“For the ladies, overall, a really great day.” – Head USST Coach, Chris Grover
Going into the last stage of the Ruka-Triple mini tour, the US women kept their expectations high and did not disappoint. Grover told FasterSkier in a phone interview that Holly Brooks, Liz Stephen, and Ida Sargent all had personal best classic results today: Brooks posting 23rd, while Stephen and Sargent broke into the 30’s.
To top it off, Kikkan Randall held off all but one challenger (Polish star Justyna Kowalczyk, at that) to finish in 6th today. All in all, a very successful day for U.S. women’s skiing.
“Feeling super psyched and satisfied with my Ruka mini-tour this weekend,” Randall wrote in an email. “Today was definitely a hard race. I ended up skiing most of the race by myself and had to hold off a hard charging pack in the last 2k. I was really happy to hold on to 6th place. My skis were great. My body was feeling a little tired after the previous two days but I was still able to put up a good fight.
“Last year I was super psyched to finish in the top 20 here, so to be 6th today is a real breakthrough for me,” she wrote.
Grover said the team was motivated by Randall’s recent results. “We’re obviously really psyched for Kikkan, she skied really strong out there.”
He also commented that Brooks was a tough competitor and would have liked to catch even more than the five racers she passed today.
“She’s hungry, she wanted to move up even further than that, but,” Grover laughed, “it’s a tough standard!”
In an email to FasterSkier Brooks called the race an “absolute BLAST”, comparing the short 2.5 km track to a “roller derby”. She said it raced more like a series of intervals, due to the constant climb-and-descent format of the loop, and that the short, zig-zag of the course was fun because she could watch the race unfold around her, even getting to see the race leaders “whiz by” at certain intervals.
All in all, Brooks was happy to end the weekend with a good performance.
“It’s nice to finish on a high note after being disappointed with my sprint result. I know that given the right conditions I can classic sprint too – Friday just wasn’t the day or the right conditions to do it. I think that tours suit me well because overall, I’m a fairly well rounded skier.”
Brooks wrote that she hoped being a well rounded skier didn’t mean that she is just “alright” at everything, a comment indicating her drive to not only achieve a personal best, but to continue skiing into the top of the field.
Brooks maintains, however, that that she is “taking each weekend as it comes.”
Brooks, who raced at World Championships last year but is not an official member of the US Ski Team, says that her lack of experience on the World Cup means that she is constantly learning the pace of the international circuit.
“I worked extremely hard in the off season and I knew that training had gone well. But, it’s always hard to know how that will translate to racing, especially on the World Cup. It’s amazing how here, a bad day can be REALLY bad. For example, take 1 second to wipe the snot off your face and you lose two places. Lesson learned: don’t wipe the snot off your face!”
In a phone interview with FasterSkier Liz Stephen said she was “definitely happy with the weekend.”
“I wanted to be in the top 30 today for the overall Tour, but I am definitely happy with the performance – it’s solid – and it’s especially great to have so many women skiing so well over here.”
Stephen has been a much stronger distance skate competitor in the past, and though today’s achievement in the classic race was a good start, Stephen points out that she will have to continue working on her weaknesses.
“I definitely need to work on my classic abilities all around, but also the sprinting especially. If you want to be a good Tour skier you’ve got to be good at a lot of stuff, and it can’t just be skating for me – skating distance – so I have to continue focusing on getting better in those areas.”
Stephen said that it was always a challenge to race multiple days back-to-back, but that this weekend was only a warm-up for the Tour de Ski and good practice for practicing good recovery and nutrition.
“This is just the Ruka-triple,” said Stephen, “the real thing is 9 days, so you have to keep on top of your recovery, your nutrition, everything. Yesterday I was actually more tired than today, sometimes the body is funny that way.”
Ida Sargent wrote in an email that the team was using ice baths and jogging in order to facilitate recovery. She said that she liked the “challenge” of the pursuit today, but that she was surprised she hadn’t had a better sprint race on Friday.
“Sprinting is my strength so it is funny that it wasn’t my best result. The sprint was so fast that one tiny mistake could cost you a lot of places. It was still a good result for me but I know that I can do better. “
Sargent is looking forward to both the next few days of training in Davos and then a chance at sprint redemption in Dusseldorf.
Though several inches of new snow fell overnight, the race track was again very icy today. Grover said that, thanks to the wax technicians, “everyone really liked their skis.”
Brooks seconded Grover’s remarks.
“There were some HUGE climbs out there,” wrote Brooks, “ and there was some girls herring-boning on the first and second laps up the steepest pitches. I had better kick than the girls skiing around me and was able to ski efficiently up the hills.”
The Canadian women did not fare as well in the overall as they did in the first stage of sprints. Head Coach Justin Wadsworth, speaking to fasterskier by phone from Canmore, Alberta, pointed out that Crawford and Gaiazova are primarily sprinters, and that their solid sprint results on Friday held promise for the sprints in Dusseldorf. Dasha Gaiazova did not start the race today, and Wadsworth said that was a decision made by her personal coach in the attempt to prepare her for the sprint races in Dusseldorf.
North American results: 23. Brooks (USA) +3:27.6; 35. Stephen (USA) +4:18.8; 38. Sargent (USA) 4:21.5; 54. Crawford (CAN) +5:07.5; 57. Jones (CAN) 5:20.5; 59. Bjornsen (USA) +5:22.5; 69. Marshall (CAN) +6:53.5; DNS Gaiazova (CAN)
Today’s 10k classic Result (listed with times of actual 10km race, but in the order of pursuit finish)