TOBLACH, ITALY (Jan. 5) – World Championship silver medalist Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) finished fifth in Wednesday's Tour de Ski stage five free technique sprint in Toblach. Slovenia's Petra Madjic won the stage in a photo finish with Italy's Arianna Follis, while Canada's Devon Kershaw won the men's race. USA's Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) and Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) also qualified for the final round of 30, making it the second straight sprint where all participating Americans qualified for the final rounds.
Randall kicked off the heats, winning her quarterfinal round and advancing to the semifinals. In her semi heat, Randall went up against World Cup sprint leader Follis in what she knew would be a tough battle. After a fast start, she settled in behind the Italians before attacking hard coming into the finish. She caught Follis at the line, taking second in the photo finish to make the finals.
Randall had a tough break to open the finals, getting tangled up with Sweden's Britta Johansson Norgren and crashing on an uphill. With the fast paced final heat field, it was impossible to catch up. The women's final was hard fought with Madjic and Follis crossing the line with a photo finish. The victory was awarded to Madjic, who claimed all final rounds leading up to the win. Italy's Magda Genuin placed third.
"Kikkan was disappointed because she was felt like she was feeling pretty good and had great skis," said Grover. "She's had three podiums in a row in skate sprint on the World Cup and this was the first time she's been off the podium in a little bit. She knows she can reach it [the podium] most days if things are going OK."
In the men's race, the Canadian Kershaw barely scraped through the semifinals after finishing outside the top two in his heat and being awarded one of two lucky loser slots. Kershaw showed his determination in the finals, beating a strong field including overall Tour leader Italian Dario Cologna who was second and Norway's Petter Northug in third.
Newell started the final rounds fast, winning his quarterfinal heat that unfortunately included teammate Freeman. He advanced to a difficult semifinal with stage five runner-up Cologna taking the heat win as Newell faced a bit of bad luck once again, losing a basket on one of his poles early in the race.
"Andy was definitely looking to do something in the two sprints," said Grover. "It was a bummer that he had a little bit of bad luck and was only able to finish 12th and eighth today."
Cologna and Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk, who went out in the quarterfinals, lead the Tour de Ski overall standings with three stages to go before the 10k finale in Val de Fiemme, Italy. Randall moved up to 17th, while Freeman is 20th and Newell 51st.
"Right now everyone from our squad is healthy and if you can stay healthy and keep plugging away you can move up in the standings," Grover said.
The men and women will stay in Toblach Thursday for the stage six pursuit, where Freeman will look to attack the point to point distance race. The women's race will be on the cross country trails.
"Tomorrow's course for the men is wild. It starts in Cortina and ends in Toblach. The first 16k is all uphill without a break, followed by a 14k downhill and then a 3k on the regular cross country trails," explained Grover. "It's spectacular - it's all in the Dolomites. It's going to be a wild race, part of the race skis through a tunnel. It's going to be a crazy race and he women's race by contrast is kind of subdued."
Friday is scheduled as a travel day, where the athletes will move over to Val de Fiemme for the final two stages.
Tour de Ski
Toblach, Italy – Jan. 5, 2011
Free Technique Sprint
1. Devon Kershaw, Canada, 2:58.0
2. Dario Cologna, Switzerland, +0.1
3. Petter Northug, Norway, +1.2
8. Andy Newell, Shaftsbury, VT
29. Kris Freeman, Andover, NH
1. Petra Madjic, Slovenia, 3:17.5
2. Arianna Follis, Italy, +0.0
3. Magda Genuin, Italy, +0.4
5. Kikkan Randall, Anchorage, +16.6
Overall Men Standings
1. Dario Cologna, Switzerland
2. Devon Kershaw, Canada
3. Marcus Hellner, Sweden
20. Kris Freeman, Andover, NH
51. Andy Newell, Shaftsbury, VT
Overall Women Standings
1. Justyna Kowalczyk, Poland
2. Petra Madjic, Slovenia
3. Charlotte Kalla, Sweden
17. Kikkan Randall, Anchorage
For complete results: www.fis-ski.com