The 15th annual Tour de Ski ended in historic fashion for U.S. skiers Sunday in Val di Fiemme, Italy, where Minnesota’s Jessie Diggins became the first American to win the overall title and Anchorage’s Gus Schumacher became the first American man to crack the top 20 in the final standings.
Rosie Brennan of Anchorage, the World Cup overall leader since mid-December, surrendered the yellow race bib traditionally worn by the world leader to Diggins, who vaulted into the World Cup lead with a second-place showing in Sunday’s 10-kilometer hillclimb.
Brennan, who placed seventh in Sunday’s race, slipped to third place in the World Cup overall standings but retained her lead in the distance standings.
“I couldn’t think of a better person to take the yellow bib off my back,” the Alaska Pacific University skier said by email. “I am also really excited to hold onto the red distance bib!”
Diggins, who teamed up with Anchorage’s Kikkan Randall to win Olympic gold in the team sprint in 2018, made the podium in six of the Tour de Ski’s eight races and won two of the races.
“Wow,” Diggins told U.S. Ski & Snowboard. “This is a lifelong goal.”
The Tour de Ski is the most grueling race series on the World Cup calendar. This year, skiers competed at three venues in two countries in 10 days.
Schumacher, a 20-year-old Alaska Winter Stars skier, finished his rookie run in the Tour by placing 19th in the Sunday hillclimb and finishing 18th in the final standings. That’s the best overall finish by an American man, surpassing Noah Hoffman’s 22nd-place finish in 2016.
Schumacher’s Tour included three straight top-15 finishes in distance races, including a stunning eighth-place showing in Friday’s 15K classic.
Hailey Swirbul of APU, another Tour de Ski rookie, gave the Americans another top-20 result by placing 18th in the final women’s standings. Scott Patterson of APU finished 37th in the final men’s standings and his sister, Caitlin Patterson, was 34th among women.
The Tour wrapped up Sunday with a 10-kilometer freestyle race that is arduous under any circumstances, but especially cruel at the end of a long race series. The first 6.5 kilometers is on rolling terrain, but the final 3.5 kilometers are a climb up a steep alpine ski slope. According to U.S. Ski & Snowboard, there’s an average gradient of 12%, with stretches up to 44%.
Brennan, who lost some ground in Friday’s stage-six race when she got tripped, fell and finished a season-worst 31st, got into trouble again Sunday.
“I knew there was an opportunity to make up some places today so I set out with intention,” she said. “Unfortunately, I stuck a tip in the powder on the side of the trail leading into the climb and took another digger. ... I worked really hard to make up the places that I could and then really went for it when we reached the climb to try to get into the leading group.”
Ebba Andersson of Sweden won the race, with Diggins second, Brennan seventh and Swirbul 15th.
Brennan’s result lifted her one spot in the final Tour standings to sixth place -- 4.6 seconds out of fifth place.
“Sixth place is absolutely a career-best and I am proud of my effort of fighting back after the disaster that was stage 6, but I always want more of myself and those four seconds certainly sting a bit.”
Russia’s Denis Spitsov won the men’s race but the overall Tour victory went to countryman Alexander Bolshunov, who dominated the series with five gold medals, two silvers and one bronze. Bolshunov holds a huge lead in the World Cup overall standings, where Schumacher ranks an American-best 27th.