Kikkan Randall pumps the sky as she coasts to a second Tour de Ski stage win in three races. (Getty Images/AFP-Fabrice Coffrini)
VAL MUESTAIR, Switzerland (Jan. 1) - Amercan Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) was absolutely untouchable on New Year's Day, leading qualifying by nearly five seconds and winning each of her three heats by huge margins to claim her second victory in three Tour de Ski starts in the freestyle sprint at Val Muestair. The win boosted Randall from 14th to fifth in the Tour de Ski standings, one minute, 18 seconds behind leader Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland who failed to make the final heat. All four U.S. Ski Team women made the heats along with Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT), who was ninth to lead the USA as Norway's Finn Haagen Krogh won. The seven-stage Tour de Ski continues Thursday with a 15k freestyle for women and 35k for men in Toblach, Italy. Universal Sports TV will provide daily coverage at 7:00 p.m. EST.
Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) took her second victory in three Tour de Ski stages in the freestyle sprint at Val Muestair, Switzerland.
Randall led qualifying by 4.82 seconds, then won heats by 4.3, 3.4 and 8.7 seconds to completely dominate the event.
The victory boosted Randall from 14th to fifth in the Tour de Ski standings, one minute, 18 seconds behind leader Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland, who failed to make the final heats.
All four American women including Randall, Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN), Holly Brooks (Anchorage) and Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) qualified for the heats, unfortunately with three of the four (including Randall) meeting in the opening quarterfinal heat.
Diggins finished 17th, Brooks a career best sprint 18th and Stephen 25th, also a career best sprint. Randall, Brooks and Stephen are all in the top 25 in the Tour standings at the midway mark.
Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) qualified eighth. Newell led most of his quarterfinal heat before dropping to fourth at the finish. He made semifinals based on quarterfinal time but failed to qualiy for finals. He finished ninth.
The Tour has three stages remaining including a 15k freestyle for women and 35k for men Thursday in Toblach, Italy before the Tour finishes in Val di Fiemme, Italy with a pair of stages Saturday and Sunday.
Universal Sports TV is providing daily coverage at 7:00 p.m. EST with Steve Schlanger and former U.S. Ski Team coach Tom Steitz.
QUOTES Kikkan Randall
What a great way to start my 30's and 2013! I was really happy with the way I felt through the day today. It was a challenging course with lots of climbing and no long resting sections. With a longer course at altitude, I was curious to see how I would feel. I think the key was steady and powerful skiing today and I got to do lots of it!! After posting a solid qualifying time I was confident that I could lead, ski my own pace and make good pushes over the top of the main climbs. In the final I got to the front and kept the pace high. When I made my move over the top of the hill the fans were so loud and with the lights there were many shadows and I didn't know if I had gotten away from the pack. I had no idea I had created such a gap!
I was really impressed with the show that Val Muestair put on! The course, the organization and the spectators were fantastic. Really fun to be racing under the lights too.
Today's win really helped me move back up in the overall standings. I am still quite a ways back from Kowalczyk but if I have a good skate race I think I can hold my position and keep the podium in sight. My skating is feeling so strong right now. Hopefully I can keep improving my classic skiing and get in a good position for the final climb. I am approaching one day at a time, leaving my best out on the course.
It was really fun to have all four of us girls and Andy qualify into the heats. Liz got her first sprint top 30 and it was sweet to have us all racing together in the first quarterfinal. A couple of years ago, this wasn't even a possibility. Our team has come a long way and it's really fun to see our small but big spirited team taking on all the bigger nations and their wax trucks! Our service guys and coaches did a fantastic job making sure all we had to focus on was skiing fast!
It was my first sprint heat of the season and it was great to toe the line with my teammates. We had a great team cheer and hug for the camera which started us off on the right foot! I wish I had a bit more gas to get right behind Kikkan on the second loop. I got stuck in third and Laurien (Swiss Laurien Van Der Graaf), dogged it on the hill, then when I went to pass to the right, she turned on the gas.
We were actually really happy to hear that we were in the same quarter as Kikkan. Her quarterfinals are generally pretty quick so we thought our chances of being "Lucky Loser" were good. I should have pushed harder at the beginning of the quarter seeing that Laurien is very good for short bursts. I was bummed about that but 18th place is my best sprint to date so I have to be happy! Sometimes progress comes in small steps and it pays to be patient. I'm just trying to learn from every opportunity and that's one of my favorite things about the Tour.
I'm really looking forward to the next event, the 15k skate in Toblach. The course is notoriously difficult to pass on (it's narrow) but I have good associations with it from last year at OPA finals! Then, in the classic races and hill climb I'm just going to put my head down and fight for every second, and every place! I'm really enjoying the Tour this year.
Saturday, Jan. 5 – Val di Fiemme, Italy Women: 10k classic, mass start LIVE: 6:30 am Men: 15k classic, mass start LIVE: 7:30 am TV: 7:00 pm Universal Sports
Sunday, Jan. 6 – Val di Fiemme, Italy Women: 9k freestyle hill climb, pursuit start (seeded by tour standings) LIVE: 5:45 am Men: 9k freestyle hill climb, pursuit start (seeded by tour standings) LIVE: 8:50 am TV: 7:00 pm Universal Sports