DAVOS, Switzerland (Dec. 13, 2014) – The U.S. Cross Country Ski Team took another step forward, as the World Cup tour headed to Davos. In the regular World Cup rotation, Davos is where the sun comes out. The opening World Cup events are marked by location, deep into arctic terrain: the Ruka Triple and the Lillehammer mini tour are shaded by a low hanging sun and thin set northern pines typical of life above the 66th parallel. Davos breaks from frozen north and trends more like western resort-town American conditions. The Swiss resort is the short sleeves to Scandinavia’s neck gaiter.
Sadie Bjornsen joined a pack of three U.S. women who skied into the low 20s in a 10k classic race in Davos. (Getty Images/AFP-Fabrice Coffrini)
While the top of the results page from this morning's 10 and 15k classic event broke with the familiar Norwegian red and routine wins from Therese Johaug and Martin Sundby, the day unfolded differently with new names, new stories and new reasons to look ahead to the developing World Cup season.
"We knew this season would be slower in the outset," explained U.S. Cross Country Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover, "and we're still using this period to kick things up. But we're going to close on Norway, other countries will close on Norway. It's a long season."
True to Grover's word, the U.S. women demonstrated their collective potential finishing together with Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) in 20th, Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) in 21st and Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) in 22nd, just six seconds apart from each other and forty seconds away from the top five finishers of the day.
Stephen described the race saying, "Davos is a tough course, in that it is a lot of gradual skiing that doesn't allow for any real rest or let up. It is 3k of slightly up and 2k of slightly down into the stadium. It was a great race for me, as I have not tended to be able to consistently ski into the points in races here, and never in classic on this course, so I am really happy with the way I was able to execute my plan of attack today. "
Stephen wasn't alone in aggressive skiing against dominant Norway. Finland's Kerttu Niskanen and Sweden's Anna Haag, a common training partner of the US women, were both among the athletes improving significantly in Davos. The Swede finished fourth breaking up Norway's dominant women slightly and promising a change in the weeks to come. Niskanen finished third.
Looking ahead, Head Coach Chris Grover was optimistic, "Today was great skiing by the U.S. women today. Liz, Jessie (Diggins), and Sadie (Bjornsen)traded places leading each other on different places on the course and ended up finishing close together. Skis were tricky in terms of finding the right amount of kick for the long climb and the right glide for the long decent."
Racing resumes tomorrow with a freestyle sprint.
Norway was strong with Martin Sundby and Therese Johaug winning again but other countries are rising. The U.S. women skied together and well with Liz Stephen finishing 20th, Jessie Diggins finishing 21st and Sadie Bjornsen finishing 22nd. Erik Bjornsen was the top U.S. men's finisher in 48th. Three men chose to skip kick wax all together for the classic format race today: Norway's Petter Northug, Swiss Dario Cologna and Sweden's Calle Halvarsson, a bold and previously unseen move in a distance race. The three double-poled the entire race - incredibly gutsy and impressive to watch. Davos also marked the first event of the season at altitude, a slight adjustment for skiers. Sunday the World Cup features freestyle sprints, with the tour remaining in Davos after the cancelation of La Clusaz for distance and sprints next weekend.