“I was really looking forward to the relay today,” said Peru, Vermont’s Sophie Caldwell before today’s race Wold Cup relay in Nove Mesto, in the Czech Republi. Caldwel and Montpelier’s Liz Stephen
made up half of the women’s relay team. The two Vermonters along with teammates Jessie Diggins and Sadie Bjornsen were even happier at the end of the 4x5K relay: The U.S. women’s cross country team skied to a second place finish in the FIS World Cup event, the best ever U.S. women’s relay finish.
“There has been an amazing vibe on our team this year, so we are showing up at the start line ready to fight!” said Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA), who skied the second classic leg. “It’s fun to feel like the top is in reach and we are continuing to chase that top step! I’m really proud of everyone.”
Right from the start, the U.S. women were tactical and settled into good positions to allow them to fight and move into better spots throughout the race. Sophie Caldwell and Bjornsen led the first two legs of the relay, each skiing to third – some of the best classic legs ever in a women’s relay.
“The scramble leg (opening leg) was a good fit for me,” said Caldwell. “My goal was to fight as hard as I could to stay with the group and not to blow up in order to tag Sadie off in a good place. Norway’s Ingvild Oestberg took off the second lap, but I was able to stay with our little chase pack and come into the tag right in the mix.”
Caldwell and Bjornsen’s efforts set up Liz Stephen (East Montpelier, VT) and Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) to continue the battle with Finland, which had been challenging the U.S. women for second. As Stephen tagged to relay anchor Diggins, she swiftly caught up to Finland’s Kerttu Niskanen and was able to gain a 13.8 second lead by the finish, to claim a convincing second place.
“My tactic for the final leg was to take it out as fast as possible to put time between myself and Finland,” said Diggins said. “Going into the second lap I skied a little more carefully once I knew it was locked in because I didn’t want to bobble or make any mistakes.”
Norway grabbed its tenth consecutive World Cup relay victory by 42.1 seconds over the U.S., who finished second. Finland was third. In the men’s 4×7.5k relay, Norway claimed first place, just six seconds ahead of Russia. Italy sprinted to third to steal the spot from Germany.