It’s official: Kikkan Randall, Andy Newell, and Kris Freeman will all compete in the 2011 Tour de Ski.
U.S. Ski Team (USST) coaches have confirmed that the Americans will send three athletes to this winter’s race, which features eight stages at four different European venues. That triples the American presence over last year, when Newell completed four stages before dropping out.
In an interview, Randall said that she was excited to get a start in the Tour, especially after her success at the end of the 2010 season, when in March, she raced eight times in twelve days on both sides of the Atlantic. First, Randall notched a 14th-place finish in one of the events at the World Cup finale in Sweden, then hopped a flight back to America and won three domestic races, including the 30-kilometer national championship.
“I think that was a great test run,” Randall said. “I ended up being strong all the way through the end, so I’m really looking forward to doing eight races in 10 days, without that overseas travel, and see how it goes…I think it’ll be wild.”
According to USST Head Coach Chris Grover, it’s unlikely that all three Americans will make it to the top of the uphill climb in Val di Fiemme, Italy, the race’s last stage. But this year’s Tour is just as much about experience as anything else, he said—the team’s main focus lies in Oslo, in late February.
“I see one of the three making it all the way through….What takes precedence for us is the World Championships, so if we see somebody at the Tour is starting to get tired, then it’s going to be time for us to pull ‘em out,” Grover said. “Especially with Andy and Kikkan, once you get through that second individual sprint [the fifth stage], then it’s a very distance-heavy schedule.”
Typically, the American World Cup racers take a break around Christmas time, traveling back from Europe for some rest and racing at the U.S. National Championships. But this year, Randall said that she will be overseas from November all the way through the middle of January.
She’ll have company, though: Randall’s husband, Jeff Ellis, will also be in Europe, waxing for the Australian team at the Tour de Ski. The couple will spend Christmas in Davos, Switzerland, along with Freeman and Newell, and their respective girlfriends.
The Tour runs from December 31st to January 9th, and Freeman is currently ticketed to fly back to the U.S. directly afterwards. Randall and Newell will head to one more weekend of racing in Liberec, Czech Republic, before returning to the U.S for a few weeks of training.
According to Grover, the USST is planning on skipping the next two World Cups after Liberec, in Estonia and Russia, in order to be rested and prepared for World Championships.
“It’s a really tough call, because I’m sure that someone like Andy or someone like Kikkan will be doing really well for the overall World Cup,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s everybody’s goal to go into World Championships [doing] everything possible…to win a medal.”
The races in the Norwegian city of Drammen, just a few days before Worlds, will mark the Americans’ return to the circuit.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.