OBERHOF, Germany — Alex Harvey shrugged off a broken ski and difficult conditions to win the 4.5-kilometer freestyle prologue for the Tour de Ski on Saturday, beating Canadian teammate Devon Kershaw by 4.1 seconds.
In the women’s prologue, overall cross-country World Cup leader Marit Bjoergen led a 1-2 Norwegian finish in a 3-kilometer race. Denise Herrmann of Germany was fourth, ahead of Jessica Diggins of Stratton. Andy Newell of Shaftsbury was the top finisher for the U.S. men in 20th place.
“I’m excited for the upcoming races,” Diggins said. “The Tour is a fun, extremely hard, exciting series and I think the key is to put together as many solid performances as you can. No day needs to be an A-plus, but if you can have a lot of A-minus days in a row without building too much fatigue, the Tour goes pretty well.”
Sophie Caldwell of Perufinished ninth in her first Tour de Ski race, while teammate Holly Brooks finished 21st and Liz Stephen of East Montpelier placed 34th.Caldwell, Newell and Diggins all train with the Stratton Mountain School T2 Team, which is coached by Gus Kaeding of Worcester.
“This is my first time starting the Tour de Ski and it’s pretty rare that we get to race prologues, so I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Caldwell said. “The snow was really wet and dirty but they salted some parts of the course beforehand, so those parts hardened up a little. I think I executed my plan well because I felt great my first lap.And even though I started to get tired my second lap, I held it together enough to have a strong finish.”
The eighth running of the grueling nine-day, seven-stage event began despite rain and very little snow. Workers hauled in snow to build the narrow strip used as the track for Saturday’s races.The weather forced organizers to shorten the course and change the format of the competition, a decision that led to the withdrawal of four-time women’s Tour winner Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland. The Olympic champion said it was unfair to have five freestyle and only two classical races in the seven-stage event.
“The changed program doesn’t fit into my Olympic preparations,” said Kowalczyk, a classical style specialist.
Harvey’s right ski broke early in the race and he was given a replacement from his team. With fog also coming down on the course, Harvey covered the distance in 9 minutes, 3.4 seconds to edge Kershaw. Chris Jespersen of Norway was third, 10.2 seconds behind.
Bjoergen covered the distance in 6 minutes, 34.4 seconds to leave teammate Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen 1.9 seconds behind. Sylwia Jaskowiec of Poland was 7 seconds behind in third.
Athletes will ski six more stages in the next eight days across courses in Germany, Switzerland and Italy.Diggins, Stephen and Noah Hoffman are the only U.S. skiers who plan to complete the whole Tour, which continues today with men’s and women’s sprints. The Tour ends in Italy on Jan. 5.
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