TOBLACH, Italy (Jan. 3) – Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk remained in the Tour de Ski lead with a comfortable win in the 15k freestyle pursuit, but the field closed the gap with Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla 23.3 back and Therese Haug of Norway 28.7 back. Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) dropped from fifth to eighth, but is now just 59.3 out. Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) had a strong day, moving up to 19th while Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) is now 27th in her first Tour. Petter Northug of Norway took the men’s 35k win and the Tour lead in a closely fought battle. Action resumes with stage five Friday, short distance classic racing, before heading over the Dolomites to Val di Fiemme, site of the FIS Nordic Ski World Championships in February, for the final two stages.

HIGHLIGHTS
• Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) dropped from fifth to eighth but closed the gap to Tour de Ski leader Justyna Kowalczyk to 59.3 seconds after the 15k freestyle pursuit in Toblach.
• Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) moved from 25th to 19th while Tour rookie Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) jumped form 39th to 27th. Holly Brooks (Anchorage) was 34th.
• Norway’s Petter Northug picked up the men’s win in the 35k. Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) was 43rd, Noah Hoffman (Aspen, CO) 57th and Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) 67th.
• Action continues in Toblach/Cortina Friday with a men’s 5k classic and women’s 3k.
• The Tour concludes with two events Saturday and Sunday in Val di Fiemme, including the final climb up Alpe Cermis.
• Universal Sports is providing daily coverage at 7:00 p.m. EST.

QUOTES
Kikkan Randall
Another solid day as we are now halfway through this Tour de Ski! My legs were a little stiff out there, but I was able to get in a good pack and it was fun to actually be able to take some time back on Kowalczyk! I had hoped to race more with Charlotte Kalla but she was really strong today. The course was bomb proof and super fast. I had a little fall early in the race when I tripped myself but thankfully it wasn’t at a really crucial point.

Now we go back into classic mode tomorrow. I’m looking forward to another short and fast race. This is when the Tour really starts to get interesting and it’s great to see how team responding to the challenge.

5 down, 3 to go!!