On Sunday, Liz Stephen finished fifth in the Tour de Ski in Val di Fiemme, Italy. Her result is the highest ever for an American in the multistage race.
“This is my favorite event of the year,” Stephen, 27, told the USSA. “I made it my goal to finish in the top five.”
It was a hard-earned fifth. After the first three of seven stages, Stephen had dropped to 43rd in the overall rankings. Clawing her way back with a fifth-place finish in the sixth stage, she needed a fifth-place finish or better in the final stage to finish in the top five overall.
During the nine-kilometer race in stage seven, Stephen rolled into the final climb and began closing the substantial lead of past Tour de Ski champ Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland and Norway’s Ragnhild Haga. Stephen overcame the 37-second gap behind Kowalczyk, and then traded blows with Haga until Haga broke from her in a final surge. Stephen would settle for fifth, boosting her to fifth overall in the standings and a mere 12 seconds behind Haga.
“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,” Stephen told the USSA. “But what a fun day it was.”
“We are stoked with Liz’s career-best performance, and we will continue to come after the Norwegians with all we have,” said women’s head coach Matt Whitcomb, according to the USSA.
Norwegian skiers, led by six-time Olympic gold medalist Marit Bjoergen, swept the podium with the first four overall places.