VAL DI FIEMME, Italy – By the time most athletes arrived at the top of the Alpe Cermis on Sunday, in the final stage of the Tour de Ski, they were ready for a nap. Or a massage. Or a beer. Or all of the above.
Not Kikkan Randall and Liz Stephen, though. No fewer than eight hours after crossing the finish line here, they were already competing in another race: a team sprint on Sunday evening, an hour’s drive away.
“We figure, we’ve done this much, one more’s not going to hurt any,” Randall said, minutes after finishing the Tour on Sunday.
Randall, who said she’d be receiving a significant appearance fee for the race, was the 22nd fastest woman up the 9 k freestyle hill climb of Alpe Cermis in Stage 9. The result dropped her two places in the overall Tour standings, but allowed her to hang on to 10th place.
Stephen, meanwhile, notched the eighth-fastest time of the day, moving her from 32nd place to 24th overall in the Tour. She said she was “psyched,” but also staggered by the size of the climb, which rises more than 1,000 vertical feet in roughly three kilometers.
“It’s definitely obvious why people ski down the hill most of the time,” Stephen said. “It’s just one of those things where you just put your head down and you go, and go, until you fall down at the top.”
Randall said that her race in the final climb was “okay,” though she was happy to hold on to a spot in the top 10.
She started with Katrin Zeller (GER), and the women skied together on the six kilometers of rolling and flat terrain before arriving at the big climb.
“Maybe for a kilometer or so, we stayed pretty close, and then when we hit the steeper pitches, she kind of pulled away,” Randall said.
Then, later in the climb, she was passed by Astrid Jacobsen (NOR) and Aino-Kaisa Saarinen (FIN).
Randall has said that the race on Alpe Cermis is not among her favorite events in the Tour, and she doesn’t train for it.
“I think it’s a little bit about being smart, and pacing it early. But I think you just kind of have to dig deep and keep the tempo up, and I think that’s something I’ve got to continue to work on,” she said. “We have a good rollerski route in Anchorage that I think we could use to practice on this a little bit more. Maybe I’ll try a little bit more this next year. But [I was] just kind of consumed with improving my classic technique, and stuff, over the last year—I didn’t really put a lot of specific work towards this.”
While Randall skied her race alone, or with one or two other skiers, Stephen started the event together with the wave of more than 30 women who were ranked 14th or worse in the overall standings.
Rather than try to shelter from the wind on the flats and brave the chaos in the middle of the pack, Stephen said she went right to the front, to stay “out of trouble.”
“I was just focused on the hill today,” she said. “I had good skis, and was able to just cruise, and yeah—just worked harder and harder on the way up.”
She passed several women on the climb, and with her eighth place in the race and 24th overall in the Tour, she now sits in 44th place in the overall World Cup standings, and 29th in the distance rankings.
The nine-stage race, which Stephen contested for the first time this season, was everything she hoped it would be, she said.
“All that we ever want to do is race. That’s why we train so much. Racing is the most fun thing, ever, in the whole world,” she said. “So, to do nine races all in 11 days, yeah—it’s as fun as I thought it was going to be. Unbelievably fun.”
Randall, who’s now fourth in the overall World Cup and leads the sprint standings, wasn’t quite effusive, but her actions—heading to the night sprint on Sunday evening—said just as much about her enthusiasm for competition.
The format? Two-person teams alternating loops, with the last-place pair getting pulled each lap until there’s one left standing.
“Bold, huh?” said U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover.
The organizers, Grover said, spoke “almost no English,” but came to him and made it clear that they wanted Randall in the race. (Along with Stephen, American men Simi Hamilton and Andy Newell competed as well.)
Randall agreed. And so it was on Sunday that the Alaskan entered one final race before some well-deserved rest.
“It’s a great way to end this period, and then we’ll have a nice break next week,” she said.
The break won’t be too long, though: Randall will be back in action this coming weekend, in a pair of sprint races in Milan.
“It’s definitely going to be a quick turnaround,” she said. “But looking forward to getting back to the sprints again.”
–Topher Sabot contributed reporting. Holly Brooks, the third American woman in the Tour, was 31st on the day and 39th overall—check back for a report on her race and her plans for the next few weeks.
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.