Kikkan Randall’s season is going so well that an eighth place finish in the women’s Tour de Ski pursuit in Toblach, Italy may seem pedestrian. But while Randall slipped three places in the standings, she made up 20 seconds on leader Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) and is just 36 seconds out of second place.
Starting the 15k freestyle by herself in 5th, 13 seconds behind Germany’s Denise Herrmann and 9 seconds in front of Anne Kylloenen (FIN), Randall told FasterSkier that she “felt a little tired” on the first lap.
She was able to lock in with Kylloenen and Astrid Jacobsen (NOR), and the trio eventually caught Herrmann as well.
Charlotte Kalla (SWE) came up from behind first, but did not spend much time in this chase pack, her sights set further up the trail.
“I was hoping to hang with Charlotte…and we were hoping to work together a little bit, but she was really strong today,” Randall said.
Kalla ultimately finished second, catching everyone but eventual winner Justyna Kowalczyk (POL).
Jacobson did the bulk of the leading in Randall’s chase group and provided a spark that Randall needed after a sluggish first loop.
“That was a good pack, to help kick me back into gear,” Randall said. “I didn’t ski the finish super well, but, those guys were really strong so it was a good ride for sure.”
Kylloenen, who earlier appeared to be struggling, won the sprint in the group of four, followed by Herrmann, Jacobson, and then Randall.
Randall will look to hold position during two days of classic racing, which could prove challenging.
With temperatures expected to warm up Randall predicts klister for kick, which she says she finds “challenging.”
“My classic skiing hasn’t been quite where I want it this season.” Randall explained, but added “I’m excited for another short race, and to go out and fight for every second.”
Liz Stephen followed Randall as the second American, skiing up from 25th to finish 19th.
She skied the race with Anna Haag, one of the Swedes the Americans have trained with over the past several years.
“We worked together the whole race, trading leads and working together to try and catch some people and close the gap to the top 10, so that was really fun,” Stephen wrote to FasterSkier in an email.
Haag had a little bit more left at the end, pulling five seconds ahead.
Despite feeling “a bit tired,” Stephen said the race was “one of the most fun” she has skied in some time, in large part due to Haag.
She is shooting for a top-10 in the overall Tour, and while she is a favorite to perform well on the Final Climb up the Alpe Cermis, she knows she has work to do in the next two classic races.
She is currently 1:13 out of 10th.
Stephen added that her form is “not as good as it was earlier in the season,” but noted that everyone is feeling fatigue.
“Keeping your head in the game is a big part of it at this stage,” she said.
There has been no let down for Stephen in her second year racing the Tour. She and teammate Jessie Diggins, racing her first Tour, both used the words “super fun” to describe the experience.
“A traveling caravan of fired up World Cup skiers and staff and new fans at every venue,” Stephen said. “There is a lot of adrenaline out here.”
Diggins, for her part, had one of the strongest races on the day, moving up 12 spots from 39th to 27th.
“Today’s race felt great and I just tried to keeps pacing smooth and catch as many people as I could,” Diggins wrote in an email.
She turned in her second consecutive strong race and is well within striking distance of the top-20.
The final U.S. skier, Holly Brooks slipped down the standings from 23rd to 34th.
– Matti Rowe contributed reporting