Tomorrow sees the start of the fourth annual Tour de Ski. Oberhof, Germany is the location of the first two stages and will be the first time the 10-day competition has taken place in an Olympic year. Subsequently, some big names will not be taking part as they have prioritized the Olympics and the preparation more vital than competing in the Tour. Still, both fields will be heavily packed with talent. I can’t see anyone upsetting the favorites; Northug and Kowalczyk, with the form that both are currently in. The current odds for the two are 1.85 and 2.05 respectively. However, the bookmakers have generous odds on such skiers as Størmer-Stiera (17.00) and Legkov (13.00). You can find a list of all the odds for the Tour de Ski winners here.
Though Northug has enormous pressure on him as many expect him to win, he has been rather humble saying that he fears the Russians most, especially Legkov and Vylegzhanin, but says that he has to be aware of Cologna’s ability to race any distance in either technique. Northug’s plan is to have at least a one minute lead on everyone before the final climb up Alpe Cermis. I guess we’ll have to wait and find out if he’ll be able to build on his second, third, and eighth placings in the previous editions of the Tour.
Here are my predictions for the Tour de Ski.
1. Petter Northug
2. Alexander Legkov
3. Dario Cologna
1. Justyna Kowalczyk
2. Aino-Kaisa Saarinen
3. Kristin Størmer-Stiera
In other news, Vassili Rotchev will not be on Russia’s Tour de Ski or Olympic teams. According to skisport.ru, the races for team selection was the Krasnogorsk races. Rotchev had just had an operation due to appendicitis and was unable to races, thus not qualifying. It’s too bad since Rotchev has been such a great ambassador for Russia skiing over the years, especially in the past couple as there has been a cloud of suspicion hanging over the Russian ski federation.
On a more positive note, the Canadian national team got some good news as head coach Inge Bråten will be back in time for the Tour de Ski after successful hip replacement surgery. This should greatly increase the team’s spirit heading into the new racing period.
Over on the official Tour website, Vegard Ulvang has good article discussing how individuals view the radical changes to cross-country skiing over the past 20 years from the same race day in and day out dominated by only a couple names to being a multi-national sport where no one is ever sure who will win the next race. He also goes on to say:
…one of the most important proposals on the agenda at the Cross-Country Committee meetings in May will be the introduction of a new multi-stage event over three days in the beginning of the season (November). The first racers to cross the finish line on Sunday will be the winners of the first weekend and immediately bring the focus to the fight for the overall World Cup.
I personally think that this would be a great idea. All the athletes would have relatively fresh legs due to being so early in the season and it would definitely put an emphasis on the World Cup Overall as some big points would be immediately up for grabs. Some athletes could put a big gap on the competitors with a good showing.The spotlight could also be shone on emerging talents such as those handfuls of Norwegians and Swedes trying to make their respective national team. Also, due to the timing, the “mini-tour” wouldn’t interfere with those World Championship or Olympic years since it’s so early in the season. We’ll have to wait until May to see what the verdict is.
Tomorrow will see the prologue to kick off the Tour. It can be argued that it is the toughest distance of them all (2.8km for women and 3.7km for men) ; where we see both sprint and distance specialist struggle with the same dilemma… it’s too short to pace and too long to go 100% from the start line. It’ll be interesting to see who gets across the finish line only to crumple into a heap of exhausted athlete. One thing is clear though, Axel Teichmann loves this distance as he has finish first and second in the two previous years. Here are my predictions:
1. Dario Cologna
2. Axel Teichmann
3. Alexander Legkov
1. Justyna Kowalczyk
2. Arianna Follis
3. Anna Haag
Til Tomorrow, Happy New Years!
Last night saw millions of people around the world slip into turkey-induced comas; I was one such person. However, today is a new day and we’re now only six days from the start of the fourth edition of the Tour de Ski. This years Tour is starting a day later than years past, on New Years Day as oppose to New Years Eve. There will be eight stages in ten days ending in the climb up Alpe Cermis. Another big change to this years race is that athletes will not be penalized for dropping out before the Tour is done like in years past. Athletes will now be able to keep all the points they have earned in each race. I suspect we will see many more sprinters vying for points in the first half of the Tour due to this rule change. Since it is an Olympic year, some big names will not be partaking, including the likes of Bjørgen and Kalla. Regardless, the field will still be packed with contenders for this years title.
The FIS finally released viewing numbers from last years Tour a few days ago. A whopping 52 million viewers saw Cologna capture the title as the athletes climb the Alpe Cermis last year. I must say those numbers are mighty impressive when compared to the 37 million that watched the World Cup Finale in Falun last year. Hopefully, these numbers can grow even further in the years to come as the sport becomes more and more global.
Russian, Ivan Alypov won the Krasnogorsk 15km and has earned a spot on the Russian team for Tour de Ski. He’s currently in good form as he has placed in the top 10 in every Eastern Europe Cup in both distance and sprint races he has entered. The Russian team has looked exceptionally strong this year and it will be a tall task for Alypov to live up to the bar set by his counterparts.
The Swedish team announced their selections for the Tour de Ski with 13 athletes (seven men and six women). The selection has some notable names missing which made me realize how deep the Swede’s are this year. The likes of Johan Olsson, Charlotte Kalla, Anna Haag, will not be participating as they will be preparing for the Olympics, but the team still has an ample amount of talent such as Hellner, Modin, Ingemarsdotter, Brodin and the return from injury of Emil Jönsson and Anna Olsson. While the women’s side have an all-rounder in Kalla, the men’s side is missing that athlete that is a threat in every race he enters, whether it be sprint or distance. Someone like Norway’s Northug or Finland’s Jauhojaervi.
It’s old news, and you’ve all surely heard it by now, but it definitely deserves another mention; Brian McKeever’s win of the 50km in Canmore on the final day for Olympic qualifying. By going to Vancouver to represent Canada, he will be the first winter athlete to ever accomplish competing in both the Paralympics and the Olympics. There have been five other athletes to compete in both, but they are summer athletes. So congrats to Brian, and here’s hoping that he shows the same form we saw from him in Sapporo!
-Over at SkiTrax, they’re having a Fantasy FIS Tour de Ski 2009/2010. It’s fun, it’s free and the grand prize is a Rossignol ski/boot package with a pair of OneWay DS10 valued at $1,500US! Sign-up is open until December 31st.
To end off, here’s a great commercial from DnB NOR in Norway featuring Petter Northug which will definitely get you into the Christmas spirit.
Til Next Time, enjoy indulging in turkey left-overs.
The temperature was the same, but the conditions were immaculate compared to yesterdays sprints. The sun was out and the tracks were fresh for the first mass start races of the World Cup season. The athletes were dressed warmly with many neck warmers, Vaseline, and anything else to protect the skin – especially the cheeks – from frostbite due to the frigid air.
The lead pack was down to 10 by the end of the end of the first lap with a handful of athletes barely hanging on to no avail with the pack being widdled down by bursts of speed from Saarinen and Majdic. The first sprint points were won by Longa and the second sprint saw some contact between Saarinen and Majdic (Saarinen was to blame) which saw the Slovenian hit the floor without a chance to collect any sprint points and Kowalczyk picking maximum points from the second bout. The fall seemed to completely take the wind out of Majdic’s sails and she subsequently lost over 20 seconds in the next 1.2km. By 11km, the lead pack was down to seven, dropping Ishida (who still had a phenomenal race), Shevchenko, and Majdic. Kowalcyzk put on the afterburners on the penultimate climb and opened up a seven second lead on the other six athletes with only 1.4km left. The chase was led by Haag with only Bjørgen, Saarinen, and Størmer-Stiera able to keep pace. Haag and Bjørgen lunged for the line with the Norwegian beating out the Swede by a boot for second place.
1. Justyna Kowalcyzk
2. Marit Bjørgen
3. Anna Haag
Notes: After a jury review, Saarinen was rightfully disqualified for her knock down of Majdic in the build up to the second sprint. It must have been
rather disappointing for Majdic not to pick up a victory on home snow after doing it so many time elsewhere on the circuit. Smigun-Vaehi continued her comeback with a very impressive with a sixth place. Alena Prozchakova, considered by many as a sprint specialist had a fantastic race today finishing 15th, only 1:35 of the winner. The same can not be said for Kuitunen who – usually bossing the races from the front – has yet to find her form this year. She was a disappointing (relatively) 14th being over 1:31 back. Khazova showed she was human as she finished 17th. Anna Haag had a great weekend picking with her bronze today and a fourth in the yesterdays sprint.
The first 15 minutes was rather standard protocol as the Russians and Italians set the pace for the majority of the time. Kris Freeman positioned himself nicely at the beginning of the race by always being in the top 10. The field was down to 37 at the 12.5km time check. This is when the first move came when Johan Olsson tested the field and opened up a 10 meter led before the pack reeled him in again, but the Swede still lead the field and continued to push the pace. Angerer continued to show his sprinting prowess as he collected the full 15 points for the second sprint in the race at the 15km mark. Mattias Fredrickson; who has been invisible for the past couple years, put in the next move with just under 10km left but was unable to shake anyone from the main group. The third sprint at 22.5km saw Alex Harvey take the points. It was Daniel Rikardsson who tested the pack shortly after 23km and it was Vittoz’s who took up the reigns with only two laps remaining. With a lap remaining, the lead pack was still 23 strong and it was a nail-biting final 2.5km. With Northug still in the pack, the main question wanting answered was who was going to make the first move and try to break the pack before a sprint was required? First it was Filbrich, then Legkov countered and the leading group finally started to thin with only 1.4km left. Visions of Liberec flashed through Legkov’s head as he temporarily tangle with his fellow teammate Vylezhanin on the final descent into the stadium. Northug, who stayed quiet in the pack, came to show his colours with only 1km left and seemed to double pole away from the Russian’s that
1. Petter Northug
2. Alexander Legkov
3. Maxim Vylegzhanin
Notes: Pietro Piller-Cottrer had a decent birthday as he finished 9th. Matti Heikinnen monumental blow-up to say the least. He lost an amazing 4:55 and nine places over the final 10km. Even the best have their off-days. The Russians had a good day place four inside the top 15 while the
Swede’s did well having Olsson in 6th and Rickardsson in 8th.
North American Watch
The females in the 15km fared much better today with Renner getting into the World Cup points with a 26th place and Randall continuing her distance improvements by just missing the points with a 31st placing. Kris Freeman had a strong first half of the race before losing contact with the lead pack just before the 20km mark and eventually dropping out at the 25km after losing 1:47 in his final 7.5km. Alex Harvey had a great run ending in 22nd. He was in the lead pack with one lap to go but the sprint took too much juice and couldn’t hold on the last 2km to been in the final sprint. Nonetheless, a good way to go into the Christmas break. You can read about this thoughts on the past weekend here.
Edit: The red group were announced after this weekend races with Harvey, Kershaw, Freeman, and Renner getting into the top 30 ranking for the next racing period.
In Canmore, the second classic sprint day of the weekend and the third of four Olympic qualifying races which saw Daria Gaiazova who took her second victory in as many days while Drew Goldsack stamped his ticket to the big show by winning the men’s sprint. Results can be found here.
Til Next Time.