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U.S.’ Sophie Caldwell fifth in World Cup cross-country sprint final

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After finishing on the sprint podium once already this season, U.S. cross-country skier Sophie Caldwell looked well-positioned to notch another top three finish in Dresden, Germany.

After qualifying with the second-best time, Caldwell was surrounded by Swedes on the leaderboard. Caldwell sat just .49 hundredths of a second behind the leader, Sweden’s Hanna Falk, and .80 hundredths ahead of Falk’s countrywoman, Stina Nilsson. Behind Nilsson in fourth was Sweden’s Evelina Settlin.

In a stacked quarterfinal heat, Caldwell, Falk and Settlin were forced to battle it out to advance to the semifinals. Caldwell claimed her spot, finishing second in the heat, but Settlin and Falk, with third and fourth place finishes respectively, were forced to sweat it out. But what may have been a strategy to save their legs for the final, Falk and Settlin did eventually earn the two lucky loser spots to advance to the semis.

Racing in the first semifinal heat, Caldwell finished her first lap by bringing up the rear. But what a difference one more trip around the course can make. Caldwell stuck to her race plan, ultimately finishing second behind Nilsson.

In the second lap of the final, Caldwell attempted to make her move on the outside, but was passed on the turn for home on the inside. Unable to catch the lead pack, and running out of snow before the finish, Caldwell crossed the line in fifth. A trio of Swedes, Nilsson, Maja Dahlqvist and Jonna Sundling raced to the top three spots in the final. Full results are here.

Caldwell’s sprint podium finish this year came during the Tour de Ski, when she raced into the two spot at Val Muestair. The U.S.’ Jessie Diggins joined Caldwell on that same podium in third. Diggins, who finished sixth overall in Tour de Ski last week did not race in the sprint in Dresden.

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Norway’s Oestberg wins first Tour de Ski; U.S.’ Diggins finishes off podium

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Watching the cross-country athletes compete in the seventh and final stage of the 2018-19 Tour de Ski, dubbed the Final Climb, is a bit like watching the film “Titanic.” Everyone knows the misery which awaits each skier before they cross the finish line.

The grueling race which culminates in a 3.5km uphill climb, punishes skiers by putting their fitness to the ultimate test.

Entering the final race, Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg held a commanding lead over the rest of the field, but could she perform on Alpe Cermis, a hill which has beaten her up in the past?

“It’s maybe the toughest race of the year,” Oestberg said before the start of the race.  “It’s tough to prepare [for this race] because it’s about preparing for pain and how to deal with the pain.”

However, Oestberg was prepared for the pain, and she cemented her victory with a time of 35 minutes, 15 seconds in the Final Climb to win her first Tour de Ski of her career.

Russia’s Natalia Nepryaeva finished second overall for the fourth-consecutive season, while Finland’s Krista Parmakoski rounded out the podium in third. Parmakoski was able to make the final podium despite never having finished better than fourth in any of the first six stages of the Tour de Ski. Parmakoski finished third in the Final Climb. Full results are here.

Last season, Jessie Diggins became the first U.S. skier to make a final Tour de Ski podium when she finished third overall. Her attempt to make a return appearance on this year’s podium fell short, despite three third place finishes over the course of the seven-race event.

Diggins finished sixth in the Final Climb and sixth overall in the final Tour de Ski standings.

On the men’s side, three-time 2018 Olympic champion, 22-year-old Norwegian Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, became the youngest athlete to win the Tour de Ski. Klaebo finished the men’s Final Climb in first with a time of 32 minutes, 51.3 seconds. Klaebo’s time was good enough to hold off two Russians for the top prize. Alexander Bolshunov and Sergey Ustiugov finished second and third in the final Tour de Ski standings.

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Diggins drops out of top three as Tour de Ski heads to last test

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Racing in the penultimate Tour de Ski event, U.S. skier Jessie Diggins finished 7th, complicating her attempt to finish on the podium after tomorrow’s final 9km slog, dubbed the Final Climb in Val di Fiemme.

For much of the first part of the women’s 10km Mass Start, Diggins positioned herself just behind the top ten skiers. Diggins worked her way into seventh place at the halfway mark, but was unable to do better as she neared the finish line. 

This 10km Mass Start was raced using the classical cross-country racing technique. It is a style of skiing Diggins has shown rapid improvement, but today she struggled to match the times of the best in the world, including Tour de Ski overall leader, Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg. Full results are here.

Oestberg takes a 53-second lead into the Final Climb event tomorrow, one in which she has struggled with in the past. The last 3km stretch of the Final Climb is a punishing 30% grade uphill fight to the finish. Every second will count for the Norwegian as she attempts to win her first Tour de Ski title. She finished second in the seven-stage event in 2016 and 2018.

Watch the conclusion of the Tour de Ski with the men’s and women’s Final Climb tomorrow beginning at 7 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel or stream on NBC Sports Gold.

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