Jessie Diggins and Sadie Bjornsen shared the podium in Toblach after a stunning stage five of the Tour de Ski. (Getty Images/AFP-Giuseppe Cacace)
TOBLACH, Italy (Jan. 6, 2017) - American Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) came to Toblach to successfully defend her 5k win from a year ago in the Tour de Ski, but this time with teammate Sadie Bjornsen (Anchorage, AK) at her side in third. Diggins led most of the way in the race, taking the win by 13.6 seconds over Finland's Krista Parmakoski, with Bjornsen just another second back.
The win kept Diggins in fifth after five of seven stages of the Tour. The standings were shaken, though, as fifth place finisher Heidi Weng of Norway assumed the lead when Sweden's Stina Nilsson dropped well off the pace to finish 20th and dropped to third. Bjornsen is now inside the top 10 at ninth.
Jessie Diggins celebrates her win. (Getty Images-Nils Petter Nilsson)
Diggins was a very early starter in the interval start race, going out 12th with Sweden's Charlotte Kalla two spots ahead of her. Her splits quickly put her on top, but she had to wait for times from later-starting contenders - one of which was Bjornsen starting 26th. In the final analysis, Diggins made her move between the 2.1k and 3.4k timing splits, moving for fourth up to the lead and building her margin.
“I attacked every inch of the course, skiing as fast as I could on each section,” said Diggins, who did not take splits during the race. “I had fun on all the corners and downhills! I love this course and it plays to my strengths because you have to work every inch of it and never let up. I went into the day feeling ready and believing in myself - ready to make it happen again.”
Diggins took her greatest pride in the accomplishment of the team. “To stand on the podium with a great friend and teammate is so much more exciting. I was just thrilled for Sadie today, as well as with my own race.”
It was the first time that two U.S. women shared a World Cup distance podium, with Kikkan Randall (Anchorage, AK) and Sophie Caldwell (Peru, VT) first and third in a 2014 sprint. At the 2015 World Championships in Falun, Diggins and Caitlin Gregg won silver and bronze in the 10k freestyle.
“Today was just amazing,” said Bjornsen. “I am trying to take each day one at a time. So today I was ready to try my 5k skills again after my little explosion on the last 5k.”
Sadie Bjornsen stands on the podium. (Getty Images/AFP-Giuseppe Cacace)
“I wanted to go out there today and see how strong I could be inside my head,” said Bjornsen, who like Diggins did not take split times during her race. “I love this course, but pacing is important, and I wanted to do my own thing. When I crossed the line, I had no idea where I had finished, so it was a fun surprise - like Christmas!”
Over the course of the 13-minute race, she continually ran two things through her mind: ‘stay strong Sadie’ and ‘what would Jessie Diggins do?’
“There is so much work on the second half of the race, and Jessie is just amazing at being strong on that section,” she explained. “So I was imagining her the whole second half in front of me, and it seemed to have worked.”
Bjornsen skied her own race to the podium. (Getty Images/AFP-Giuseppe Cacace)
Gaining her first individual podium was emotional for Bjornsen, but even more so with a teammate on top. “All the girls on this team are an inspiration to me,” she said. “We are dreamers. But we are also believers. It's crazy how much confidence you can get from a teammate’s success if you allow yourself to stand beside them.”
Two days after she moved up to 10th in the Tour, Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) dropped back and was out of the points. Per her plan, she is dropping out of the Tour to rest and prepare for next weekend’s freestyle sprint, also in Toblach.
“It was always my plan to stop after four or five stages,” said Randall. “It was actually a little harder decision to stop than anticipated since my overall result in the tour was going so well. But I felt that a partial tour and sprints next weekend would be the best prep for my biggest goals of the season in Lahti.”
Randall is treating the season as an experiment to see how her body responds returning from childbirth.
“I’m happy with some of my results here during the Tour in which I felt better race feelings coming around,” she said. “My biggest goals of the season are still focused on finding top form in the World Championships and all the decisions around racing are being geared towards them.”
As the team leader for over a decade, Randall was overjoyed at the American results. “I was incredibly pumped and proud when I heard about our double podium today,” she said. “We’ve known Jessie would be strong in this race but I’m especially psyched for Sadie. She’s been qualifying so well in sprints this season and now she took it all the way through 5k.
“I’m glad I have played a part in helping them succeed and it’s such satisfying vindication for our whole program and everyone that helps contribute to the USA’s success.”
With two stages remaining, Diggins has an opportunity to match the best ever U.S. Tour de Ski performance of fifth, set by Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) two years ago. The Tour now travels over the mountains to its traditional finale in Val di Fiemme with a classic mass start on Saturday followed by the notorious hill climb up Alpe Cermis on Sunday.
Jessie Diggins won with Sadie Bjornsen third in the stage five 5k freestyle in Toblach, Italy.
Rosie Brennan (Anchorage) was in the points finishing 23rd.
The win left Diggins in fifth with Bjornsen moving up to ninth after five of seven stages.
Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) stands 22nd in the Tour with Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) 25th - but with Randall expected to drop out before the final two stages.
Noah Hoffman (Aspen, CO) was 25th for the best men's finish of the Tour.
The Tour de Ski will wrap up with two final stages in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
Diggins skates to the win. (Getty Images-Nils Petter Nilsson)