Jessie Diggins wins the Tour de Ski on Jan. 10, 2021 in Val Di Fiemme, Italy.
From her training on the hills near Afton Alps in her Minnesota hometown, Jessie Diggins proved ready to march up the considerably taller Italian Dolomites Sunday to become the first American champion of the prestigious Tour de Ski cross-country skiing competition.
Diggins, a 2018 Olympic champion, entered the tour’s eighth and final stage Sunday with a 54-second lead over Russia’s Yulia Stupak, and the Afton, Minnesota, native ensured that was never in doubt throughout the 10-kilometer freestyle mass start dubbed “the final climb” in Val di Fiemme, Italy, keeping stage winner Ebba Andersson in her sights throughout the climb while holding Stupak at bay in a second-place finish.
The result extended Diggins’ tour lead to 1:24.8 over Stupak, with Sweden’s Andersson taking third, 2:00.8 behind Diggins. U.S. teammate Rosie Brennan, coming in as the overall world cup leader, finished seventh Sunday to end the tour in sixth place.
“This is a lifelong goal,” Diggins said.
The tour victory marks the latest time Diggins has made history in the sport. In 2018 she partnered with Kikkan Randall to win the team sprint in PyeongChang, Team USA’s first Olympic gold medal in cross-country skiing. Earlier that year she became the first American to finish on the podium at the Tour de Ski, placing third. She’s now the tour’s first winner from outside Europe.
“I think it’s so cool for our country to show that it’s possible,” she said.
This year’s 10-day, eight-stage tour began New Year’s Day in Val Müstair, Switzerland, and continued this week in Toblach, Italy, before wrapping up with three stages this weekend in Val di Fiemme.
Diggins came out of the gate fast in Val Müstair, posting back-to-back third-place finishes in the opening freestyle sprint and 10K classic mass start before winning a 10K freestyle pursuit. With the competition moving to Toblach she scored another win, this time in a 10K freestyle, before reaching the podium for a fifth race in a row Wednesday when she took third in the 10K classic pursuit.
The move to Val di Fiemme proved more challenging, with Diggins finishing ninth in Friday's 10K classic mass start and being eliminated in the semifinals of Saturday’s classic sprint.
However, she proved up for the task in the grueling final climb. Staying with the lead pack through the first 2.5K, Diggins and Stupak remained together in second and third at the 6.6K mark before Diggins broke away.
Sweden’s Andersson proved uncatchable up the slope that reached a max slope of 44 degrees, finishing in 36:45.6. Diggins came in just 9.2 seconds behind her, followed by France’s Delphine Claudel 32.6 seconds behind Andersson. Stupak fell to fourth, 40 seconds back. Brennan, meanwhile, was 1:17.8 back.
With the result Diggins replaced Brennan atop the world cup standings, becoming just the third American to hold that position, while Brennan dropped to third. Both also rank among the top five in the sprint and distance standings.
The men’s final climb was to follow the women’s race in Val di Fiemme. Gus Schumacher, a 2020 junior world champion, was the top American going into the race at 18th.