said. “I felt really strong in my qualifier. My legs still felt great going into the second lap and I was psyched to qualify second - my best qualifier ever! In both my semi and my final I emphasized having a fast start and I think that made a huge difference.”
Sophie Caldwell congratulates winner Norway's Maiken Caspersen Falla after the women's 1.5 km sprint final at the Tour de Ski event on January 1, 2016 in Lenzerheide. (Getty/AFP-Fabrice Coffrini)
Caldwell advanced through each round as a lucky loser all the way to the finals. Norway’s Maiken Falla claimed her second freestyle sprint win of the season just 0.40 seconds ahead of Sweden’s Ida Ingemarsdotter in second, with Norway’s Ingvild Oestberg third.
“This was a huge day for the team and the right way to start the Tour de Ski”, said Head Women’s Coach Matt Whitcomb. “A couple things stood out today with regards to Sophie’s race. She blazed her qualifier and was able to enter the heats with full confidence. She’s had to ski harder than we’d like, so it was great to see her ski with such punch in the final. She’s learning how to win one of these things.”
Switzerland's Jovian Hediger (left), Simeon Hamilton of the US and Austria's Luis Stadlober compete in the men's 1.5 km sprint quarter final at the Tour de Ski event on January 1, 2016 in Lenzerheide. (Getty/AFP-Fabrice Coffrini)
In the men’s competition, Italy’s Federico Pellegrino won the 1.5k freestyle sprint making him the most successful Italian sprinter of all time. Pellegrino stole first just 0.40 second ahead of Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov and Norway’s Finn Krogh finished third, 1.25 seconds behind Pellegrino.
The U.S. qualified four out of seven women into the heats. Ida Sargent (Orleans, VT) qualified 26th and advanced to the quarterfinals but did not move. Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN), Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) and Sophie Caldwell, all advanced through to the semifinals. Bjornsen and Diggins met head-to-head in the second semifinals heat, but did not move on as Bjornsen was narrowly edged out of a qualifying spot in the finish lunge by a mere two-hundredths of a second.
Jessica Diggins competes in the women's 1.5 km sprint qualification at the Tour de Ski event on January 1, 2016 in Lenzerheide. (Getty/AFP-Fabrice Coffrini)
The U.S. men qualified two out of four in the sprints. Erik Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) and Noah Hoffman (Aspen, CO) did not qualify, while Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) and Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) advanced into the quarterfinals. Newell did not move further after the quarterfinals as well as Hamilton, due to an unfortunate fall during the heats.
The second stage of the Tour de Ski continues Saturday with a 30/15k classic mass start in Lenzerheide, Switzerland at 7:00 a.m. EST.
Federico Pellegino is now the most successful sprinter of all time from Italy after his win today in a 1.5k freestyle sprint in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
U.S. had three women in the top eight overall. Sophie Caldwell fourth, Sadie Bjornsen seventh and Jessie Diggins eighth. Ida Sargent was 20th, Rosie Brennan (Park City, UT) finished 47th, Caitlin Gregg (Minneapolis, MN) 49th and Liz Stephen 68th overall.
Andy Newell led the U.S. men’s team in 19th, Simi Hamilton finished 27th, Erik Bjornsen, 69th and Noah Hoffman, 85th.
The last eight editions of the Tour de Ski have started with a prologue stage. The only previous edition to start with a sprint race was the first ever Tour de Ski organized in 2006-07.
After one stage, the U.S. women stand fourth in the team standings behind Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.
Saturday the Tour moves into its first distance race with a 30k mass start for men and 15k for women. Live streaming on NBC Sports Live Extra begins at 7:00 a.m. EST.
Coverage of Friday’s opening sprint will air on Universal HD at 4:30 p.m. EST, continuing with same-day coverage each day throughout the Tour de Ski.
Saturday, Jan. 2: 7:00 a.m. – Women’s 15k classic mass start 9:00 a.m. – Men’s 30k classic mass start
Sophie Caldwell I was really happy with fourth place. The course in Lenzerheide is another two lap course that provides a good mix of terrain. I felt really strong in my qualifier. My legs still felt great going into the second lap and I was psyched to qualify second - my best qualifier ever! In both my semi and my final I emphasized having a fast start and I think that made a huge difference.
Matt Whitcomb, Women’s Head Coach This was a huge day for the team and the right way to start the Tour de Ski.
The big success of today was getting three women in the top-eight, but Ida’s 20th shouldn’t be lost in the shadows. Sadie missed her trip to the final in a lunge, but her energy and tactics on the course were sharp and on point. Jessie was much the same. They each were in control during their semi and were happy with their performance.
A couple things stood out today with regards to Sophie’s race. She blazed her qualifier, and was able to enter the heats with full confidence. Regarding heat selection, and especially at altitude, we try to find the balance of selecting the heats with more recovery, but also with the easiest route to the semis and finals. With so many lucky-loser spots this year, you know this hasn’t gone to plan. She’s had to ski harder than we’d like, so it was great to see her ski with such punch in the final. She’s learning how to win one of these things.