Randall unable to hold lead in Tour de Ski

Anchorage's Kkkan Randall surrendered her lead Sunday in the Tour de Ski, struggling in soft snow in Oberhof, Germany, while four-time Tour champion Justyna Kowalcyzk of Poland surged into the lead.

Randall, the winner of Saturday's 3-kilometer freestyle prologue, slipped to 14th place in Sunday's 9-kilometer classic pursuit.

Kowalczyk won the race by 41.4 seconds over Norway's Therese Johaug, posting a time of 25 minutes, 1.4 seconds. Randall clocked 26:34.7.

Two Americans joined Randall in the top 25 -- Liz Stephen of E. Montpelier, Vt. (23rd in 27:16.0) and Holly Brooks of Anchorage (25th in 27:20.6). Jessie Diggins of Afton, Minn., placed 50th.

Russia's Maxim Vylegzhanin won the men's 15-kilometer pursuit Sunday, with Kris Freeman of Andover, N.H., leading the Americans in 58th place.

The race was the second of seven in the Tour.

"It was really fun to start in the leader's bib and I did the best I could to make Kowalczyk work to catch me," Randall said in an email.

"I was happy to stay ahead for most of the first lap.I tried to hang on to her pace but she was skiing a little bit more powerfully than me."

In the third and final lap, a fatigued Randall was passed by the chase pack.

"I was struggling to match their power," she said. "Once I got tired, it was hard to make the skis work in the soft snow.

"In classic skiing right now, I just can't seem to find that next gear. I know it's coming and each race gets a little better."

The Tour -- the most demanding race series in nordic skiing, with seven races over nine days in three countries -- takes Monday off and resumes Tuesday with a freestyle sprint in Val Muestair, Switzerland.

Randall, the reigning World Cup sprint champion, will be among the favorites.

Randall will be a year older come race day -- the three-time Olympian turns 30 Monday.

"I'm pretty psyched to be hitting such a landmark," she said. "I used to dream of the skier that I would be when I turned 30, and I'm happy that I have lived up to my expectations. Would have been fun to race on my birthday, but we will have a fun time using the day to rest up and prepare."

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.

Anchorage Daily News