Brooks Unofficially an Official Member of 2012 Tour de Ski Team
Last month FasterSkier reported that Holly Brooks (APU) had been given the opportunity to race the 2012 Tour de Ski pending continued strong results and good health.
With just one weekend left in the first World Cup period, Brooks has fulfilled her end of the bargain, posting a career-best 13th in the 15km freestyle in Davos, Switzerland.
According to US Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover, the official US Tour de Ski team will not be named until Sunday.
But a press release sent by Brooks’ husband Rob Whitney reads “Holly Brooks will officially be joining the US Ski Team’s roster to participate in the 2012 edition of the Tour de Ski,” and Grover did not deny that Brooks would be on the team.
Entering the season, Brooks knew she would ski the World Cup from the get-go due to her victory in the overall SuperTour, but following the Rogla, Slovenia weekend and the conclusion of period one, her schedule was open.
“Coming into the season I didn’t really fathom that racing the Tour de Ski this year would even be an option,” Brooks wrote in an email to FasterSkier.
She pointed out that the only way to know how fast you are is to compete against the best, and that even with teammate Kikkan Randall (she of two World Cup victories this season) as a training partner at APU, it was hard to know how she would stack up.
While the Tour may not have been an explicit goal, Brooks did have several result oriented benchmarks that she has already hit — two top-30s and a top-20 during the first two months of World Cup racing.
She started the season with a solid, yet unspectacular 36th in the 10km freestyle in Sjusjoen, Norway.
After a rough sprint to kick off the Kussamo Mini-Tour, Brooks turned a corner and has been on a steady climb ever since.
She placed 28th in the 5km skate and 17th in the 10km pursuit to finish 23rd in the overall mini-tour standings.
But her breakthrough moment came two weeks later. After racing the Dusseldorf city sprints to gain experience, she skied to that 13th in Davos, a race in which she raced even with Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) for two-thirds of the 15 kilometers, and was battling in the top-10 for much of the event.
Grover told FasterSkier that it hasn’t been unexpected to see Brooks skiing fast.
He points to an excellent summer and fall of training, but the magnitude of her improvement did catch him somewhat unawares.
“I am surprised to see just how big of a step forward she has made,” Grover said. “It is very exciting. Almost every race on this fall World Cup period has been some sort of personal best for her.”
With 20-20 hindsight, Brooks’ success was foreshadowed by good results at World Championships and at the World Cup Finals in Sweden last year. But those races are limited by stricter start quotas, and general World Cup races often provide the deepest fields.
Coming into the season, the only sure bets for the Tour (assuming good health as always) were Kikkan Randall, Kris Freeman and Andy Newell.
But earlier this fall, both Simi Hamilton and Liz Stephen were added.
Grover said that the USST discussed the possibility of adding additional skiers to the Tour de Ski roster “many times” based on the following criteria.
1.) Is the athlete fit?
2.) Is the athlete healthy?
3.) Are they skiing all disciplines well enough to be competitive, or are they sprinter that can be successful in the sprints during the 1st half of the Tour?
4.) Are they strong enough/experienced enough to thrive in the Tour, rather than simply survive the Tour?
Brooks certainly fits well. In the Davos sprint she placed 23rd after qualifying 18th, meaning she has scored World Cup points in a variety of distances and both techniques.
There could be other changes to the squad when the official announcement is made. Hamilton has struggled most of the year with illness, though he showed good form in his first world Cup sprint of the season, just missing out on the heats in 33rd.
The Tour is a grueling nine events in eleven days, and Brooks’ primary goal is to finish.
“I have no idea what it’s going to feel like physically, mentally, emotionally to race day after day after day,” Brooks said. “But, I’m fairly stubborn and at this point, not finishing is not an option for me.”
She will also focus on staying healthy and recovering as much as possible.
In terms of results, she is gunning for a top-10 in a stage, and top-20 overall, though she recognizes the strength and depth of the field will play into such place-based metrics.
Randall, Stephen and Brooks have given the US the strongest women’s team ever. Add in Sadie Bjornsen, who paired with Randall to take World Cup silver in the Team Sprint in Dusseldorf, and several other up-and-comers, and you have a bright future as well as a rosy present.
Brooks, however, like any other US skier not on the A-team, has to fund her own travel.
The press release from Whitney states that she will need an additional $17,500 to cover travel and lodging for the remainder of season in Europe.
Her original plane ticket had Brooks heading back to the US on Monday for the Christmas break and to prepare for US Nationals.
“I wasn’t anticipating needed money for an additional 3.5 months in Europe,” she said.
There are several fundraisers underway—in her home state of Alaska as well as at her childhood ski club in the Seattle area.
“People have been incredibly generous but I still have a ways to go,” Brooks said, adding that if she could not raise the money, she would probably head home after the Tour.
But she also sees staying on the World Cup as an investment as she has the specific goal of cracking the Red Group by the end of the season.
World Cup race organizers must pay travel and lodging costs for Red Group skiers—those ranked in the top-30 in either distance or sprint over the last calendar year.
Brooks also notes that while cash-strapped US Ski Team has been unable to pick up any of her personal travel and lodging expenses, they do provide wax, coaching, technicians and additional logistical support.
“I really appreciate the support and without the infrastructure and assistance, this wouldn’t be possible,” Brooks said.
If I can’t raise enough money, I will probably choose to come home for a bit of R & R. However, I do see this winter on the world cup and the cost associated with it as an investment.
Following the races in Rogla, Slovenia this weekend, Brooks will join the rest of the US Tour crew in Austria for a training camp. Conditions in Ramsau, where the team will be based, are excellent right now, in contrast to much of Western Europe.
And while Brooks is focused on the present, she can’t help but think ahead.
Despite being one of the top domestic skiers in the country in recent years, she has not been considered a serious candidate for the US Ski Team.
The Team has been focused on winning medals, and Brooks, at the more advanced age of 29, wasn’t on-track for that level.
That has changed now, and she is gunning for a spot on the fully-funded A-team.
“I’m trying to take each race and each weekend as they come,” Brooks said. “It’s still early in the season and I sincerely hope that I can continue to turn in solid results.”
But in regards to a USST spot?
“I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t thinking about it,” she concluded.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.