Only two Americans raced Thursday in the Tour de Ski’s fifth stage, a 15 k freestyle pursuit in Toblach, Italy.
Liz Stephen had the eighth fastest time of the day (37:25.6), but still finished 5:31.9 seconds behind Norwegian Marit Bjørgen (36:37.9), Thursday’s winner and overall Tour leader. Stephen remains in 14th in the Tour standings.
USST Head Coach Chris Grover said that Stephen had a good race, even though it is not a course that plays to her strengths.
“There is not much V1 in it; it is more of a big powerful skier type course with a lot of V2, V2 alternate, a lot of transitions,” he explained. “But another great performance by her.”
Meanwhile, Kikkan Randall – who decided that this would be her last race of the Tour – improved three places to finish 25th (7:21.7) and posted the 17th fastest time of the day in 37:53.6.
Randall was coming off what she described in an email to the press as a “disappointing” 5 k classic race on Wednesday.
“It seemed like it was going decent through 2.5 k and then I ran up against a wall again trying to really shift into my top climbing gear. I fell apart in the second half and crossed the line way off my expectation,” she wrote.
Randall explained that in Thursday’s 15 k she started in a wave of other skiers and had a difficult first lap, but improved as the race progressed.
“The first lap my body was slow to respond but it came alive through the race and I ended up feeling strong on the second and third laps. I was able to move up a few places and end with a more satisfying effort,” she wrote.
Randall will not participate in the final two stages of the Tour, which she was never planning on finishing.
“The big focus on the season is still the Falun World Championships and I am focusing all my efforts on being in the best shape in February,” Randall explained.
Now, Randall will travel home to Alaska, Grover explained, and “spend about 16 days at home just to kind of take a break from the World Cup and just get re-centered and not focus on traveling and racing so much.”
Jessie Diggins, who was 40th on the Tour, did not start on Thursday.
Grover said Diggins woke up with a cold, and decided it was not worth it to keep pushing.
“She was really hoping to do the whole Tour so just a bit of bad luck, but that is just part of the game in the Tour de Ski. It is so much racing and so much traveling, it is just a battle to stay healthy,” Grover said.
Diggins finished the Tour the last two years, taking 21st in 2013 and 13th in 2014. Now she is focusing on the World Championships, Grover explained, and will go to a training camp with Stephen before World Cup races in Rybinsk, Russia, from Jan. 23-25.
The women’s team is now left with just one athlete, Stephen, racing in the Tour.
“That is a bummer to just have one athlete at the end, but we knew we would be small at the end anyway,” Grover said.
Tour de Ski overall standings