The Tour de Ski is considered by some to be the toughest event in the sport. Combining seven races spanning over four countries in 10 days, it requires incredible levels of strength and stamina to survive. Most of the field drops out well before the finish. But for Emily Nishikawa, there was no question she was going to reach the Tour de Ski finish line.
Nishikawa finished 25th overall in the Tour de Ski, capping off her incredible week with a career-best 20th place result on the infamous Val de Fiemme climb. She became only the fifth Canadian female skier to finish the circuit in history.
Modeled after the Tour de France, the Tour de Ski stage race challenges the best skiers in the world with seven demanding races over ten days, concluding with a 425m vertical climb up Italy’s Alpe Cermis. Finishing all seven stages left the Canadian elated and exhausted, having checked off a longheld career goal.
“I think in the back of my mind it was an event I’ve always wanted to do,” Nishikawa said. “It’s so different. There are so many races, one after another. If you have a good day or a bad day, you have to move on right away. If you’re really upset about a race, you just have to forget it. You have no time to dwell on anything.”
Nishikawa, 29, was flying coming into the Tour, having placed 23rd at the World Cup stop in Davos, which qualified her for the Tour. She carried that momentum through the week, and now has four top 30 results to her name this year.
“Davos had been a breakthrough result. I hadn’t been in the top-30 for quite awhile, and that result gave me confidence,” Nishikawa said. “I had to go with the flow. My plans changed very quickly. I was planning to go to Whitehorse for Christmas, but I just went with it. The tour is a big undertaking, but I feel I was well prepared.”
The distance specialist survived the opening sprints, and then placed 35th the 10 km skate race in Toblach, Italy. She was prepared to make a move in the 10 km skate in Obersdorf, Germany, but had a chaotic race.
“I ended up breaking a ski. I skied a lap with a broken ski, and had to get a replacement. It was hard because I was feeling really good on the day. But being able to suck it up and tough it out, despite having a tough race, makes the Tour different,” Nishikawa said.
She did just that, and fired off three straight top-30 results to finish the tour. Not only was she the fifth Canadian woman to finish the Tour, she was the only Canadian to finish the 2018 Tour.
“I’m very proud of the way I skied and stayed healthy. It’s definitely not an easy task,” Nishikawa said.
Organization is key to surviving the Tour de Ski, and Nishikawa stayed on top of her eating and recovery throughout the week-long event. Since she was the lone Canadian left at the end of the tour, she had plenty of support staff, too. That allowed her to pour all of her effort into racing.
“You are so tired by the time you get to the top of that final climb. I was completely exhausted. But there was a huge sense of accomplishment, having a really solid race on that last day,” Nishikawa said.
She’s now looking forward to qualifying again for the Tour de Ski, as it’s one of the Olympian’s career highlights.
“It’s definitely something I’ve wanted to do for some time. It’s so different and unique. There have been some disappointing years where I haven’t had the chance to compete in it. To do it this year, when I was not expecting it, that was a nice surprise,” Nishikawa said.
Nishikawa’s AWCA teammate Dahria Beatty made it through three stages of the Tour de Ski before pulling out to rest, which paid off immensely. Beatty qualified in 20th spot and finished 16th overall in the Dresden city sprints in Germany.