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Brennan Ninth in Challenging Lahti 20k Classic

By Leann Bentley - Stifel U.S. Ski Team
March, 2 2024
rosie brennan
Rosie Brennan racing the 20k classic in Lahti, Finland. (NordicFocus)

When you think about racing in Lahti, Finland, the first thing that comes to mind is challenging waxing conditions and hard courses, but that did not stop the Stifel U.S. Cross Country Ski Team from finding success at the first set of races back in Europe. In today's 20k classic individual start, Rosie Brennan led the team, finishing the day in ninth place - her 13th World Cup top 10 of the season - with fellow Alaskan Zanden McMullen in 23rd, tying his career-best result in the process. 

Lahti has historically been a difficult race and today was no exception. With a 20k classic interval start on deck, the temperatures were high, the clouds were low and klister was the only option for the skis. With today's conditions, even the best skiers would feel challenged, both physically and mentally. Would the klister hold? Will there be as many crashes as there were in yesterday's sprint? Would the glide be enough? Patience was the main theme of the day, mixed with a healthy amount of perseverance and grit.

Lahti's 20k is the second race back since the unforgettable weekend of racing at the Stifel Loppet Cup in Minneapolis, which saw historic results from the U.S. team among top-tier skiing from the world's best. With a long plane ride separating Minneapolis and Lahti, the rest of the cross country elite is back to their normalcy - racing in Europe. 

The women kicked things off with three Americans on the start: Jessie Diggins, Rosie Brennan and Sophia Laukli. With the interval start format, Laukli was off first, followed by Brennan, then Diggins. 

The eventual leaders of the race were indicated early on through the splits on the course. At the five-kilometer time check, Brennan was within seconds of the leaders, sitting in a comfortable position within the top 10, even having battled illness for the last few weeks. 

"The conditions were wet and soft but honestly not that bad by Lahti standards," said Brennan, post-race. "This place has some of the toughest waxing on the circuit. The course demands a lot technically and physically so I felt that focusing solely on good skiing was my best chance to put together a decent race. Going in to today, I had no expectations, knowing that my body is far from it's best. But I love klister skiing, so i felt like that if I just focused on good skiing, I might be able to have an ok race." 

Five kilometers into the race, Brennan was still positioned well within the top 10, with Diggins and Laukli in the top 30. With kick and glide becoming a real challenge, made evident by athletes utilizing the herringbone technique on the uphills rather than staying in the classic tracks, the battle continued with everything, and everyone, being tested. Brennan ultimately crossing the finish line in ninth. 

"Today was a challenge," said Diggins. "We had some variable wax conditions within the team, for sure. Without fluoros and in conditions like this, if the glide isn't where you want it to be and it blows up your race. So that was challenging, but the thing was, everyone tried as hard as they could. The service team did their best, I went out there and did my best and I am really proud of how I skied. I never gave up, I worked every inch of that course and pushed as hard as I could for all of it!"

Diggins finished 21st and continues to lead the overall World Cup standings, ahead of Sweden's Linn Svahn. The result also helps her continue to lead the distance standings ahead of Germany's Victoria Karl. Brennan is fifth in the overall World Cup standings.

At the end of the women's race, the excitement was for Finland, as Krista Parmakoski, a long-time great of the sport who has skied competitively on the World Cup for over 15 years, finally felt the taste of victory once again after a six-year drought. With today's win, Paramkoski was back on top of the podium, met with hugs and congratulations from Brennan and Diggins post-race. 

Germany's Karl was just .5 seconds behind in second place and Kerttu Niskanen gave the home crowd what they deserved - another Fearless Fin on the podium in third. Laukli finished 26th. 

For the men, McMullen stole the show in 23rd, another top result for the young Alaskan. On the start list alongside four other Americans, including Michael Earnhart, Scott Patterson, Luke Jager and Peter Wolter. Gus Schumacher and Zak Ketterson did not start today's race. 

In the early stages, the scene was already being set, with Norway's Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, Martin Loewstroem Nyenget, Paal Goldberg and Finland's own Livo Niskanen setting the bar. Four laps around Lahti's crowded course, it was still anyone's race. 

At the halfway mark, McMullen was a top 25 contender, skiing a consistent and strong pace. Dropping back to 27th at 13.4k, McMullen stepped on the gas to move up to 23rd across the finish line, tieing his career-best World Cup result; his previous best was in Canmore, Alberta just a few weeks ago, where he was 23rd in the 15k. McMullen is having a breakout season, consistently skiing in the top 30 in the world, and is having fun in the process.

"I felt pretty strong today," said McMullen. "The skiing was very tough, and I historically have struggled A LOT in warm wet slushy conditions. It was definitely a mental battle out there and felt so nice to cross the finish line. Also proud that I had a good race in a Scandinavian-stacked classic race!"

Klaebo took home the victory, with Finland's hometown hero, Niskanen in second, marking quite the comeback campaign after missing the majority of the season, and gracing the podium only hours earlier in Friday's team sprint. Norway's Nyenget rounded out the men's podium in third. For the U.S. men, Patterson was 34th, Earnhart 48th, Jager 55th and Wolter 57th. 

Tomorrow, the athletes wrap up the Lahti Ski Games with a skate sprint, slated to begin at 3:15 a.m. ET for qualifications, with rounds kicking off at 5:45 a.m. ET, live on