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U.S. Cross Country Team Named for 2015 World Championships

The USST announced its much anticipated cross country selections for the 2015 FIS Nordic World Championships Monday Jan. 26th. Headlining the large team of 16 athletes are Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins, the defending 2013 World Champions in the team sprint. Eight skiers prequalified before Monday’s announcement with eight more added after further selection criteria were taken into account.

The 2015 team demonstrates a mix of 12 previous World Championships competitors and four newcomers, the youngest of which is Northern Michigan University senior Kyle Bratrud.

See the full team roster below. This story is developing…

2015 U.S. World Championship Cross Country Team
(Name, Hometown, Birthdate, USSA Club, Past Championships)

Men

  • Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess, Bend, OR, 3/18/86, Bend Endurance Academy
  • Kyle Bratrud, Eden Prairie, MN, 2/9/93, Northern Michigan University Ski Team
  • Erik Bjornsen, Winthrop, WA, 7/14/91, Alaska Pacific University Nordic (2013)
  • Matt Gelso, Truckee, CA, 7/18/88, Sun Valley Ski Education Founation Olympic Development Team
  • Simi Hamilton, Aspen, CO, 5/14/87, Stratton Mountain School/T2 (2011)
  • Noah Hoffman, Aspen, CO, 8/1/89, Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club (2011, 2013)
  • Kris Freeman, Andover, NH, 10/14/80, Freebird XC, (2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013)
  • Andy Newell, Shaftsbury, VT, 11/30/83, Stratton Mountain School/T2 (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013)

Women

  • Rosie Brennan, Park City, UT, 12/2/88, Alaska Pacific University Nordic
  • Sadie Bjornsen, Winthrop WA, 11/21/89, Alaska Pacific University Nordic (2011, 2013)
  • Sophie Caldwell, Peru, VT, 3/22/90, Stratton Mountain School/T2 (2013)
  • Jessie Diggins, Afton MN, 8/26/91, Stratton Mountain School/T2 (2011, 2013)
  • Caitlin Gregg, Minneapolis, 11/7/80, Team Gregg (2009)
  • Kikkan Randall, Anchorage, 12/31/82 Alaska Pacific University Nordic (2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013)
  • Ida Sargent, Orleans, VT, 1/25/88, Craftsbury Green Racing Project (2011, 2013)
  • Liz Stephen, East Montpelier, VT, 1/12/87, Burke Mountain Academy (2009, 2011, 2013)

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS SCHEDULE
FIS Nordic Ski World Championships Falun, Sweden

Feb. 18 – Opening Ceremony
Feb. 19 – Classic Sprint
Feb. 21 – Skiathlon
Feb. 22 – Freestyle Team Sprint
Feb. 24 – Women’s 10k Freestyle
Feb. 25 – Men’s 15k Freestyle
Feb. 27 – 4X10k Relay
Feb. 28 – 30k Women’s Classic Mass Start
Mar. 1 – 50k Men’s Classic Mass Start

Russians Finally Nab Two Wins at Home in Rybinsk, Diggins Fifth for USA

Prior to Sunday’s World Cup in Rybinsk, Russia the home team had yet to see any of its skiers on top the podium. That all changed with the 15/30 k skiathons in which both Maxim Vylegzhanin and Yulia Tchekaleva were victorious.

Vylegzhanin crossed the line in the men’s 30 k with a time of 1:21:54.8, besting Swiss skier Dario Cologna by 2.7 seconds. In third was Matti Heikkinen of Finland who trailed the Russian by 6.2 seconds. The Finn was followed by a wall of five Russian skiers, who cemented the country’s dominance in the 30 k by placing 6 in the top-10.

In 10th was Canada’s Alex Harvey who finished 16.0 seconds back from Vylagzhanin. Teammates Ivan Babikov, Devon Kershaw and Graeme Killick placed 19th, 34th, and 40th, respectively. Matt Gelso was the lone U.S. finisher and skied to 48th (of 49). Erik Bjornsen started the race but pulled out after the start of the freestyle portion.

In the women’s 15 k Tchekaleva earned a time of 44:16.0 to best a charging Martine Ek Hagen of Norway by 15.6 seconds. Finland’s Ritta-Liisa Roponen skied to third, trailing by 22.9 seconds. In fourth came German Stefanie Böhler (+23.0) who was able to outlast American Jessie Diggins (+25.8) in fifth.

Liz Stephen finished the race in seventh after racing in a large pack of skiers who were aiming for third. Other Americans in the top-20 included Sadie Bjornsen in 13th and Rosie Brennan in 20th. Ida Sargent and Sophie Caldwell finished 35th and 43rd.

Results: Men | women

Öberg, Pellegrino Win Rybinsk Sprints, Diggins in Fifth

After a strong qualification round, Sweden’s Jennie Öberg skied dominantly through the heats to take the victory in the 1.3 k freestyle sprint in Rybinsk, Russia. The win was Öberg’s first, in addition to being her first podium and first sprint final on the World Cup circuit. Racing to a time of 3:02.54 in the final, Öberg bested Natalia Matveeva of Russia by 0.48 seconds. In third was Laurien van der Graff of Switzerland who was 0.76 seconds off pace.

The USST’s Jessie Diggins was the top North American in fifth after a strong showing in the heats. The result is her best of the year. Teammates Sophie Caldwell and Sadie Bjornsen advanced to the semifinals and ultimately finished seventh and eleventh. Ida Sargent placed 13th after earning third in her quarterfinal.

Federico Pellegrino of Italy continued his World Cup sprinting dominance in Rybinsk with a 0.69 second win over Sergey Ustiugov of Russia. Fellow Russian Andrey Parfenov placed third, 0.77 behind Pellegrino.

Three Americans raced in the quarterfinals, but none advanced to the semifinals. Simi Hamilton was the top finisher in 17th, while Andy Newell and Erik Bjornsen finished 22nd and 24th. Canada’s Alex Harvey finished 28th.

Results: Women | men

Cologna Thwarts Russian Sweep with Win in Rybinsk

Dario Colonga skied to a dominant win in Friday’s World Cup 15 k freestyle interval start in Rybinsk, Russia. Clocking the fastest splits throughout the race, the Swiss skier increased his lead over a strong squad of Russian skiers at each checkpoint. Cologna’s time of 36:53.4 was 16.3 seconds faster than Evegniy Belov of Russia who ultimately placed second. He was followed by a squad of three teammates, including Sergey Ustiugov (+28.8), Alexander Legkov (+35.8) and Stanislav Volzhentsev (+1:01.7).

Alex Harvey was the first North American in Friday’s race and placed 10th. The Canadian finished 1:15.7 behind Colonga’s time. Teammates Ivan Babikov and Devon Kershaw finished 22nd and 36th. Erik Bjornsen was the top American in 40th. He was followed by Canadian Graeme Killick and Sun Valley skier Matt Gelso in 43rd and 50th.

Results

After Double Hip Fracture, Steira Returns to World Cup

Kristin Størmer Steira (l) and fiancé Devon Kershaw during a day hike on one of their acclimatization days during a 22-day trek in April in Nepal’s Himalayas. (Photo: Devon Kershaw)

Kristin Størmer Steira (l) and fiancé Devon Kershaw during a day hike on one of their acclimatization days during a 22-day trek in April in Nepal’s Himalayas. (Photo: Devon Kershaw)

After suffering a double hip fracture in October, Norway’s Kristin Størmer Steira returned to the World Cup circuit on Friday, where she placed fifth in the 10-kilometer freestyle, 41.4 seconds behind her teammate Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen, who won the first of three races this weekend in Rybinsk, Russia.

Steira plans to race two of the three in Rybinsk after breaking her hip in two places when she fell during a workout on the glacier during a Norwegian national-team altitude camp. She continued training for several weeks after the injury before she went to the doctor and was diagnosed with two fractures to her pelvic bone. During the long recovery, Steira, 31, has worked systematically at returning to racing in time for the World Championships from Feb. 8 to March 1 in Falun, Sweden.

Last weekend, she competed in her first races of the season on the Scandinavian Cup in Falun and was pleasantly surprised.

Kristin Størmer Steira in 2012 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Kristin Størmer Steira in 2012 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

“It went far better than I feared, and I felt pretty OK. Now I’m just missing the top gears,” Steira told the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.

Steira has been diligent with her rehabilitation and tried to be patient, but explained that the alternative training had been tough mentally as well as physically.

“As an elite athlete, it’s always hard to sit still so much,” Steira said. “I’ve focused on finding alternative training methods and staying positive throughout the rehab period, and being patient enough to progress step by step. The hardest part is to understand and recognize how much and how hard you can train, but I think there almost always some way to stay active, even when you are injured. Of course, it’s always helpful to have a professional support staff, and I’ve had a lot of help from Olympiatoppen [the Norwegian Olympic Development Center].”

This weekend, Steira planned to race the 10 k skate event on Friday and the 15 k skiathlon on Sunday, and skip Saturday’s skate sprint. Additionally, she will race the Norwegian national championships in Røros the following week.

With strong performances at these events, along with her results from the Continental Cup in Falun last weekend, Steira might just find herself a part of the Norwegian squad to the 2015 FIS World Champioships.

“She has two opportunities prior to the World Championships: Rybinsk this weekend and the Norwegian national championships,” said Åge Skinstad, Norwegian national-team director. “And that we know what she is capable of in the past is never a disadvantage.”

Steira has competed in six World Championships and three Olympics, collecting two Olympic medals and eight World Championship medals, as well as 22 World Cup podium finishes.

Jacobsen Wins, Stephen Second in Rybinsk Opener

In her first World Cup competition since Lillehammer in December, Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen came out with a vengeance and won the interval-start 10 k freestyle race in Rybinsk, Russia. The Norwegian clocked a time of 28:12.5 over the difficult and hilly course.

That put her 14.4 seconds ahead of runner-up Liz Stephen of the United States. Stephen started one bib ahead of Jacobsen, who was able to track her along the course.

“For me today is amazing,” Stephen said in an International Ski Federation press release. “I didn’t realize right away but this is not only my first World Cup podium but also the best ever distance result for a US female. I really can’t believe it.  It’s great to be here.  I like racing in Rybinsk.  It is a hard course with long climbs, which suits me very well.”

Stephen’s previous bests in top-level competition were 5th place in this season’s Tour de Ski 10 k classic and also 5th place in the 10 k skate at 2013 World Championships.

The result is a new best for U.S. women in distance skiing, topping Kikkan Randall’s third-place finish in Gällivare, Sweden, in 2012.

Stefanie Boehler of Germany finished third, +36.4, narrowly edging Yulia Tchekaleva of Russia in fourth, +37.6. Kristin Stoermer Steira of Norway, also returning to the World Cup after an injury-induced break, placed fifth +41.4.

The two other U.S. entrants, Jessie Diggins and Rosie Brennan, finished 12th (+1:34.5) and 13th (+1:37.5) respectively. No Canadian women competed.

Results

Østberg Stays Ahead of Nilsson for 2nd World Cup Win in Otepää Classic Sprint

For Ingvild Flugstad Østberg on Saturday, there was mostly one woman threatening her quest for the win in the 1.2-kilometer classic sprint in Otepää, Estonia: Sweden’s Stina Nilsson.

Østberg topped the women’s qualifier by 0.24 seconds over Nilsson in 2:52.93. Then she won her quarterfinal ahead of Sweden’s Ida Ingemarsdotter and fellow Norwegian Kathrine Rolstead Harsem, respectively, both of which advanced to the semifinals with a fast-enough time.

Nilsson placed second in her quarterfinal to Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla, and was again second to Falla in their semifinal, after strategically letting up at the finish when she nearly caught Falla on the last descent.

Nilsson’s skis were fast enough, and she knew it. Østberg knew it, too, as she tried to keep her behind her in the finishing straight of the final.

Østberg did so, keeping seven or so meters ahead of the Swede to clinch her second-sprint victory of the season and fourth World Cup podium by 0.6 seconds in 3:20.18.

Two other Norwegians were in the final, with Celine Brun-Lie placing third (+2.29) and Falla finishing fourth (+3.67). Evgenia Shapovalova of Russia was fifth (+4.78), and Sweden’s Magdalena Pajala placed sixth (+5.99).

Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk qualified 12th but ended up 16th after placing fourth in her quarterfinal behind Falla, Nilsson and Shapovalova.

Sadie Bjornsen was the lone American woman to qualify for the heats, and was a victim of the slowest quarterfinal. While she came up from behind late to challenge for second, she lost the photo finish to Pajala, who was second to Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes in the fifth quarterfinal. Third in her heat, Bjornsen ended up 15th overall.

Also for the U.S., Sophie Caldwell missed qualifying by one place and 0.9 seconds in 31st, as did Rosie Brennan, who placed 38th, 2.8 seconds out of the top 30, in her first World Cup of the season (fresh off three wins at U.S. nationals). Ida Sargent crashed out of contention in the qualifier and finished 43rd.

For Canada, Alysson Marshall placed 44th in her first World Cup of the season.

Norway’s Marit Bjørgen, Therese Johaug and Heidi Weng, coming off the Tour de Ski, did not compete. American Kikkan Randall is also skipping this World Cup weekend (and the next) during a 16-day break at home in Anchorage, Alaska.

Results

Thomas Northug Breaks Away for 1st World Cup Win in Otepää

Without his older brother Petter Northug toeing the line and competing for attention on Saturday, Norway’s Thomas Northug made a name for himself with his first-career World Cup win in the men’s 1.5-kilometer classic sprint in Otepää, Estonia.

The 24-year-old Northug qualified seventh (4.4 seconds behind teammate Pål Golberg, the fastest qualifier in 3:17.61), and went on to place second in his quarterfinal and fourth in his semifinal, narrowly advancing to the final as a lucky loser with Golberg (who placed third).

Northug avoided a dramatic late crash in the semifinal from Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov, who poled between his own legs in the finishing straight and spun completely around, clipping Northug’s ski — who  was behind him — but Northug scooted around and outlunged Sweden’s Emil Jönsson for fourth.

In the men’s final, two of five Norwegians opted for skate skis on a slowing and chewed-up course. Northug wasn’t one of them and broke away on the first climb, putting nearly 40 meters into his competitors.

He looked back once, 200 meters before the finish, to make sure he was still in control and won the final by 1.57 seconds over teammate Ola Vigen Hattestad, who also stuck with classic skis on the herringbone course and locked up second. Hattestad outlunged Finland’s Toni Ketelae, who led the chase after Northug, in a photo finish. Ketelae placed third for his first World Cup top 10.

Golberg finished fourth (+6.28) and the two Norwegians at the back of the pack — Finn Hågen Krogh and Sondre Turvoll Fossli — placed fifth (+9.23) and sixth (+10.26) because of their skate-ski gamble.

Two American men qualified for the heats: Andy Newell in 21st and Simi Hamilton in 30th. Hamilton and Newell went on to place third and fourth in the first quarterfinal, respectively, 3.26 and 3.68 seconds behind Golberg as the winner and Hattestad, who was 0.3 seconds back in second.

Erik Bjornsen missed the top-30 qualifying cutoff in 57th, and for the Canadians, Lenny Valjas was 45th, Jess Cockney 61st and Patrick-Stewart Jones (Alberta World Cup Academy) 62nd in his first European World Cup.

Results

Bjørgen Captures First Tour de Ski Title; Stephen Finishes in Top Five

Norway’s Marit Bjørgen locked up her first women’s Tour de Ski title on Sunday in the 2015 Tour’s final stage, a 9 k freestyle pursuit in Val di Fiemme, Italy.

Bjørgen crossed the line in a time of 33:27.5.

Defending champion and stage-six winner Therese Johaug of Norway was second, 1:39.2 behind Bjørgen, and also had the day’s fastest time on the notoriously difficult course (32:16.4). Norway’s Heidi Weng started the day in second but took third (+1:59.5), unable to maintain Johaug’s furious pace despite posting the second-fastest time of the day (33:15.8).

American Liz Stephen – the only North American skier left in the field – started the day in sixth but managed to climb into the fourth position in front of the Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk, who did not finish, and Norway’s Ragnhild Haga.

However, Haga would reclaim the lead over Stephen in the final kilometer. Stephen stayed just behind Haga until the last 100 m, but did not have the strength to keep up in the final stretch and finished in fifth (+7:41.8). Haga crossed the line 7:32.2 behind Bjørgen to complete a Norwegian sweep of the top four.

Stephen posted the fourth-fastest time of the day in 33:29.9, which was just 2.4 seconds slower than Bjørgen’s time. She is now 11th overall in the World Cup standings.

Kowalczyk, four-time Tour champion, fainted about 900 m before the finish and was taken away in an ambulance, according to Eurosport.com. She was already having a difficult race, having falling to ninth after 8.1 k.

Eva Vrabcova-Nyvltova of the Czech Republic finished in sixth (+8:29.4), while Germans Nicole Fessel and Diane Herrmann captured seventh (+8:55.8) and eighth (+9:35.1), respectively.

Results

Sundby Clinches Repeat Tour de Ski Win With Gutsy Uphill Performance

Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway started the final pursuit of the Tour de Ski, a 9 k stage finishing with more than two kilometers of brutal uphill on the Alpe Cermins, 3 seconds behind teammate Petter Northug.

The pair worked together on the first few kilometers in Val di Fiemme, Italy, stretching their lead over Calle Halfvarsson of Sweden and Evgeniy Belov of Russia. But once they hit the climb, Sundby left his teammate in the dust and skied to a 34-second win for the overall Tour de Ski title.

It’s his second consecutive such title, but Sundby said that this one meant more.

“This one was way sweeter… the competition is much better this year,” he told FIS in an on-air interview.

Northug managed to hold onto second place. Belov ditched Halfvarsson, a tall Swede who struggled on the 28% grade, and raced into third place in the Tour, 51 seconds behind Sundby.

Switzerland’s Dario Cologna, a previous two-time winner of the Tour de Ski, locked up fifth place. A group of skiers fought for sixth, with Roland Clara of Italy coming out on top thanks to the fastest pursuit time of the day.

The second fastest time of the day went to Maurice Manificat of France, who raced from 25th up to 16th.

Canada’s Ivan Babikov and Devon Kershaw finished the Tour in 31st and 35th, respectively.

Results

Tscharnke Wins Tight 15 k Classic; Northug Loses Time in Overall Tour Standings

Germany’s Tim Tscharnke narrowly won the dramatic sixth stage of the 2015 Tour de Ski, a 15 k classic mass start in Val di Fiemme, Italy, on Saturday.

Tscharnke, who began the race 30th in the Tour standings, outlunged Alexey Poltoranin of Kazakhstan (+0.0) to finish in 46:48.8. Dario Cologna of Switzerland was in the final sprint and took third (+0.4) despite crashing 29 minutes into the race, while Stanislav Volzhentsev beat fellow Russian Alexander Bessmertnykh in a photo finish to take fourth (+0.7),

Tour leader Petter Northug of Norway took 21st (+17.2). This was just barely good enough to hold the overall Tour lead over teammate Martin Johnsrud Sundby, who finished in eighth (+4.1) after falling alongside Niklas Dyrhaug five minutes into the race.

Northug is just 3.1 seconds ahead of Sundby in the overall standings going into Sunday’s final stage in Val di Fiemme, a 9 k freestyle pursuit. Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson, who was 27th on Saturday (+30.0), is 26.8 seconds behind Northug in third.

Russia’s Evgeniy Belov fell along with Cologna — their skis became tied up as they descended a hill — and is now fourth in the standings (+35.3) after crossing the line in 17th (+14.1).

Canada’s Alex Harvey took 34th (+2:12.5) and will not race on Sunday. He dropped from sixth to 16th in the overall standings. Meanwhile, teammates Ivan Babikov and Devon Kershaw finished 40th (3:28.6) and 41st (3:39.5), respectively.

Bjørgen Wins Toblach 15 k Pursuit, Extends Tour Lead Over Weng

Marit Bjørgen is well on her way to winning her first Tour de Ski title after cruising to victory on Thursday in the Tour’s fifth stage, a 15 k freestyle pursuit on in Toblach, Italy, completing three 5 k laps on the difficult course in 36:37.9.

Bjørgen posted the fastest time of the day, which allowed her to extend her overall Tour lead over fellow Norwegian Heidi Weng. Weng finished 1:58.8 seconds behind Bjørgen while completing the course in 37:02.4, the second fastest time of the day. She now trails Bjørgen by 2:03.8 in the Tour standings.

Therese Johaug of Norway was third (+2:51.4) and posted the fourth fastest time of the day (37:12.8), while Sweden’s Emma Wiken finished fourth (+4:20.4) but lost time on the top three Norwegians after posting the 10th fastest time (37:28.1). However, she still overtook Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk – who won the 2010-2013 Tours – to move into fourth overall, 4:35.4 seconds behind Bjørgen.

Kowalczyk was also overtaken by Norway’s Ragnhild Haga (+4:23.7) and ended the day in sixth (+4:46.7) after posting the 19th fastest time (37.59.8).

Meanwhile, Finland’s Laura Mononen had the day’s most impressive jump, starting the race in 17th but finishing 10th (+5:26.9) after completing the course with the third fastest time (37:11.8).

“No victory is easy but I felt amazingly strong and I could focus only on my performance,” Bjørgen said to the press. “I am happy I could increase the gap little bit … It looks good for me but there are still two competitions until the end.”

Meanwhile, Johaug struggled to find the right pace on Thursday, but is looking forward to the final two stages in Val di Fiemme, Italy.

“I am still motivated to fight for the second place on the top of Alpe Cermis. Nothing is decided yet. There are still two competitions remaining,” she said to the press.

Only two Americans raced on Thursday. Liz Stephen posted the eighth fastest time of the day (37:25.6), but still finished 5:31.9 seconds behind Bjørgen and remains in 14th overall. Kikkan Randall – who decided that this would be her last race of the Tour – finished 25th (7:21.7) and posted the seventeenth fastest time of the day in 37:53.6.

Jessie Diggins, who was 40th on the Tour, did not start on Thursday.

Results

Tour de Ski overall standings

Northug Outlasts Halfvarsson, Sundby and Belov to Take Toblach Pursuit; Harvey 6th

With a 1.5-second head start in the men’s Tour de Ski 25-kilometer freestyle pursuit on Thursday, Petter Northug used both brains and brawn to edge the four men behind him: Calle Halfvarrson of Sweden, Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby, and Russia’s Evgeniy Belov, respectively.

The Norwegian Tour leader heading into Thursday’s race, Northug hung around fourth through every checkpoint on the five-lap race. At 20.7 k, he trailed Belov in first by 2.3 seconds. Sundby sat in second, less than a second back, and Halfvarsson positioned himself in third.

The fifth stage and the Tour’s longest-distance race came down to a sprint between the four, with Northug pulling out a two-second win in 53:56.9, ahead of Halfvarsson in second, then Sundby, who was third for the third-straight day (+2.2), and Belov in fourth (+2.4).

“I was tired in the third and fourth lap,” Northug told FIS. “I tried to save some energy for the last lap. It is a close Tour de Ski and we will see what happens in the mass start in Val di Fiemme.”

A minute and 43.5 seconds later (and 1:45.9 behind Northug), Norway’s third man, Niklas Dyrhaug nipped Alex Harvey by one-tenth of a second for fifth. Harvey improved one spot in the standings to sixth, finishing 0.4 seconds ahead of Switzerland’s Dario Cologna in seventh.

Wednesday’s 10 k classic winner, Alexey Poltoranin of Kazakhstan took eighth (+1:49.1), Sweden’s Daniel Richardsson finished ninth (+1:51) and Russia’s Maxim Vylegzhanin was 10th (+2:08.3).

Three Canadian men competed in the pursuit, with Devon Kershaw improving to 25th (+4:11) after starting 29th, and Ivan Babikov holding his starting position in 31st at the finish (+4:13.9).

Harvey is currently sixth in the Tour with two stages to go in Val di Fiemme, Italy (although he plans to skip the final climb on Sunday), 2:01 behind Northug. Kershaw is 25th (+4:26) and Babikov is 31st (+4:28.9). Northug in first overall is currently 7 seconds ahead of Halfvarsson in second, and 12.2 ahead of Sundby in third.

The three American men withdrew from the Tour after Wednesday’s 10 k.

Results

Bjørgen 4-for-4 in Tour de Ski with Toblach 5 k Classic Stage Win

Marit Bjørgen rolled to her fourth Tour de Ski victory in as many stages and fifth-straight win on Wednesday, besting the women’s 5-kilometer classic individual start by more than 10 seconds over Norwegian teammate Therese Johaug in Toblach, Italy.

Before the race, Bjørgen said she considered double poling the whole thing.

“I was thinking about it then I heard the Norwegian guys say it’s not so big difference,” she said in a post-race interview with FIS. “I feel I’m in perfect shape and incredible, actually.”

Bjørgen started last of 52 women remaining through four stages in the Tour and posted the third-fastest 1.7 k time, 1.6 seconds behind Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk, who led through that point, and 0.9 seconds back from Johaug. Bjørgen topped Kowalczyk’s time at the 2.1 k mark by 0.5 seconds then continued to hammer over the final three kilometers to pull out the win in 12:48.5.

Johaug was third-fastest at 2.1 k and 10.8 seconds off Bjørgen’s mark at the finish. Heidi Weng completed another Norwegian podium sweep in third (+13.1), just ahead of Sweden’s Emma Wiken, an early leader who eventually ended up fourth (+13.8).

Kowalczyk faded over the final few kilometers to place fifth (+17.6), another early leader Anne Kyllönen of Finland took sixth (+19.8), and Russia’s Evgenia Shapovalova was seventh (+21.1). American Sadie Bjornsen started 40th and initially finished fourth before ending up eighth (+22.7), for her second-best World Cup stage result after placing seventh in this year’s opening prologue of the Tour.

Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Østberg took ninth (+26.1), and Sweden’s Anna Haag was 10th (+31.6).

Also for the U.S., Jessie Diggins made it into the top 20 in 19th (+52.1), and Liz Stephen placed 29th (+1:01.6) to move into 16th in the overall Tour standings.

Kikkan Randall was 42nd, Sophie Caldwell 45th, and Ida Sargent 46th after posting the 20th- and 22nd-fastest times though the 1.7 and 2.1 k checkpoints.

Results

Tour standings through 4 stages

Poltoranin Edges Out Belov for 10 k Classic Tour Victory in Toblach

Russia’s Evgeniy Belov created some drama in his final push to take the first-place position from Alexey Poltoranin of Kazakhstan, but came up just short, finishing 0.05 seconds behind Poltoranin in Wednesday’s Tour de Ski men’s 10 k classic individual start in Toblach, Italy.

Poltoranin finished the hilly course in 22:51.8 to earn his first Tour victory and podium.

Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby took third (+4.2) for his second straight Tour podium and fourth straight top-10 finish, while Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson was fourth (+14.3). Dario Cologna of Switzerland, winner of Saturday’s 4 k freestyle prologue in Oberstdorf, took fifth (+14.3).

The Tour leader coming into Wednesday, Norway’s Petter Northug, failed to reach the podium for the first time on the Tour, finishing in seventh (+22.8).

On the Canadian side, Alex Harvey – fifth overall after Tuesday’s freestyle sprint, when he was knocked out in the quarterfinals – lost time on the long final descent into the stadium and took 14th (+36.4) to move into 13th overall in the tour. Devon Kershaw came through in 21st (+48.4), while Ivan Babikov was 32nd (24:02.9).

Meanwhile, Erik Bjornsen was the top American in 58th (+1:42.0), and Simi Hamilton took 60th (+1:48.0) after an eighth-place finish in Tuesday’s sprint. Andy Newell, who crashed during the qualifying round on Tuesday, took 67th out of 70 finishers (+2:27.2).

Results

Tour standings through Stage 4

Bjørgen Takes Another Tour Stage; Pellegrino Outsprints Norwegians for Win

Marit Bjørgen continues to dominate the Tour de Ski after leading an all-Norwegian podium in Tuesday’s 1.4 k women’s freestyle sprint in Val Müstair, Switzerland. Bjørgen has won the Tour’s first three stages.

Bjørgen, who was first after qualifying, cruised to victory in the final in 3:37.73 after easily winning her quarterfinal and semifinal heats. Heidi Weng took second (+1.97), outsprinting fellow Norwegian Ingvild Flugstad Østberg (+2.41), while Sweden’s Stina Nilsson was well back in fourth (+6.40). Maiken Caspersen Falla of Norway was fifth (+7.74), and Switzerland’s Laurien Van der Graaff took sixth (+27.71) after stumbling early.

American Sophie Caldwell qualified in seventh and won her quarterfinal heat (3:42.25) by lunging ahead of Italy’s Gaia Veurich (+0.05), but could not snag a lucky loser spot after finishing third in her semifinal, 1.24 seconds behind Bjørgen (3:39.04). Caldwell ended up seventh overall.

Kikkan Randall, also of the U.S., made it through to the semifinals as a lucky loser (+1.95 behind Weng), but struggled to make a deciding move during the fast second semifinal heat. She finished the heat in fifth, 3.20 behind Østberg (3:35.84), and ended up tenth overall. Meanwhile, American Jessica Diggins qualified in 26th and ended up 23rd overall after finishing fifth in her quarterfinal heat (+4.66) behind Nilsson.

On the men’s side, Italy’s Federico Pellegrino – winner of the Dec. 21 World Cup freestyle sprint in Davos, Switzerland – outsprinted and outlunged two Norwegians to win the final heat in a time of 3:13.65. Tour de Ski leader and Sunday’s Oberstdorf pursuit winner Petter Northug was second (+0.18), beating teammate Martin Johnsrud Sundby by 0.01 in a photo finish.

Evgeniy Belov of Russia could not maintain the pace down the stretch, taking fourth (+2.33), while fellow Russian Ilia Chernousov was well back in fifth (+6.07). Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson – third in Sunday’s pursuit – was sixth (+15.05).

American Simi Hamilton – who won last year’s Tour de Ski freestyle sprint in Lezerheide, Switzerland – finished eighth overall after qualifying in 30th. He snuck into the semifinals as a lucky loser after being outlunged in the quarterfinals for second by Dusan Kozisez of the Czech Republic, then finished fourth in his semifinal heat, 1.69 seconds behind Belov (3:16.20).

All three Canadians, including early favorite Alex Harvey, did get past the quarterfinals. After qualifying in 18th, Harvey lost a sprint to the finish (0.23 behind Halfvarsson) to take third in his quarterfinal heat and 16th overall, while Devon Kershaw finished 3.19 seconds behind Poland’s Maciej Starega (3:16.24) to take fifth in his heat and 22nd overall. Len Valjas finished 28th overall after a sixth place finish in his heat.

The Tour de Ski continues tomorrow in Toblach, Italy, with a men’s 10 k and women’s 5 k classic distance race.

Northug Hangs Back, Powers Hard to Win Tour Classic Pursuit, 0.6 Seconds Over Harvey

Petter Northug didn’t want to be the guy up front carrying the weight of dozens of men behind him and at least 15 men with two kilometers to go. He didn’t need to.

The Norwegian carefully timed his finishing push in the men’s 15-kilometer classic pursuit on Sunday, the second stage of the Tour de Ski in Obertsdorf, Germany, to surge from seventh to first on the double-pole straightaway to the finish.

With teammate Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Switzerland’s Dario Cologna dictating the pace for most of the race, Northug sat tight in seventh at 14.4 k while hungry, perhaps over-eagar contenders, like Italy’s Francesco De Fabiani, pushed hard over the final climb. Sundby was up front until that point, almost even with Cologna, before stumbling when Sweden’s Calle Halfvarrson appeared to step on the back of his ski up the herringbone part of the hill. De Fabiani took the lead over the top, and Halfvarsson — at the front for much of the race — followed in second.

Norway’s Niklas Dyrhaug, who had also been hanging in the top five for much of the race up to that point, crested the hill in third.

Down toward the stadium and up and over a small bridge, De Fabiani lost his balance slightly, and with it, his momentum and the lead. Halfvarsson sped past him, then Dyrhaug, Canada’s Alex Harvey, Cologna, and Kazakhstan’s Alexey Poltoranin. Northug put on an impressive finishing kick, taking advantage of the draft and sweeping around the outside of the final downhill corner, outlasting Harvey and everyone else for the win in 42:01.2.

Harvey out-double poled Halfvarsson for second by two-tenths of a second, finishing 0.6 seconds after Northug. Dyrhaug missed the podium by 1.2 seconds in fourth, Poltoranin was another 0.1 seconds back in fifth, and Cologna just another two-tenths of a second back in sixth, 2.3 seconds behind the winner. De Fabiani took seventh (+3.4), just ahead of Sundby in eighth (+3.8).

While Harvey led the North Americans with his second-place showing, his Canadian teammates placed 30th and 36th, with Ivan Babikov (+1:16.6) and Devon Kershaw (+1:37.5), respectively. American Erik Bjornsen finished 60th (+3:07.3), one place ahead of teammate Simi Hamilton (+3:14.6) in 61st. Canada’s Lenny Valjas was 83rd (+5:22), and American Andy Newell 88th (+8:05.8) of 88 finishers.

Results

Cologna Back on Top in Tour Prologue; Harvey in 13th

Dario Cologna started his campaign for a fourth Tour de Ski win Saturday, with a victory in the 4.4 k freestyle prologue in Oberstdorf, Germany. The Swiss skier was only male in 93 starters to break the 10-minute barrier, with a time of 10:54.2. Calle Halfvarsson of Sweden finished second, five seconds back from Cologna. Petter Northug of Norway rounded out the podium just 5.5 seconds off the winning pace.

Ilia Chernousov of Russia and Marcus Hellner placed fourth and fifth.

Overall World Cup leader and 2014 Tour de Ski winner Martin Sundby placed 10th after skiing on the wrong part of the course. At the time of publication there was no official word on whether the deviance from the course would result in disqualification.

Alex Harvey was the top North American in 13th place. The Canadian won the same event last year, with teammate Devon Kershaw close behind in second. Today, Kershaw placed 45th. The USST’s Simi Hamilton was the only other North American to make the top-30 with a 26th place finish.

Results

Bjørgen Crushes Tour Prologue, Norway Sweeps; Bjornsen & Stephen 7-8

Marit Bjørgen said that she wanted to win the Tour de Ski, and she has certainly gotten off on the right foot. The Norwegian superstar, the best female skier in history, has never won the Tour but she decimated today’s 3.2 k prologue in Oberstdorf, Germany, winning by 10.7 seconds over teammate Heidi Weng. Factoring in the bonus seconds awarded to the podium finishers at each stage of the seven-stage competition, Bjørgen has a 15-second lead in the standings going into tomorrow’s 10 k classic pursuit.

I probably could not have had a better start,” Bjørgen told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.I tried to hold back a bit for the second lap and had good with power towards the end. It was a perfect day.”

Ragnhild Haga, a 23-year-old Norwegian who is a former U23 World Champion, snagged her first World Cup or stage World Cup podium by finishing third. Teammate Therese Johaug placed fourth and Nicole Fessel of Germany fifth.

It was also a good day for the U.S. team, with Sadie Bjornsen and Liz Stephen sitting 1-2 until late in the morning. The pair ended up seventh and eighth, 19.0 and 19.9 seconds behind Bjørgen and just seven seconds off the podium. Jessie Diggins placed 14th, 22 seconds behind Bjørgen.

No Canadian women are competing in the Tour.

Stay tuned for in-depth reports.

Results

Norway’s Sveen Steps In for Tønseth for Tour de Ski 

Norway's Simen Andreas Sveen racing to 55th in the 15 k freestyle FIS race on Nov. 22 in Beitostølen, Norway. (Photo: Inge Scheve)

Norway’s Simen Andreas Sveen racing to 55th in the 15 k freestyle FIS race on Nov. 22 in Beitostølen, Norway. (Photo: Inge Scheve)

Norway’s Tour de Ski team will feature many of its regular faces — Marit Bjørgen, Therese Johaug, Martin Johnsrud Sundby, Petter Northug, etc. — with the exception of 23-year-old Didrik Tønseth, who’s had a breakout season so far.

Simen Sveen, 26, will replace Didrik Tønseth, who underwent appendicitis surgery right before Christmas. Tønseth is recovering well after suffering acute appendicitis during the last World Cup in Davos, Switzerland, and is now back to normal training, according to the Norwegian Ski Association.

“Didrik is showing great progress after the surgery and is back on snow,” national-team director Vidar Løfshus said in a press release on Monday. “However, considering the season as a whole, he will prioritize training over racing and therefore will not compete in the Tour de Ski.”

Norway sends 15 athletes to Tour de Ski: seven women (Bjørgen, Johaug, Heidi Weng, Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, Ragnhild Haga, Ragnhild Haga, and Martine Ek Hagen) and eight men (Sveen, Sundby, Northug, Sjur Røthe, Chris Jespersen, Simen Håkon Østensen, Eldar Rønning, and Niklas Dyrhaug).

However, Pål Golberg and Finn Hågen Krogh, who both delivered strong performances during the Lillehammer mini-tour early in December, are sitting out Tour de Ski to focus on the World Championships. Other than the FIS World Championships in Falun, Sweden, the Tour is one of the main events for the Norwegian team this season.

Last season, Sundby and Johaug won the overall Tour de Ski. That was the first time Norway won the overall titles in either men or women. This season, the Norwegian skiers have been dominating the World Cup since the first race in Finland in late November and are certainly expected to be fighting for the top spots in the 2015 Tour as well.

“We promise to do our best to fight for the overall Tour de Ski trophies this year as well, but we are well aware that our competitors are coming to the prestigious events honed and hungry,” Løfshus said. “This will be a fight every day, all the way to the top of Alpe Cermis.”