There was a time when the U.S. team for Tour de Ski consisted of one person.
Andy Newell, who was a member of the U.S. Olympic Team in the last three Olympic Winter Games, headed for the starting line in the 2010 Tour de Ski.
One year later, Kikkan Randall, then coming off her second Olympic appearance, joined Newell and Kris Freeman in the event.
Oh, how those times have changed for the U.S. cross-country skiing team.
This year, Randall and Newell are among a powerful U.S. team of 11 skiers. Many of them are Olympians. And four of them have previously won stages in the Tour de Ski, an event consisting of the world’s best cross-country skiers competing in all or parts of seven stages in a nine-day tour across three countries.
It is a test of endurance and an all-star race, all at the same time.
It begins Saturday in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, with men’s and women’s freestyle sprint races.
“I’m always very excited to race in the Tour de Ski,” two-time stage winner and 2014 Olympian Jessie Diggins told TeamUSA.org by email from Europe. “It’s a really exciting competition with so many races with almost no time off.
“It feels like a big adrenaline rush and I get to do the thing I love most — racing — every day!”
It is indeed racing almost every day. The only days off on the tour are Tuesday, when the tour moves from Switzerland to Oberstdorf, Germany, and Jan. 5, when the tour moves to Val di Fiemme, Italy.
And in an Olympic year, the adrenaline rush goes higher.
“In an Olympic year,” Diggins said, “I see this as an incredible preparation opportunity. I have a chance to race many of the same race formats that will be at the Olympics and improve my pacing, technique and strategy. I have done this event many times before and, provided I get enough rest in the weeks following the tour, I always get a great boost in fitness from racing so hard for so long.”
Diggins first competed in the tour in 2013, and has participated every year since then. She has won a 5-kilometer stage in each of the last two years.
She has joined legendary racers such as Randall, who is in the tour for the fifth time, and two-time Olympian Liz Stephen, who is in the tour for the seventh time, the most of any American woman.
“The Tour de Ski is my favorite event of the year,” Stephen said in a story on U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s website. “I feel a giddy excitement creeping in as it gets closer. Climbing Alpe Cermis on the ninth day is a pretty incredible feeling for me.”
This year marks the second time the U.S. team has totaled 11 skiers (seven women, four men). And it’s the second time in three years.
The Americans are in a position to contend for stage wins and podiums. In women’s sprint, five of the top 13 in the world cup rankings are Americans, led by 2014 Olympian Sadie Bjornsen at No. 4.
U.S. skiers have won podium spots five times in the last two years, including three in the 2017 Tour de Ski.
“It’s a huge boost to come in with six athletes who have been on Tour de Ski podiums, including four winners,” said U.S. coach Chris Grover, on the U.S. Ski Team’s site.
The men’s lineup consists of Erik Bjornsen, Sadie’s brother and a 2014 Olympian, along with Newell, Olympian Simi Hamilton and Youth Olympian Paddy Caldwell, who is making his debut.
Joining Diggins, Stephen, Randall and Sadie Bjornsen on the women’s side are Sophie Caldwell, Rosie Brennan and Ida Sargent.
That’s a big number for a team that used to be able to be counted on one hand.
“It’s incredibly exciting to be part of the U.S. Ski Team right now as we’re continuing to gain momentum, break through in new personal bests and have a great team atmosphere while living on the road,” Diggins said. “We have a really amazing team right now and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do in this year’s edition of the tour.”
By The Numbers
A look at the U.S. Tour de Ski starters by the years:
Kikkan Randall was the first U.S. skier to win a Tour de Ski stage, winning two different stages in 2013.
Simi Hamilton was the first U.S. man to win a stage, doing so in a freestyle sprint in 2014 in Lenzerheide.
Other winners: Jessie Diggins, 2016 Toblach (Italy) 5-kilometer and 2017 Toblach 5-kilometer; Sophie Caldwell, 2016 Oberstdorf classic sprint.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.