Cross country ski racing’s most grueling nine days wrapped up Sunday, Jan. 5 at Val di Fiemme, Italy where the eighth running of the $600,000 Tour de Ski ended.
The tour started Dec. 28 at Oberhof, Germany and featured seven stages in nine days across courses in Germany, Switzerland and Italy.
Certainly the highlight for the seven U.S. Ski Team athletes in the Tour de Ski field came on New Year’s Eve.
That was the victory by former Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Gold Team racer Simi Hamilton in a 1.5-kilometer freestyle sprint at Lenzerheide, Switz.
Hamilton, 26, of Aspen, Co. led qualifying in the 103-racer field and powered his way through the heats for the historic victory Dec. 31.
It was the first win ever by an American man in the grueling tour, and the first win by a U.S. male skier on the Nordic World Cup since Bill Koch’s pre-Olympic 30k victory at Sarajevo in Feb. 1983.
Hamilton survived a photo finish in the semi-finals and won the final heat by .32 seconds over Tour leader Alex Harvey of Canada. His teammate Andy Newell, 30, of Vermont qualified second behind Hamilton and skied to an eighth-place finish.
Hamilton said, “I had a really good feeling about everything throughout the entire day and I just decided to go for it every time I stepped up to the start line. It was a very cool to day to say the least—maybe the coolest one I've ever had!
Chris Grover, U.S. head cross country coach, added, “In the rounds, Simi executed his strategies like a pro, taking the line he wanted in each round. For the final, he decided to let others lead and conserve energy, then planned on skiing the bottom two corners of the race really well and catapulting himself into the finish stretch.
“He managed to just out-sprint world champion Alex Harvey for the win. It was really cool to see two North Americans on top of the podium.”
Sunday, at the end of the tour, 26-year-old Liz Stephen of East Montpelier, Vt. ended up posting the best-ever overall Tour de Ski finish for a U.S. skier at seventh overall.
On the final day she skied to the third-fastest time battling rain, sleet and snow for 9 kilometers up Alpe Cermis near Val di Fiemme.
Noah Hoffman, 24, of Aspen, another former SVSEF Gold Team racer, also earned the best-ever overall finish for a U.S. man in the Tour de Ski at 25th place. World champion Jessie Diggins, 22, of Afron, Minn. finished a career-best 13th on the tour.
Therese Johaug captured the first-ever women’s Tour victory for Norway, while also leading a Norwegian sweep with Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen and Heidi Weng. Norwegian men Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Chris Jespersen went 1-2.
Other U.S. highlights of the tour:
On Jan. 3 at Toblach, Italy, Stephen posted the fifth-fastest time of the day Friday, starting from 22nd to finish 12th in the 15k pursuit stage. Hoffman also skied an impressive race, sealing the second-fastest time of the day and moving up from 69th to finish 27th in the men’s 35k pursuit.
And on Jan. 4 at Val di Fiemme, Diggins skied to a career-best 10th in the 5k classic in Val di Fiemme, the sixth stage of the Tour de Ski.