Jessie Diggins, shown here in Friday's classic sprint, skied to eighth in the 10k classic pursuit finale of the Lillehammer mini tour. (Getty Images - Trond Tandberg)
LILLEHAMMER, Norway (Dec. 4, 2016) - A day after winning the 5k freestyle leg of the Lillehammer mini tour, Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) hung on to finish eighth in the 10k classic pursuit finale of the three-day stage race. Norway's Heidi Weng took the women's title, with countryman Martin Sundby winning for the men. Sadie Bjornsen (Anchorage) was 11th.
In a pursuit format race, skiers are seeded by their time behind the leader. With her win Saturday, Diggins, who is stronger in freestyle technique than classic, moved up to third, starting 22.4 seconds behind Weng. She held her ground in third until being passed by Finland's Krista Parmoskii and Norway's Marit Bjoergen around the 3k mark. Diggins remained in fifth until the final two kilometers.
"I didn’t have my best day today, as I was struggling with finding my climbing technique and kicking well out there on the hills," said Diggins. "I think I got a little bit excited at the start and went out just a little too hard, and that definitely didn’t help me as I needed my best technique on course today."
“It was a solid day overall for the team,” said Head Coach Christ Grover. “Jessie was a little bit slick on her skis and had a hart time kicking them when she got fatigued on the long climbs. This was a classic-heavy tour so her eighth place performance demonstrates the set forward she has made in her classic skiing - especially gong up against the deep Norwegian field on their home snow.”
Bjornsen started 12th and moved up early to 11th and held the spot. It was her fifth straight top 20 finish this season.
"I have been really looking forward to this race because I was excited to do some classic skiing around people," said Bjornsen. "The race went really well for me, as I was feeling stronger on the climbs than I have in the past years at this venue, so I was having lots of fun out there! I got the opportunity to ski around many different people, which kept the race challenging and fun. It was the third day of wonderful skis, so I am really thankful to the staff for that, because that is especially important for this race course."
Diggins and Bjornsen have established themselves as the top two contenders for the U.S. Ski Team in the past year. Diggins was 10th in last year’s Tour de Ski with Bjornsen 14th. Diggins stepped up to fifth in the season-ending Ski Tour Canada with Bjornsen 11th.
“Look for continued improved overall performances from both of them in this year’s Tour de Ski as well as a return to Tour form from Liz Stephen (Montpelier, VT),” said Grover. Stephen sat out last week’s Ruka Nordic Opener and was just getting her ski legs in the Lillehammer tour, but is expected to be strong at upcoming events in Davos, Switzerland and LaClusaz, France.
Sophie Caldwell (Putney, VT) and Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) sat out Sunday’s race to rest for next weekend’s sprint in Davos.
The strong weekend left Diggins eighth in the overall World Cup standings.
"I'm proud of my effort, and really proud of the team for having a good day," said Diggins. "Looking back on past years, this is without a doubt my best mini-tour finish and it’s exciting to see progress being made!"
On the men’s side, Noah Hoffman (Aspen, CO) took another step forward and skied with great energy on excellent skis and was able to move up 10 spots in the Tour standings. He has two focal points in the coming two weeks including the 30k freestyle in Davos and skiathlon in La Clusaz - two events that play to his strengths.
“Noah was disappointed in his performance as was really looking forward to today’s race,” added Grover. “But his fitness is really there and we’ll get to see it on display over the next weeks.”
The World Cup now heads to central Europe with a freestyle weekend in Davos. The event kicks off with a men's 30k and women's 15k on Saturday, with a freestyle sprint on Sunday.
"It will be nice to head down to central Europe this week, get some rest, and show up for our first skate sprint race of the season," said Bjornsen.
Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) skied to eighth in a 10k classic pursuit to close out the Lillehammer stage race.
Sadie Bjornsen (Anchorage) was 11th for her fifth straight top-20 World Cup.
Noah Hoffman (Aspen, CO) led the men in 36th.
Diggins is now eighth in the FIS Cross Country World Cup.