Kikkan Randall (USA) showed strong form, skiing to 7th place in the women’s 3.3-kilometer classic prologue in Toblach, Italy.
Randall, who has had her best results in skate races the winter, finished 24.2 seconds behind winner Justyna Kowalczyk (POL), but just eight out of second place.
“A prologue for me in classic can either be pretty good or pretty bad,” Randall told FasterSkier after the race. “I was hoping yesterday didn’t take too much out of me.”
Once she got on course, she was pleasantly surprised, saying she “felt really strong.”
The extended flats and gradual climbing suited the American.
“I can be a good double poler on the flats, and on the gradual striding today I was able to find a good position out there and find good kick,” Randall said.
A three kilometer event is no sprint, and skiers must pace themselves or pay the consequences. Randall looked to take it out smooth, but in hindsight feels she could have been more aggressive late in the race.
“I just skied a nice steady pace. Looking back maybe I was a little to steady, and could have gone up the final climb a little quicker,” she said.
U.S. women’s coach Matt Whitcomb was pleased with Randall’s performance, but pointed out that on the right day she could be fighting for the top-3.
“It is definitely a race she feels she can podium in when everything lines up perfectly, and it wasn’t quite there,” Whitcomb said.
“She had some good skis and the body was going pretty well for race five of the Tour,” Whitcomb continued. “It was a good race for Kikkan today.”
While the women’s team has been looking for top results in relays, and thus putting some focus on shorter distance races, like prologues, Randall said she hasn’t adjusted her training much in preparation.
“Overall mostly my training is pretty well rounded. It is working well for the sprinting, it is working well for the prologues, and it is working well for the longer races as well,” she said.
There is no better indication of the efficacy of her training than her 7th position in the overall Tour standings, just 12 seconds out of fourth.
She is also second in the Tour sprint standings behind Kowalczyk.
Saturday’s mass start will be a critical event for both, with two intermediate bonus sprints, and additional sprint points at the finish.
“It will be important for me to challenge for some bonus seconds,” Randall said. “I think it’s going to be a balance of going for bonus seconds, but also making sure I’m hanging in and not blowing up and losing too much time by the end of the race.”
She noted that last year she skied the first part of the race toward the front where it went “really well,” before “things kind of exploded.”
Randall’s teammates Jessie Diggins, Liz Stephen and Holly Brooks placed 32nd, 38th and 45th respectively.
Diggins was just five seconds out of 21st.
“While the result isn’t stellar, the actual performance is quite good,” Whitcomb noted.
Brooks struggled in the pursuit, so Whitcomb was pleased that she felt better in the prologue, a sign she is headed back in the right direction.
Diggins is holding onto a top-30, sitting 27th overall, while Brooks is just outside in 34th.
Stephen is in 20th overall, and is looking to set up for the Final Climb, a distinct strength.
“Today was a little bit of damage control,” Whitcomb said of Stephen’s race.
He explained that the course was not well suited to Stephen, and she is generally a stronger skater.
“It is a powerful skiers course,” he said, adding that a strong double pole and big stride are generally pre-requisites for success.
Warming temperatures created “tricky” waxing conditions, with both hard wax and klister as viable kick options.”
“I’m pleased with the skis for the day…not the kind of day where we feel like we knocked it out of the park,” Whitcomb said. He did feel the team was “quite competitive” though.
“Certainly skis aren’t something that we are using for not having a banner day,” he concluded.
The team made the short trip to Val di Fiemme immediately following the race. Snow is relatively scarce off the race courses, and temperatures are expected to reach +10C at start time.