A trio of U.S. Ski Team athletes are set to start Friday in the famed Tour de Ski cross country stage race. Kikkan Randall (Anchorage), Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) and Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) face eight races in 10 days.
They will compete at five different venues in two countries and will end up climbing a wall in the final stage that is cross country skiing’s equivalent of Alpe d’Huez.
The U.S. Ski Team athletes have been training in Davos, Switzerland prior to the start. Randall, who is coming off back-to-back podiums, Freeman, who posted top 10’s in early World Cups, and Newell had a sixth and pair of 13th place World Cup results this season. All three are experienced enough to are expected to give the international field some challenges.
With the World Cup season off to a fast start, the holidays provide the world’s cross country skiing elite an opportunity to compete from the first event in Oberhof on Dec. 31 to the grueling finale in Val di Fiemme, Italy on Jan. 9. This year's Tour marks the first time that U.S. Ski Team athletes are participating with the intention of skiing all Tour stages.
Head U.S. Cross Country Ski Team coach Chris Grover said things are looking good for the Americans. "All three skiers are healthy and ready for the Tour. They are all planning on skiing in the entire Tour, if their bodies all hold up to the test," said Grover who is hoping to see U.S. highlights coming from individual stages than an overall Tour placing.
"A great Tour would be to have a top-five stage finish for Kikkan, Kris and Andy," Grover said. "I think a high placing in the overall Tour is still a few years down the road for us."
The defending champions of the Tour - modeled after the Tour de France - are Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk and Lukas Bauer of the Czech Republic, both of whom will be back to defend their hard earned titles. Kowalczyk has been close to Norway's Marit Bjoergen this season, but has yet to defeat her. Bjoergen will take a pass on the Tour de Ski so that she can prepare for the World Nordic Ski Championships in February on home snow in Oslo. Ninety-five men and 67 women will start in Oberhof.
Internationally, fans can watch for World Cup defending champion Petter Northug of Norway to be ready and motivated along with two-time winner Bauer. With the way Russian star Alexander Legkov is skiing, he should also fit right into the mix. Sweden will feature Marcus Hellner and some top sprint talent like Emil Joensson.
The fabled Tour de Ski came to life in the 2007 season. The overall results are based upon the aggregate time for all the competitions, as well as critical bonus seconds, which are up for grab in the sprints and mass start races.