Eight races at four venues over the course of 10 days is enough to stretch even the world’s best cross-country skiers to their absolute limits—the U.S.’s Kikkan Randall included.
Randall wrapped up her efforts at the 2011 Tour de Ski with a 23rd-place on Sunday’s final climb up the Alpe Cermis, for an overall finish of 21st.
“Felt pretty good to lay in the snow after that,” she said.
The result left her 20 seconds away from her goal of a top-20 in the overall, but Randall said that she was still satisfied.
“Overall, I’m pretty pleased,” she said. “I had a few high points in there, a few tough ones. The experience from this time is definitely going to help next year—knowing how it feels, knowing how the courses are.”
One place she’ll certainly benefit next year is on the ascent of the Alpe Cermis, in Val di Fiemme, Italy. Randall said that she had scouted the slope by skiing down it earlier this week, “but it’s a lot different when you’re skiing up.”
The top 14 women in the overall standings raced up the Alpe in a pursuit format, but the remaining 22, including Randall, started in a big pack, seven minutes behind leader Justyna Kowalczyk (POL).
After skiing over the first of three steep ramps, Randall said that she thought she was nearing the top of the climb—but she wasn’t.
“When I saw the next pitch in from it me, it was…you just had to focus on what you were doing, not think about what was still ahead,” she said.
Randall said that she lost a few places over the top of the hill, but still made it all the way to the line. While the climb up the Alpe is renowned as one of the World Cup’s most miserable races, she said that she still enjoyed the atmosphere, and the challenge.
“The course was just lined with people, with huge cowbells,” she said. “There’s something just cool about digging that deep, and going absolutely as hard as you can go.”
In the overall, Randall ended up 11 minutes down on the Tour winner, Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk. But just finishing is no small achievement: 26 of the 62 women’s starters left the race before the final stage.
Randall will remain in Val di Fiemme with her teammate Andy Newell and U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover until Wednesday, then compete in a skate sprint next weekend in the Czech Republic. After two solid months in Europe, she will finally head home to Alaska this coming Sunday.
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.