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Liz Stephan 5th overall in Tour de Ski after 4th in hill climb

Mon, Jan  12, 2015 - By USSA

VAL DI FIEMME, Italy (Jan. 11, 2015) – Liz Stephen (East Montpelier, VT) powered up the Alpe Cermis hill climb to finish fifth overall in the seven-stage Tour de Ski Sunday, the best result ever by an American in the multi-stage event.

“This is my favorite event of the year,” Stephen said of the Tour de Ski’s final 9k hill climb. “I made it my goal to finish in the top five.”

Stephen began the day in sixth overall, beginning with a trio of skiers placed just behind her. She started slowly, initially seeding time to that group over the first rolling four kilometers but then upped her tempo once the climb began in earnest. Her split time for the stage was the fourth fastest of the day.

Liz Stephen collapses in the finish after skiing to an historic fifth in the final standings of the Tour de Ski, fourth fastest up the Alpe Cermis. (Getty Images/AFP - Vincento Pinto)

Liz Stephen collapses in the finish after skiing to an historic fifth in the final standings of the Tour de Ski, fourth fastest up the Alpe Cermis. (Getty Images/AFP - Vincento Pinto)

At the bottom of the climb, Stephen battled aggressively to close the gap on Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk and Norway's Ragnhild Haga. She needed 37 seconds to catch past Tour champion Kowalczyk and another 15 to Haga. She made up the ground and caught them, but paid during the climb. Stephen stood fourth through the first steep segment of the climb, but Haga caught her on the second wall just 800 meters to the finish.

"I could not believe Liz was able to keep things close," said Coach Matt Whitcomb. "For a moment, it looked like Liz was going to do it."

"With the climb itself, my strategy was to try and catch Ragnhild," said Stephen. "She started about 50 seconds ahead of me and I really wanted a fourth place today. I think I may have gone a bit too hard in closing the gap to her, but I was feeling good at the bottom of the climb and up the first steep pitch. But man, after just a year away, I forgot how steep that thing really is and I was not able to really drop her at any point. It made for, I would say, my best finishing fight ever and she was stronger than me up the last little pitch at the end. But what a fun day it was."

In the finish, both Stephen and Haga collapsed. Bjoergen, who had won her first Tour title, came over to greet Stephen.

 	 Liz Stephen nears the finish of the grueling climb up Alpe Cermis to win the Tour de Ski. (Getty Images/AFP - Vincenzo Pinto)

Liz Stephen nears the finish of the grueling climb up Alpe Cermis to win the Tour de Ski. (Getty Images/AFP - Vincenzo Pinto)

“Liz has had a very strong year of training and exhibited top shape all summer and fall, and now we get to see all of the hard work pay off,” described head coach, Chris Grover. “I know there are more big results in store from her this season.”

"Liz set one of her goals this summer as finishing in the top five in the Tour de Ski," recalled Coach Matt Whitcomb. "Watching an athlete accomplish a top-tier goal like that is really satisfying and we are all very proud of her ability to prepare and execute."

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Liz Stephen finished fifth overall in the Tour de Ski, the best result ever by an American.
  • Stephen’s result comes after finishing fifth in the classic mass start 10k on Saturday in Val di Fiemme and fourth overall in the 9k final hill climb up Alpe Cermis, an alpine ski resort.
  • Stephen paced the event well starting slowly and turning up the tempo in the final four kilometers.
  • Norway swept the top four podium places. Marit Bjoergen won the overall women’s event. Norwegian Martin Sundby won the overall men’s race.

QUOTES

Liz Stephen

My strategy is always to ski the flats on the way to the climb strong, but not to waste too much energy on that section, because there is plenty of climbing to come that will take care of any extra energy that you were able to conserve on the flats. It worked out really week for me today, as the group of girls who started just behind me caught me in the stadium and led for the entire flat section until we took the left hand turn to head up the Cermis. Could not have been better.

With the climb itself, my strategy was to try and catch Ragnhild. She started about 50 seconds ahead of me and I really wanted a fourth place today. I think I may have gone a bit too hard in closing the gap to her, but I was feeling good at the bottom of the climb and up the first steep pitch. But man, after just a year away, I forgot how steep that thing really is and I was not able to really drop her at any point. It made for, I would say, my best finishing fight ever and she was stronger than me up the last little pitch at the end. But what a fun day it was.

Matt Whitcomb, Women's Head Coach

Liz set one of her goals this summer as finishing in the top five in the Tour de Ski. Watching an athlete accomplish a top-tier goal like that is really satisfying and we are all very proud of her ability to prepare and execute.

Liz fought very hard at the bottom of the climb today to close the gap on Kowalczyk and Haga, and perhaps was a bit too aggressive in her approach to the climb. She caught them very quickly but then skied the middle section of the hill under extreme fatigue. When Haga reclaimed the lead near the top of the second wall (800 meters from the finish), I could not believe Liz was able to keep things close. For a moment it looked like Liz was going to do it. The battle was perhaps the most exciting in the women's race, but it was Haga with the strength in the end. It's hard to lose a battle like that, but it was Marit who greeted Liz first at the finish. That takes the edge away. We are happy for Marit, Therese, Heidi, and Ragnhild as well.

We are stoked with Liz' career-best performance, and will continue to come after the Norwegians with all we have."

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