Kris Freeman powers up the final climb in the 2011 Tour de Ski. (Getty Images/Nordic Focus)
OBERHOF, Germany (Dec. 26) – When the prestigious Tour de Ski cross country skiing stage race starts Thursday in Oberhof, the USA will be represented. The U.S. Ski Team, which is enjoying its strongest season opening in modern history, has named six athletes to compete in the Dec. 29-Jan. 8 Tour. Now in its fifth season, the Tour de Ski features nine races in 11 days on five different venues in Germany and Italy. The team will be led by veterans Kikkan Randall (Anchorage), Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) and Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) who competed in the grueling Tour last season. Making debut starts will be Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO), Holly Brooks (Anchorage) and Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT).
The Tour de Ski features nine races in 11 days at five different venues in Germany and Italy.
The Tour begins Dec. 29-30 in Oberhof, Germany and finishes Jan. 7-8 in the 2013 World Championship venue of Val di Fiemme, Italy.
The Tour features a wide variety of races including a unique hill climb to close out the series.
Kris Freeman was 28th in the 2011 Tour.
Kikkan Randall was 21st and ninth in the 2011 Tour Sprint standings.
Randall and Newell will be among the favorites in two sprint stages.
The Tour is capped off with a massive 9k final climbing stage from the valley floor in the Val di Fiemme up to the finish in Cavalese.
QUOTES Chris Grover, Head Cross Country Coach With no major championships this winter, the Tour de Ski is the focal point of the 2011-12 season for many athletes. This is our biggest team to the Tour in history and demonstrates that the U.S. is developing all-around contenders on the World Cup.
Last season, Kikkan, Kris and Andy gained valuable experience in the Toue and learned how to thrive, rather than merely survive, during the day-to-day grind of the series. I expect each of these veterans to have a big day or two somewhere in the Toue. I also think we will see some big days from our Tour rookies: Liz, Holly, and Simi. Each of these athletes haa shown that top-15 World Cup results are quite possible on a good day. Each event in the Tour plays to the strengths of one of our team members. We are looking for our first Tour stage podium this season.
Andy Newell Each year we do the Tour things become smoother and more dialed in. It's a very intense event. When you are racing every day you need to be very focused but at the same time able to roll with the punches a little bit. No matter what, you are going to have days that don't go well or travel that becomes much harder than planned so we need to be able to make decisions on the move during the Tour.
Last year my goal was just to compete well in the sprints but this year I'm really looking forward to a lot of the stages and hope that I can make it to the final climb in a good position. As always trying to make it onto the podium during the sprint stages will be a huge goal of mine.
Simi Hamilton I'm really excited. This type of event is unique, to say the least. I think it takes the best parts of events like the Tour de France and combines them with the short-term excitement of cross country skiing.
Personally, one of my main goals over the last year was to work on my distance capabilities. I think that my coach, Pete Vordenberg, and I have really tuned in to that. So I'm excited to see how the distance races go. I think that the sprints will go really well, but I would be really happy if I found myself in the mix in the distance races, especially the shorter ones.
It will be a great experience, especially since North America has begun to pick up on this type of racing, which I think the World Cup has moved closer towards in the last few years.