Le Tour, a la Simi

It’s been a whirlwind of a last 6 days. 4 countries, 4 different races, 12 hours of car time between venues, and 35 km of racing. The Tour de Ski goes on, but for most of us sprinters, we’re finally taking a minute to catch our breaths.

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The Tour de Ski is a unique ski race. Modeled after the Tour de France, the World Cup event showcases every different type of ski racing (from a prologue at the start to pursuit start distance races, a sprint, mass starts distance races, and an individual distance race sprinkled throughout the week) in many different parts of Europe. Our adventure began under the overcast and rainy skies of southern Germany in a quaint little ski town named Oberstdorf… nestled in the northern most reaches of the European Alps. We raced a 3.5/4.5 skate prologue and a 10/15 km classic pursuit race on a tough course in crazy conditions before we hit the road for Val Müstair, Switzerland. The change in environment from southern Germany to the little Swiss valley just across the Swiss-Italian border was surreal. On sprint day we were greeted with bluebird skies and fast, man-made snow on an extremely hard and technical 2-lap sprint course. Above the course rises a slew of 3,000-meter peaks, towering over the humble dairy farms that line the long and steep Engadin Valley. Team USA held our own, advancing 5 skiers to the heats and ending the day with three top-10 results. SMS T2 teammate Sophie Caldwell ended the day in 7th, Kikkan Randall in 9th, and I skied to 8th place. Although it was a day we could all hang our hats on, it left us wanting more without any of us advancing to the final heat of 6 skiers. But there’s a lot of racing left in the season, and all of our focus remains on peaking for World Championships in Sweden in February.

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From Val Müstair we made the trek across the border to the small Tyrolean town of Toblach, Italy where we raced a 5/10 km individual classic race. With green grass everywhere, it was an extremely foreign feeling seeing the valley in such rough winter shape. In mid-winter when we’ve raced here in the past, there has always been hundreds of kilometers groomed in every direction from the small town. It’s a different story over here this year, but local organizers on the World Cup are doing an incredible job with figuring out how to get everything off without a hitch. Their tireless work has meant that we still get to race every weekend on great tracks and it’s pretty amazing to see what they have been able to pull off considering how little snow there is and how warm it has been in so much of central Europe so far.

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So now we are catching our breath… Sophie, Andy, Sadie Bjornsen, and I will spend the next 5 days in Ramsau, Austria (a bit of a home-away-from-home at the Kobaldhof Hotel) where the skiing is great and we’re looking forward to lots of rest coupled with some really quality training. The rest of the team (only Liz Stephen at this point) that is planning on skiing the rest of the Tour is in Val di Fiemme, Italy gearing up for the final two races of the Tour this weekend. We’ll be screaming our heads for her as we watch her race the distance classic race and final skate hill climb on Sunday. Liz has a legitimate chance of winning the hill climb stage on Sunday, as she is a full-on beast when it comes to skiing up hill faster than anyone else in the world. Thanks for reading and stay in touch for more updates from the road in Europe!

-SH

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