The scenic beauty of the Swiss Alps captivated the Tour de Ski. Now it's on to Italy. (Noah Hoffman)
LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (Jan. 1) - The Tour de Ski passed the midway mark over New Year's, heading now for the final three stages in Italy this weekend. Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) led the U.S. Ski Team on New Year's Day, finishing 27th in a 10k classic mass start in Lenzerheide to move up to 22nd in the Tour. A day earlier, teammate Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) skied to a freestyle sprint World Cup stage win - the first win for a U.S. man in nearly 30 years. The Tour now leaves the Swiss Alps for Italy, with pursuit races Friday in Cortina-Toblach then on to Val di Fiemme for the finale.
Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) led the U.S. Ski Team on New Year's Day finishing 26th in a 10k classic mass start in Lenzerheide, stage four of the seven stage Tour de Ski. Her finish bumped her up to 22nd in the Tour standings and left her poised for a strong closing in races that favor her strengths.
Noah Hoffman (Aspen, CO) led the U.S. men in 55th in the 15k. Hoffman had a strong race going until he crashed and broke both poles. While the Swiss team got him replacements, it was another half lap before he got poles that were the proper length.
Alexey Poltoranin of Kazhakstan won the men's event while Finland's Kerttu Niskanen took the women's race.
The Tour now heads to Italy for the final three stages. Friday men ski a 35k pursuit with women racing a 15k in Cortina-Toblach. The Tour then heads up and over the Dolomites to Val di Fiemme for the final two stages, including the finale hill climb up Alpe Cermis where Stephen had the second fastest climb time a year ago.
After four stages, U.S. skiers Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT), Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) and Sophie Caldwell (Peru, VT) will drop out of the Tour, as planned, to rest and train for the final pre-Olympic World Cups. Caldwell has been the top U.S. skier in the Tour standings, running as high as sixth after the New Year's Eve sprint and presently 16th.
Stephen, Hamilton, Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) and Holly Brooks (Anchorage) are planning to remain in the Tour through Sunday's finale.
QUOTES Chris Grover, Cross Country Head Coach The bright spot today was Liz Stephen having a strong classic race and moving up the Tour standings to 22nd. Her classic race demonstrates the kind of form that she is in and highlights her potential to really climb the ranks in the last three stages.
With Jessie Diggins in 21st, Liz in 22nd and Holly Brooks in 42nd in the Tour standings, all are poised to really move up the ranks in Toblach and in Val di Fiemme where the focus will be on distance skate races - a technique and format that favors all three women. Their forward progress will be accelerated by the fact that Sophie and few other athletes will be abandoning the Tour now.
Noah has been skating extremely well, as evidenced by his skating stage win in Kuusamo earlier this year, so the race from Cortina to Toblach could be great for him. Andy and Simi fell back in the race today, which really favored the strongest distance skiers but were using the race to build fitness leading into the next period of sprinting.