The final stage of the Tour de Ski features the toughest home stretch in cross-country skiing: a 3-kilometer climb up a mountain in the Italian Dolomites. For Jessie Diggins, it seemed like a fitting way to end the six-stage event.
Diggins finished 15th in Tuesday's 10-kilometer freestyle mass start in Val di Fiemme, Italy, leaving the Afton native eighth in the final overall standings. The defending champion called it "a Tour of roller coasters,'' in which elation quickly gave way to frustration. After winning two of the first three stages, Diggins crashed in Stage 4 when another skier obstructed her, then fought a head cold in the final races.
Those obstacles presented an uphill climb even before she got to Tuesday's finale. Though her overall time was three minutes, 15.8 seconds behind Natalia Nepryaeva of Russia, who won her first Tour crown, Diggins took pride in just making it through the eight-day event.
"These last two days have taken every ounce of energy I have,'' Diggins said. "One of the hardest things I've ever done was making it up that final climb (Tuesday). For me, being able to finish was a huge accomplishment, because I wasn't sure I was going to do that a few days ago, when I came down with (the cold).''
Nepryaeva finished with a total time of 1:59:38.5, ahead of Sweden's Ebba Andersson (+46.7) and Norway's Heidi Weng (+1:07.7). Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo won the men's title.
Though she wasn't able to defend her Tour de Ski championship, Diggins still got plenty of benefits. The races ramped up her fitness heading into the Beijing Olympics, which begin Feb. 4. Maintaining her focus after the crash — caused by Sweden's Frida Karlsson, who was disqualified and penalized — and persisting when she didn't feel well also boosted her confidence ahead of her third Winter Games.
Next on Diggins' schedule: rest and recovery. The U.S. Olympic team will be named the week of Jan. 17, and she is expected to race multiple events in Beijing.