Skiers charge up a hill in the women's 10k mass start in La Clusaz. (Getty Images/Agence Zoom-Alain Grosclaude)
LA CLUSAZ, France (Jan. 19) - Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) led a strong U.S. Ski Team surge with four women in the top 30 in a 10k classic mass start World Cup in La Clusaz. Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) was 28th to lead the men in a 15k. Norway's Marit Bjoergen won the women's race in her first race back since before the Tour de Ski while Alexey Poltoranin won for the men. Relays are on tap in La Clusaz for Sunday.
Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) was 15th to lead the USA in a 10k classic mass start as four U.S. women cracked the top 30. It was a career best classic for Stephen
Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) was 28th for the U.S. men, his second top 30 classic distance finish and notable as it came at altitude.
Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) was 24th, Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) 28th and Ida Sargent (Orleans, VT) 29th.
Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) had challenges with skis and finished 32nd. She is third in the overall World Cup standings.
A team event is on tap for Sunday with the U.S. women looking to repeat their historic first podium from earlier this year. The men will go with Newell, Hoffman, Tad Elliott (Durango, CO) and Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO). The women will run with Holly Brooks (Anchorage), Randall, Stephen and Diggins - same team that took third in Sweden.
Next week the team is planning to train on the nearby 1992 Olympic trails in Les Saisies before heading to Sochi for Olympic test events the following week.
QUOTES Liz Stephen
I tried to get a good start and, as we are at altitude here, not work too hard on the first lap and blow up on the next two. There are a lot of places to pass on this course, but with the conditions being what they were, staying in the track was best for not icing on the uphills. So, I forced myself to stay in the tracks as much as I could, which was easy with the rollerski kick I had. I made most of my moves on the uphills, just consistent turning up the speed throughout the race and staying relaxed, trying to ski smooth and controlled and hang tough.
I skied with a lot of different girls out there today, including all of ours at points, and engaging in an acrobatic act with Jessie on one of the downhills when I changed lanes without looking behind and almost took Jessie out. But we stayed calm and rode it out, Jessie with one ski caught between my two and neither of us fell, phew!
I am really lucky to be able to work with such a great team of techs and coaches that we have. With a small team like we have, it takes all hands on deck to make good skis, and our guys never seem to slow down for a second. These are some seriously hard working dudes and they deserve a real standing ovation for their work already this year.
Kikkan Randall The race was going relatively well through two laps and my skis ended up being a major distracting factor today. The conditions were surprisingly tricky and variable. Ski testing before the race went relatively smooth and I headed to the start feeling pretty confident about my skis. First lap they worked great, second lap was a little bit of icing and then third lap was a big battle.
Matt Whitcomb, Cross Country Coach
We had a solid team day today highlighted by pair of big results by Liz and Andy. Today was a challenging waxing day. As a team we scored well against the field but it was one of those best case scenario days. The top of every hill was quite dry - good hard wax conditions, while the gradual climbs and flats were glazed klister conditions. Even the best skis out there today were challenging so I feel we fared well.
Tomorrow we will run a men's and women's relay. The team is healthy and ready for strong performances tomorrow.