The final, gut-busting race in the Tour de Ski got the best of Anchorage's Kikkan Randall on Sunday.
Randall, ranked seventh overall heading into the arduous 9-kilometer race up the face of Alpe Cermis in Val di Fiemme, Italy, struggled in the race up the alpine ski slope to drop into 12th place overall, two spots below her finish last year.
"Today was a tough race for me and not the performance I was hoping to get out of myself," Randall, a three-time Olympian, said in an email. "But, it was still a good experience and I will pull some good lessons from it."
One of Randall's teammates all but stole the show. Liz Stephen of E. Montpelier, Vt., posted the day's second-fastest climb time to vault from 22nd place overall the 15th.
Considered the toughest race in World Cup skiing, skiers gain 495 meters of elevation in the 9-kilometer race, with most of the climb coming in the final 3.5 kilometers.
Stephen made the climb in 20 minutes, 40.1 seconds. Only Therese Johaug of Norway was faster, clocking 20:13.1 for that section.
"I was really impressed with Liz," Randall said. "She dropped a full minute off her time from last year and fought hard all the way to the line.
"I'll have to do a few more climbing workouts with Liz to learn the magic."
Randall's split time for the section was 23:29.6, which was the 37th slowest in the field of 51 skiers. "The further I went up the climb, the more I struggled," she said.
But Randall skied better early in the race, before the staggering climb began, and was able to finish 12th in the pursuit-style race, which seeded racers based on their cumulative times through six races.
Randall won two of the Tour de Ski's seven stages. Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland won four stages en route to the overall title, and Johaug won Sunday's stage.
Jessie Diggins of of Afton, Minn., a Tour de Ski rookie, jumped from 24th to 21st overall Sunday, while Anchorage's Holly Brooks slipped from 35th to 37th.
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or call her at 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG