Liz Stephen leads a charge up a hill in the frigid skiathlon in Rybinsk, where she finished with points along with Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall. (Getty Images/AFP-Natalia Kolesnikova)
RYBINSK, Russia (Feb. 5) - Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) continued to set the pace with strong U.S. Cross Country Ski Team performances in Russia for the third day, finishing 12th in a 15k skiathlon in Rybinsk leading three Americans into the points. Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) was 25th and Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) 26th. Norway's Therese Johaug won over Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk in the mixed classic and freestyle event, while Russia dominated the men's 30k led by Maxim Vylegzhanin.
Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) led the USA for the third straight race in 12th in her first World Cup skiathlon.
The skiathlon mixes a 7.5k classic leg followed by a "pit stop" equipment change then a 7.5k freestyle leg.
Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) was 25th, Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) 26th.
Randall was 19th, Diggins 20th at the exchange before Diggins moved up on the skate leg.
Randall held onto her fourth position in the FIS World Cup overall standings but now has only a 21 point margin over Charlotte Kalla.
The World Cup now heads for Nove Mesto, Czech Republic for a distance race and relay.
QUOTES Jessie Diggins Yesterday definitely took a toll on my body, but I was still excited to hammer out a race and see what I could do. I definitely went through a few phases of feeling super tired, then much better after a little recovery on the flat section, then super smashed again. Sometimes I just had to put my headdown and fight to keep up with the pack I was with, other times I'd be feeling good enough to bridge a gap to the next group.
The pace was so crazy! The women here just go and go and go. And if you can't hang with them, you get dropped so fast! It's definitely cool to see and it makes me want to work even harder so that one day I can hang with the lead pack.
The classic stage was a little tough for me. Although the Salomon boards were fast and our wax techs did a good job getting me enough kick, I was definitely struggling with catching up. I'd gotten into a great position right after the mass start, but then over the bridge I tripped and fell - it was completely my own fault - but I got skied right over and just tried to makemyself as small as possible till the group went by so I could get up start working my way back through the pack.
Kikkan Randall I was feeling OK, but not 100% out there. I tried to hang with the opening pace and stayed up in the top ten for most of the classic leg, but couldn't quite find the pop I've had earlier this season. I had some good moments and then some rough moments in the skate portion. I still have some recovering to do. I think I may have underestimated the effect that stomach flu had on my energy stores. Didn't feel like I was at my best today. It will be good to have this next week to put in some good distance training and hopefully kick around.