Nations Cup: 6106pts (4th)
Men: 2571pts (5th)
Women: 3535 (5th)
The Italians had much of their success last year from unexpected sources. Fulvio Scola came out of nowhere to finish 5th in the Sprint Cup while Roland Clara led the men in the distance and finished 14th ahead of his decorated teammates Piller-Cottrer and di Centa. On the women’s side, it was all-rounders Arianna Follis and Magda Genuin who finished 3rd and 7th in the overall standings.
The Italians were dealt a huge blow this off-season with the retirement of their female star Arianna Follis and more recently Magda Genuin. Between the two of them, they accounted for 1598 of the 3535 points (45%) for the Italian women. There’s absolutely no way that hole will be filled any time soon.
If anyone was to tell me that 29-year old Fulvio Scola; a career Alpen Cup racer would finish 5th in the Sprint Cup ahead of athletes like Northug, Newell and Cologna, I would’ve told you that you’re a crazy person and should get your head checked. Well, that’s exactely what Scola was able to do. He was this year’s extremely late bloomer; just like Rickardsson (29-years old) over the past two years. Honestly, I can’t see Scola finishing the season as high in the standings as last year, but should still be in the mix for a top 10 in the Sprint Cup standings.
In my opinion, Renato Pasini (9th ranked) is one of the most underrated sprinters on the circuit. He earned 190 points last season including a 4th in Liberec.
The most exciting prospect out of Italy for a few years is 21-year old Federico Pellegrino (13th ranked) who has already earned his first World Cup podium with a 2nd place in Liberec and still has yet to enter 10 World Cup sprints. He did great in qualifying last year, but with his lack of experience wasn’t able to make the most of his strong qualifying positions (see: Andy Newell syndrome). After off-season surgery that made him miss two months of training and a few health problems, expect him to have a sluggish start to the season. He will be on the World Cup full-time this year and with last years’ experience under his belt, I expect him to remain in the top 15 of the World Cup sprint standings, he just has to get to full strength first after his rocky off-season.
The supporting cast of Hofer (25th) and Frasnelli (31st) should have a couple of top 15 finishes this year but I can’t see them have any surprising results.
Losing both Follis (2nd) and Genuin (11th) would be a massive blow to any country, and Italy is no exception. Thankfully, Longa (13th) is back for another year so not all is lost for Italy, just a large portion. With the depletion of talent in the women’s field due to retirement, Longa should be able to make it into the finals a few more times than last season and challenge for more medals.
Unfortunately, that’s the only bright spot for Italy this year. They also have Brochard (54th) and Vuerich (78th) but don’t expect them to do anything of note this year. Gaia Vuerich is a very decent junior, but is a couple seasons away from making a real impact on the World Cup.
The men’s squad has a lot of aging athletes with Clara (15th), di Centa (19th), Moriggl (32nd), Checchi (38th), Frasnelli (44th), Piller-Cottrer (51st), and Hofer (79th) who are all at least 28-years old. By all account, everyone listed except for Clara had sub-par season. Clara was the one bright spot and surprised many people with him amazing 5th place at the Tour de Ski. He increase his World Cup point total from the year before by a whopping 274!
The most disappointing Italian last year was Piller-Cottrer who earned a measly 41 points and only made the top 30 twice. That’s a stark contrast from the 2008-2009 season where he won the Distance Cup with 560pts and the year before where he was runner-up with 516 points. This guy is too good of a skier not to being in the medal mix particularly during the longer freestyle races. He did have to take a month off after injuring his shoulder and quad in a bike accident this summer; so like Pellegrino, he might be off to a slow start.
A similar story to the sprint team, they will miss Follis (5th ranked) dearly. Longa (4th) was actually the better distance skier last year and should expect to finish in the top five of the Distance Cup again this year.
Virginia de Martin Topranin (47th) and Antonella Confortola-Wyatt (62nd) will be the only other Italian females that have a realistic chance of being in the top 30 on a regular basis this year, but they will be on the outside looking in more often than not.
Unlike the countries around Italy in the Nations Cup standings, the Italians currently have a pretty weak talent pool to draw from. I mentioned Vuerich in the women’s sprint section and there is Debora Agreiter too who finished 15th in the 10km pursuit at World Juniors, but these athletes are a few years away from World Cup readiness. For the men, Pellegrino has already arrived, but other than him it’s slim pickings.
The loss of Follis and Genuin is a sign of things to come. While the men still have a couple solid years left in them with the like of Clara and Scola being late bloomers, don’t be surprised to see Italy tumble-down the Nations Cup standings in the next few years. All the stars of the team are getting older and approaching retirement and is no talent readily available to take their places other than Pellegrino. If I was an Italian ski fan, I wouldn’t hold my breath because the country is a few years away from seeing the next generation of skiers come through the system, that is if they ever make it to the top flight at all.
Like the women’s 30km, it was another beautiful day for the last cross-country ski race of the World Championships. Coming into the race Northug was the favourite and just over two hours after the final race of the World Championships started, Northug came across the finish line to collect his third gold medal in the past 10 days.
Early on we saw a host of leaders from Duvillard, Goering, Hellner and Northug. Pavels Ribakovs from Latvia pulled a Kershaw and his ski flew off into the bushes and a spectator retreived it for him so he could continue.
At eight minutes we saw a half-hearted break from Manificat and #30 Jauhojaervi who were able to gain 30 meters on the leaders around 2.5km into the race. I think they were surprised by the lead as they skied side-by-side looking back and talking amongst each other about the lead they had gained. I’m guessing the conversation was about letting the pack swallow them up or staying out in front with the current pace they were skiing. However, the pack sped on the downhill meant that they were now once again together with the field.
The next few kilometers we saw the bulk to the lead skied by Piller-Cottrer with Sodergren and Hellner making brief appearances at the front. Coming into the stadium and the first opportunity for a ski exchange, the Italian opted to go for a new pair of skis which meant the first to break the clock was Japan’s Naruse. There were a handful of athletes to change skis but with the lead pack still quite large, they were able to link up with the back as soon as they started to ski again.
The next lap saw Johnsrud Sudby take the lead with American Noah Hoffman right behind him. The pace set wasn’t too fast, but it was still stretching the field out at the back and after 3km at the front it was Perl and Duvillard to take the lead coming through the stadium at 13.3km. Perl continued to lead until the feed in the stadium and the end of the second lap.
THis time going through the ski exchange, almost every athlete opted for new skis as the race was a third done. Going out on the second lap, there was still 42 athletes in the lead and the leader board was being dominated by the French and Norwegian team as they had all four of their athletes in the top 10.
At the beginning of the third lap, there were familiar faces at the front as Duvillard was dictating the pace with Piller-Cottrer and Perl just in behind him.
The first real attack of the day came from Roland Clara at 18.8km and within a couple hundred meters open up a nine second lead. Behind him, the main pack of 38 skiers did not react at all and allowed the Italian quickly get out in front. Manificat was the man who led the chase, and it appeared that Clara’s attack was half-hearted as he let his foot of the gas and looked behind him wondering where everyone was at 19.6km even though he still had an 11 second lead on the pack. I guess he was more surprised than anything that not a single athlete went with him. It was good to see him enjoying the race though as he looked at the camera on the snowmobile traveling down the hill beside him and blew a kiss to the audience at home.
On one of the downhills we saw Angerer eat snow, but the damage was minimal as he got up and was able to hang on to the back of the pack. At 21.6km, the pack was now 35 strong and worryingly for the Russians, both Glavatishikn and Shiriaev were now off the back and 20 seconds off the lead.
Just outside the stadium, Clara was caught by the pack, but he still continued to lead as he was joined up from by Sjur Røthe.
At 23.4km, we saw a new athlete at the front as Aivar Rehemaa from Estonia decided it was his time to take the lead, but it was short-lived as Sjur Røthe had great glide and took the lead and was joined by Babikov. Going up the hill behind frognersetern, Babikov was joined up front by Bauer who had been really quiet for the first half of the race. As the athletes came into the stadium, we saw one final exchange of the lead as Hellner led the athletes into the feed zone before the third ski exchange.
Once again, the majority of the athletes took advantage of the ski exchange and went in for a short pit-stop. On the third lap, it was more the same; top athletes all in the lead pack that was still quite large.
At 27.9km, it was Babikov who decided to test the waters and injected a little pace up front. Just like Clara’s breakaway at the same point a lap earlier, there was no urgency from the pack as the Canadian began to ski away because he attacked just before the set of downhills and going back down into the stadium, the pack speed reeled Babikov back in. However, Babikov still continued to lead going back out on course as Manificat was have a hard time to keep contact with the lead pack.
Around 31km, it was the Swede Olsson who was next to lead while Røthe shadowed his every move. Coming into the fourth ski exchange at 33.3km, every athlete in the lead pack opted to change skis.
The start of the fourth lap saw the most decisive breakaway yet as Piller-Cottrer went off the front and he was joined by Gaillard. The other athletes recognized this breakaway as dangerous and quickly closed the gap led by Hellner. In addition to closing the gap, Hellner blew by Gaillard and took the lead from Piller-Cottrer and put in an attack of his own. Piller-Cottrer was able to hang on initially, but dropped back while Røthe came through the pack to ski up to Hellner. The injection of pace was hurting athletes and at 35.5km, there was now 25 athletes stick in contact.
Hellner’s pace had now splintered the field as there was a lead three of Hellner, Northug and Chernousov closely followed by another foursome of Clara, Cologna, Angerer and Vylegzhanin. 25 seconds now separated the top 25 athletes.
Coming down the big hill, a lead group of seven formed consisting of the athletes mentioned above while a big chase group worked hard to close the gap and once again the field was together as they approached the stadium. At 38.3km, Hellner was still leading, but the lead group had ballooned again and was 22 athletes strong.
At 39.2km, the lead group was splitting into two distinctive group with 12 in the lead, followed by a chase pack of 10 led by Babikov who were four seconds off the pace. However, the downhills acted as friends for the chasers as they were able to erase the deficit they faced a kilometer beforehand, but Clara was the one casualty and was unable to regain contact.
Hellner continued to lead in the stadium as the athletes came through for their last opportunity to change their skis. Interestingly, while many of the athletes choose to change skis, both Dolidovich and Bauer opted not to and opened up a 10 second lead on those who changed skis. It was only a short time later that the Czech and the Belarussian were once again a part of the lead pack.
As the pack settle, once again it was Hellner to take over from Rickardsson and increase the speed at the front. The pace increase was minimal and at 43.8km there was still 20 athletes in with a chance, but Cologna was now finding the pace too much. Just as the athletes went through the time check, it was Rickardsson to inject some speed and his attack was breaking the leaders and the lead group was down to eight athletes, before Rickardsson let up and wanted to someone else to take over the pace. This meant that the lead group was now back to 12 athletes as Rickardsson had successfully dropped the likes of Bauer and Hellner from the front.
Coming through the stadium for the last time at 46.6km, it was Sodergren leading the way and there were more athletes joining the fight as the top 17 were only separated by eight seconds now.
With only 3.4km left it was time to wait and see who was going to attack first. The first attack didn’t take long as it was Finland’s relay star Juha Lallukka to attack first and at 47.5km he had managed to drop all but seven athletes. The Finn continued to lead up front, but athletes were recovering from the damage by the initially burst and with only 1.6km left, there were still 11 athletes in the main pack and in for a fight for the podium.
Coming down the hill before frognersetern, it was chaos as Dolidovich ate snow as the tail of his ski caught the tip of Gjerdalen’s in coincidental contact and for his troubles he broke a pole in the fall especially taking him out of contention. Moments later the exact same thing happened to Eliassen as the tail of his ski was knicked by Rickardsson’s tip which had the Norwegian on the snow and visibly frustrated.
Ahead of the chaos, it was Vylegzhanin leading down the hill and attacked while Northug and Gjerdalen hung on coming around frognersetern. Coming into the stadium, it was down to Vylegzhanin and Northug for top spot and just like the pursuit, Northug pulled ahead of Vylegzhanin with a couple of poles right before the last uphill at the far end of the stadium. As Northug skied over the hump into the finishing straight, it was his race to lose and this time the Norwegian star was in a flat-out sprint in an attempt to hold off Vylegzhanin who had not given up on the top spot. As Northug came across the finish line to collect the final gold of the World Championships he collapsed into a heap as did Vylegzhanin. In third, the crowd was thrilled to see Gjerdalen take the final podium spot. In the fight for fourth, it was Harvey, Angerer, Røthe, and Rickardsson in a fight and it was the diminutive Norwegian Røthe who edged out Harvey for the wooden medal.
1. Petter Northug
2. Maxim Vylegzhanin
3. Tord Asle Gjerdalen
It only seemed fitting that Norway would win the finally cross-country ski race of the World Championships. While it wasn’t the most exciting (I’d go as far as saying the least exciting race of the World Champs), it was enough for the tens of thousands of fans as Norway incredibly grabbed three of the top four positions. Had someone told me that Gjerdalen would finish third and Røthe fourth, I wouldn’t confidently told them they should lay off the crack pipe and that they were delusional. Fair play to the Norwegians, a fantastic day for the home of cross-country.
A great race for Vylegzhanin to who collected his second silver medal of the Championships.
As for other very impressive finishes, my hats off the Juha Lallukka, this 31-year old Finn has been around for a long time but amazingly has only 18 World Cup starts to his name. Even more impressive is that he has six World Championship starts on his rap sheet which means, if I do the math correctly, 25% of his starts on the world stage, have been at the biggest ski show on Earth! And it’s not as though as he’s performed poorly at World Champs either. Dating back to 2007 in Sapporo his individual results go as follows; 11th, 15th and 8th. Hopefully, he’ll be able to run the season out on the World Cup circuit with the National Team.
My heart truly pours out to Dolidovich today, the 37-year old Belarussian could possibly had his last World Championships race today of his career and the way it ended was tragic. When he went down with less than a kilometer left, he was in third place skiing on Vylegzhanin’s shoulder. He could very well have improved upon his fourth place he earned in the pursuit. I guess that’s the luck of sport sometimes.
On the North American watch, it was Harvey to lead the way as he was in the fight for fourth, but photo finish gave the spot to Sjur Røthe and Harvey had to settle for fifth place today. Next was Babikov who had a ton of TV face time today, but he ran out of juice in the last 2km and settled for 17th.
The Americans were led by Hoffman who also got some TV time in the first third of the race and finished a respectable 30th. He was followed by Flora (39th), Elliot (40th) and nordic combined athlete Billy Demong (51st).
Well the race are over and next weekend is usual business as the World Cup circuit resumes and the athletes head to Lahti for a pursuit and a classic sprint. I’ll be back tomorrow with a full wrap of everything that went on the past 10 days.
They might not be the flashiest team out there, but Italy always seems to be one of the strongest (and oldest) cross-country nations in the world. Marianna Longa seems to be getting better with age and Follis is one of the quietest superstars in the sport. Piller-Cottrer and di Centa aren’t getting any younger, but with the likes of Fredrico Pellegrino bound to be a star in the sport a couple of years down the road, Italy should expect another strong season.
Sabina Valbusa retired after an 18 year career on the World Cup circuit. The last name Valbusa has become a household name for skis fans over the past 18 years. With older brother Fulvio Valbusa being quite successful in his time with 13 World Cup podiums, Sabina Valbusa was also quite the accomplished athlete. She hit the World Cup start line an impressive 219 times in her career where she debuted way back in 1992 in Ramsau. She had one World Cup victory back in 2004 and coincidentally it was the last of her nine individual podiums. That kind of experience and wisdom will be surely missed in the Italian ranks.
Italy isn’t the strongest sprinting country by any means, but over the past few seasons, the Pasini brothers have given the Italians something to cheer about. Both were consistent qualifiers but only managed one top 10 between them. It wasn’t their best season ever, but I expect a few more top 10′s from them as they are coming into the prime of their careers. Joining them in the sprinting ranks includes Frasnelli who has always been one of those skiers that is always on the fringe of regular qualification. And who can forget about Christian Zorzi?! I’m shocked this 38-year-old is still racing on the World Cup. Not only racing, but racing well. Last year, the only two races he qualified in, he turned in a 12th in Düsseldorf and a 4th in Rybinsk.
The Italian women are some of the best sprinters in the world. With Arianna Follis and Madga Genuin on a sprint relay team together, any other country in the world will be hard pressed to beat them. Follis has been a household name for a few years now while Genuin has improved leaps and bounds to become on the of top consistent sprinters in the women’s division. Her highlight of last season was earning a silver in Rybinsk. Primarily distance skier, Marianna Longa has shown she can grab the odd result with a seasonal best of a 5th in Davos.
The Italian men have the potential to be one of the best relay teams in the world. With his smaller stature, Piller-Cottrer has proven to be one of the best climbers and pound for pound racers on the circuit. Surprisingly, Piller the Killer was not the top distance racer for Italy, that title belonged to 38-year-old Georgio di Centa. Almost four decades old, this guy shows no signs of slowing down. His first World Cup start was in December 1993 and after 193 starts, he finally won his first race in Canmore, more than 16 years later. Talk about persistence. Along with his win in Canmore, he added three more top 10′s throughout the season in Rogla, Toblach, and Val di Femme. Valerio Checchi is another piece of the puzzle and has shown good consistency with numerous placings in the 13th-18th range last year. Thomas Moriggl has steadily become a World Cup regular for Italy over the past couple years. Hofer and Clara should add to the challenge of that final spot on the relay team.
Follis will lead the way and look to add to her Rybinsk victory from last year. Her 429 distance points proved to be the 7th best tally from last season. Longa will continue to be a steady performer and her seven top 10′s shows why she is one the of the steadily improving racers on the circuit. After that, the talent gets slim. Confortola Wyatt has 160 World Cup starts to her name but only two top 10′s (her last one was a 6th in 2004). Silva Rupil should be able to earn one or two top 10′s over upcoming season. Should be interesting to see which skiers takes Valbusa place on the relay team.
The biggest name of the future is 20 year-old sprint specialist Fredrico Pellegrino. He finished 3rd in the World Juniors behind Norwegians Tomas Northug and Pål Golberg. His only two World Cup starts were in the ultra-competitive Drammen and Olso sprints where he finished 49th and 19th respectively.
The Italians are going to be strong again this year, but the worrying thing is that they aren’t getting younger. All their stars are well over 30 and with the talent pool not to deep. The Italians should enjoy the next couple years while the going is good, because there is no guarantee that they will be a power house in the near future.