Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Midway through the Tour de Ski

With the Tour de Ski resuming on Wednesday with individual-start classic races in Nove Mesto, I offer a few quick "halftime" takes on the racing so far. Maybe Colin will chime in, too...

Most Surprising Racer

Dario Cologna. He's been a solid racer from a few years now, but he's also been largely anonymous, overshadowed on the Swiss team by skate specialist Toni Livers. But he's now showing that the early-season form that put him into the distance World Cup leader's jersey is no fluke. On Sunday, he used some hard and smart racing to beat Teichmann in the 15k classical pursuit and take over the Tour de Ski lead.

Most Disappointing Racer
Claudia Nystad is my pick here. As her win on home snow in Saturday's prologue showed, she can race well. But as her sixteenth place in Sunday's pursuit also showed, she can also ski terribly - so badly that she basically reduced her very long shot at the podium to no shot at all. She went from +1s to -68s in that one race - the worst performance of anyone in the two pursuit races. (Her sixth in Monday's sprints helped a bit. A tiny little bit.)

Best Racing Performance
I'm going to go with my new favorite North American, Devon Kershaw, in the 15k pursuit on Sunday. Starting third, he skied out of his mind, holding position at the head of the massive pack trying (and failing) to chase down Cologna and Teichmann, and then putting on the jets to nip Jauhojarvi for third - Kershaw's first distance-race podium of his World Cup career. Kershaw wrote a great pair of race reports on his blog about the pursuit and the next day's rather less amazing sprint.

Worst Racing Performance
Though it wasn't spectacularly bad, I have to go with Virpi Kuitunen in Monday's sprints in Prague. She qualified well, but her #6 jersey didn't help her survive the quarterfinal round. After leading some of the race, she was passed by half the field and finished fourth, failing to advance and, crucially, missing the chance to earn bonus seconds that would help her stay high in the standings. As it is now, she's sixth on GC, exactly 40 seconds out of first. It's not impossible that she could close that gap, but it is unlikely.

Best Crash
The Prague city sprint had some good crashes, of course, but my money is on Marthe Kristofferson, the young Norwegian, who ate it twice in the Oberhof prologue, once catching air on a downhill corner and once turning a snowplow into a faceplant so bad she broke her ski and limped home in third-to-last place. Not an auspicious debut.

Overall TdS Winner, Men
I think this is Cologna's race to lose. Unless "Super Dario" (gag) misses the wax in Wednesday's classic race, or bonks badly in the final climb, I just don't see a spot for anyone else - even Teichmann - to take enough time out of the Swiss to win the whole thing.

Overall TdS Winner, Women
Arianna Follis is the sexy pick here (in both senses, perhaps), but I think the workhorse Aino-Kaisa Saarinen will grind out enough high places and earn enough bonus seconds in Wednesday's and Saturday's races to go into Sunday's final climb with an insurmountable advantage.

The best quote of the Tour so far comes, suprisingly, from Mr. Effusive, Axel Teichmann, in talking about Petter Northug's claim - much publicized in Norway - to have been obstructed by the German at the end of the Gallivare relay: "In Germany I would have needed to bury Petter Northug in the snow to collect the same publicity. But there is nothing more to the story."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Tour de Ski Stage 3 Live Blog - Prague

4:01 -- Alright, what better way to enjoy an unseasonably warm Christmas in Boston than with a liveblog account of the Prague sprints? I'm all set up with notepad and Universal Sports "live coverage" and ready to jump all over the inane announcer platitudes I am about to endure. Hoping to see some great racing, as well.

4:04 -- The sprint course is pancake flat with four ninety-degree left turns. It's a two lap Nascar race, that's kind of lame. I can accept this nonsense only because it's in downtown Prague. With every turn going the same direction, passes will require a burst of speed on the straights and a rude "closing of the door" to get by, since you'll never be able to beat someone to the inside of a corner.

4:07 -- Big names in women's heat 1 are Follis (#1 qualifier) and Justyna Kowalczyk. Follis leads it out from Pirjo Muranen and Kowalczyk. Astrid Jacobsen is bib 30 in this heat at the back -- I don't know what's wrong with her this year, but she's not fixing it today.

4:10 -- Muranen and Follis have skied away, and Kowalczyk drops the others to make an early bid for being a lucky loser.

4:11 -- Heat 2 has Majdic (#14 qual) and a bunch of noname types. Alena Prochazkova is the low seed and leads it out with Majdic right behind. Steffy Boehler from Germany is the #7 qualifier but gets stuck at the back.

4:13 - The pace must not be very hot, Boehler comes all the way from the back on the straight to lead. Majdic holds second to Alena dropping back. This one is tighter than the previous one, Prochazkova is waiting to pounce on Majdic for the last spot... and Boehler blows up on the final straight to lose a photo finish for 2nd. She did one of the saddest ski throws I've ever seen, lying down on her back with both legs forward. Obviously she has not read our article.

4:18 - Heat 3 features Virpi Kuitenen, Claudia Nystad and The 19-year-old Norwegian Marthe Kristofferson. Announcer Peter Graves is REALLY excited that Marthe has rolled her sleeves up. I am not.

4:19 - Kuitenen, Kristofferson, Nystad in that order. No one is trying anything, I'm not sure what Nystad is thinking here.

4:20 - Nystad finally tried something but has trouble finishing a pass on the outside of the corner -- Kristofferson holds her off easily down the final straight. Virpi blows up to finish fourth behind Anna Haag.

4:22 - Heat 4! Bjoergen and Sara Renner are the big names, at least to me, although Renner definitely wouldn't be favored to advance. Vesna Fabjan from Slovenia leads it out with lots of chaos behind her. Bjoergen may have been caught up in something, anyway, she's last after 3 turns.

4:24 - Magda Genuin moves up. Nicole Fessel tangles with someone and Bjoergen comes up on the outside to get to the front -- well, that looked easy.

4:25 - Final sprint starts Bjoergen, Fabjan, Fessel and stays that way. Fessel makes the curious decision to stay behind Fabjan instead of challenging her, I guess she was resigned to racing for lucky-loserdom and wanted the draft?

4:26 - The announcing team doesn't seem to realize that the timing system puts up any close result as a "photo finish" on the scoreboard, and are discussing these as if they are actual close finishes that require scrutinization.

4:28 -- Last heat features Finns Saarinen, Roponen, and a bunch of others I missed. Saarinen does the yellow bib proud (World Cup leader) and goes to the front.

4:30 -- Sachenbacher and Roponen trail Saarinen. This looks like a fast one -- six skiers single file.

4:31 -- Roponen manages to get through on the inside of Saarinen (her teammate (!)), almost crashing both of them. Saarinen ruthlessly retakes the lead with Sachenbacher now in third.

4:32 -- Ooooh Roponen skis straight across Sachenbacher's tips on the final straight, it appeared like she saw Sachenbacher coming up and moved over to take the lane away -- kind of dirty but not quite egregious enought to get her DQ'ed.

4:33 -- Sachenbacher and Longa from this heat end up being the lucky losers, so at least I was correct about it being fast. And that means Roponen's door-closing didn't actually matter.

4:35 -- Up next are the men, with #1 qualifier Devon Kershaw in heat one. Will he continue in the proud North American tradition of qualifying first and going out in the quaterfinals? We shall see.

4:36 -- Kershaw gets out slow. A German gets his pole broken. This is intense. Marcus Hellner leads.

4:37 - Kershaw is up to 2nd -- but a lot of guys on his heels, Eldar Roenning is 3rd.

4:38 - Arghhhhh Hellner and Kershaw go down on the last corner!! I think Kershaw was nervous about all the guys behind him and just tried to move up where there wasn't space. The finish is Roenning ahead of Sami Jauhojaervi.

4:39 - Hate to say it, but after watching the replay that was totally Kershaw's fault.

4:40 - Next heat is Tor Arne Hetland and friends. Damian Ambrosetti leads it out. Hetland is back a bit, but he knows what's up and surges forward after a lap. He gets around while everyone else steps on each other on the inside.

4:42 -- Cyril Miranda and Ambrosetti (both Frenchmen) race for 2nd behind Hetland -- wow -- nevermind that, Jean Marc Gaillard blows by everyone on the final straight with a huge burst! Hetland advances as well. Gaillard is visibly ecstatic with this manuever.

4:46 - Next heat features overall leader Dario Cologna, Zorzi, Canadian George Grey. Man how old is Zorzi by now?

4:47 -- Grey gets out nicely in second behind Cologna, Czeh Ales Razym is third. Ohh man, some French guy is getting hung out to dry, trying to pass on the outside of the corners and he can't get back into the line.

4:49 -- The final drag race, oh man, Grey blows up at the end and Zorzi drafts Cologna in to advance as well. The French dude who tried to ski around the outside for a whole lap was Jonnier, he got as far forward as second but had nothing left for the finish.

4:51 -- Next heat- Dahl, Rotchev, Gjerdalen, this is stacked. Hahahahaha Peter Graves just went "Elmer Fudd" on his name, "Tor Ar, Tor Ahh, Tor Ase.. uh... Gjerdalen!"

4:52 - Austria's Harald Wurm leads this one, impressive, with Dahl and Rotchev stalking him. With a minute to go Dahl comes around him and Rotchev does too .. Wurm is toast.

4:53 - Dahl, Rotchev, and a late surging Gjerdalen head to the finish. Dahl looks like he's not even trying. Gjerdalen narrowly gets 3rd, and snags a lucky loser slot, for now. Looks like Giorgio Di Centa could've beaten him with a more sprited ski throw...

4:56 -- The last mens heat has Northug, Angerer and Darragon for "big" names. An Estonian and a Russian also. Angerer was the 28th qualifier, so don't expect much.

4:58 -- Darragon false starts.

4:59 -- Someone from the crowd yells "HUT" when they are waiting for the gun and they ALL false start again. Then while they are resetting the gun fires. Sheesh.

5:00 - Northug has shaved his head for this event and uses his new aerodynamics to lead it out. Then he lets the Russian come through .. and then an Estonian... maybe he's being coy, but now he has to attack the straightaway to get back to the front. Strange tactics.

5:01 - Darragon has moved up to 2nd. Down the final straight Darragon overtakes him -- interesting -- Northug did NOT look like he had that extra gear we've seen before. There's a sweet 3-way ski throw for 4th, won by Angerer.

5:05 -- Time for women's semis now. Follis, Majdic, Longa, Nystad, Muranen, Boehler in the first heat. Follis takes it from the gun again over Muranen and Majdic. Boehler is practically dropped from the gun, although the pace slows later and she gets back in contact, albeit in last.

5:06 -- Everyone is pretty content where they are it, appears. Follis looks smoooooth and in control. Petra challenges on the final straight.

5:07 - Wow, EVERYONE overtakes Follis at the end and she finishes 4th behind Nystad, Petra, Muranen. Could still be a lucky loser, though. Petra looked like her typical beastly self down the finish straight there.

5:09 - Bjoergen, Saarinen, Fabjan, Sachenbacher, Kowalczyk, Kristofferson are the other semi. Fabjan gets the holeshot just like her quarter, but they are all over her tails.

5:11 -- Bjoergen once again is at the back trying to get around. She's up to 4th. Fabjan still leads, from Saarinen.

5:12 -- Saarinen moves into the lead on lap two. Bjoergen is still flailing at the back, Kristofferson is up to 3rd. Kowalczyk moves up with a TON of work heading to the last straight...

5:13 -- Kowalczyk and Fabjan hit skis a bit -- Kowalczyk is blown -- Fabjan cracks at the end and Kristofferson gets by her! All the lucky losers will come from the other heat so only two advance from this one. Saarinen won this one handily.

5:16 -- Time for the men's semis now, first up is Roenning, Gaillard, Hetland, Zorzi, Gjerdalen and Jauhojaervi. Aaaaand they false start, couldn't tell who it was as everybody went.

5:17 -- One of the commentators refers to the last Finnish race site as "Koosamano" which makes me more upset than it should.

5:18 -- A clean start and Roenning leads it out. Then Hetland and Gjerdalen come up and it's a Norwegian wall at the front. Jauhojaervi sits fourth wearing bib 30, but he's a sneaky guy, maybe he can break through?

5:20 - Hetland looks really in control up front. Zorzi is up to fourth now. Wow! Another final burst from Gaillard -- except this time he changes lanes right onto Roenning, after the lanes were marked. That's gotta be a DQ right? Right?? Roenning is PISSED.

5:22 -- Heat 2 -- Darrgon, Cologna, Dahl, Di Centa, Northug, Rotchev another good one. If we're lucky, Northug and Di Centa will finish last year's Tour de Ski fist fight. Cologna gets out first ahead of a motivated Di Centa, with Northug in 3rd. Di Centa really wanted to squeeze out Northug, I like it.

5:24 -- Di Centa moves to the outside to pass and Darragon sneaks under him. Dahl comes through strong to take the lead with Rotchev on his tails... Di Centa and Northug slip back

5:25 -- Rotchev turns on the jets at the end and its Dahl over Rotchev over Northug over Cologna. Di Centa hits the snow before the line, hooked a ski on Cologna's pole. Only the top two advance, it will be four from the other heat.

5:29 -- Women's small final - Bjoergen, Kowalczyk, Fabjan, Sachenbacher, Boehler, Longa, Roponen. Bjoergen gets ANOTHER bad start, ahead of only Longa. Sachenbacher leads it. Wait, there were 7 racers in the small final? I have no idea what happened here. Our intrepid announcers haven't noticed anything unusual about this, so I guess I'll have to look online.

5:31 -- At least this time Bjoergen moves up early -- she leads the train on the outside and pulls up alongside a leading Kowalczyk. The commentators have helpfully noted that "she'd like to win this B final." I am becoming angry.

5:33 -- Bjorgen leads out the sprint and wins pretty easily ahead of Roponen, Fabjan.

5:35 -- Women's final. Saarinen, Majdic, Kristofferson, Muranen, Follis, Nystad. The juxtaposition of 6-foot-tall Majdic next to the 5-foot-tall Kristofferson on the start line is pretty funny.

5:36 -- Muranen leads the inside train, Majdic on the outside. Saarinen and Nystad are second in each line. With one to go, it looks a little slow, they are bunching up A LOT. Kristofferson comes up to second!

5:38 -- Suddenly Follis comes around to lead with authority... Nystad crashes herself out at the back... Follis has GOT IT EASILY. Saarinen second... Majdic, Muranen, Kristofferson. Follis barely made the final, and kept a low profile on lap one, but crushed them when it mattered.

5:43 -- Men's small final, Northug, Di Centa, Darragon, Jauhojaervi, Cologna, Gjerdalen, Zorzi. Di Centa and Cologna get the joint holeshot and hit skis, and then Cologna goes to the front. Northug is at the back, Gjerdalen trying to go the long way round on the corners.

5:45 -- They spread out and slow a bit -- Northug is able to sneak up the inside along with Darragon, nicely done. Gjerdalen has done a lot of work and has nothing to show for it. With one corner to go it's Northug against Cologna in a drag race.

5:46 -- Northug edges ahead and holds it, ahead of Cologna and Darragon.

5:48 -- Time for the final! Hetland, Rotchev, Dahl, Roenning, Jauhojaervi and an undeserving Gaillard (grumble). I guess since Roenning got through as well, all is forgiven. I didn't even realize Jauhojaervi lucky-losered his way through that mess.

5:50 -- Dahl takes the lead ahead of Jauhojaervi, Roenning falls on the first corner! He will have to do a lot of work to get back on, I'd be amazed if he'll have anything left.

5:51 -- Hetland moves up the outside with Rotchev on his tails -- seems like Rotchev always picks the right guy to follow to the front. Gaillard is way back in 5th, lets see if he's got one more burst. Hetland leads from Rotchev.

5:52 -- Gaillard and Dahl tangle a bit -- Hetland skis away with it, ahead of Rotchev! Gaillard DOES have one more burst in him and out-throws a flagging Jauhojaervi for 3rd. Positively Northug-esque! I'm surprised we haven't seen more from him sprinting before, he's got amazing closing speed.

5:54 -- That's all folks! I wasn't half as annoyed by the announcers as I'd hoped, although I have trouble believing his name is pronounced "North-oooog." Impressive sprinting from Cologna today, he's gotta be the favorite for the overall win as the other "leader" Teichmann missed the heats entirely. The women's side is still way too tight to call, although Virpi getting eliminated convincingly in the quarters was unexpected.

The Official Tour Favorites

Just before the Tour de Ski started, the FIS put out parallel lists of favorites for the Tour de Ski. The women's list went out of date immediately, being headed by Charlotte Kalla, who withdrew from the Tour the day before it started. For the record, though, here are the lists. (Click through for brief blurbs on each racer.)

Top Favorite
Charlotte Kalla

Virpi Kuitunen
Marit Bjorgen
Justyna Kowalczyk
Aino Kaisa Saarinen
Arianna Follis

Therese Johaug
Petra Majdic
Valentina Shevchenko
Kristin Stormer Steira
Marianna Longa

Top Favorite
Lukas Bauer

Martin Johnsrud Sundby
Alexander Legkov
Giorgio di Centa
Petter Northug
Pietro Piller Cottrer

Tor Arne Hetland
Marcus Hellner
Rene Sommerfeldt
Sami Jauhojarvi
Tord Asle Gjerdalen

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tour de Whee

The third Tour de Ski starts on Saturday in Oberhof, Germany, with the traditional short-distance prologue event: 2500 meters for the 51 registered women and 3750 meters for the 66 registered men. (A wonderfully complete set of course maps and profiles is available on the Tour website.)

Since its inauguration in 2006-07, the Tour de Ski has emerged as the most interesting event of the World Cup season. The Tours use time bonuses, pursuit starts (in which racers are seeded by time gaps in the general classification), and straight-up gimmicks like the "final climb" stage to mix long and short distances and classical and freestyle techniques in a way that restricts the overall title to the best all-rounders while still allowing specialists to capture some glory. That final stage is justly famous, or infamous: a freestyle climb up Alpe Cermis in Val di Fiemme, Italy, covering about 3000 meters of parcours and 425 vertical meters.

While maintaining the framework of the first and second editions, this year's Tour uses a refined method for assigning World Cup points to the Tour finishers: racers accrue points according to their position in the final standings (with the overall Tour champion getting a whopping 400 points) as well as half of the usual WC points for placing in the individual races - but they only keep their points if they finish the overall Tour.

Beyond all that, this season's event is interesting in a couple of ways. First, the 2008-09 Tour tries to split the difference between the earlier two Tours. Seven stages long, this season's Tour is one race shorter than last year's affair but one race longer than the inaugural event. As important as the length of the tour is the structure of it: four freestyle stages (including the first and last) and three classic stages. A considerable amount of the race distances are being skied in classic this year - 68% of the women's and 76% of the men's. Last year the percentages were closer to 50%, giving freestyle skiers like Charlotte Kalla an advantage relative to the all-rounders. This year's balance might give racers who are credible freestylers but superlative classicists a shot at the overall. I'm looking toward Eldar Roenning here.

Second, and complementarily, the field is more wide open than in past years: no clear World Cup favorite has emerged on either the men's or the women's sides. When the 2006-07 Tour opened, Tobias Angerer and Virpi Kuitunen were the clearly the strongest skiers on the circuit, and both won the inaugural Tour. Similarly, in 2007-08, Lukas Bauer and Kuitunen were ahead of the rest of the field, though Kuitunen's lingering back injury ultimately prevented her from holding off the emergent Charlotte Kalla in the last few kilometers of the grueling climb up Alpe Cermis (as live-blogged last year). This year, nobody is yet standing out as a dominant skier. What's more, of the top 10 male and female racers in the World Cup overall rankings - the only real proxy for Tour success - just three are skipping the Tour: Ola Vigen Hattestad (a sprint specialist) and Johann Olsson (a classical technician) on the men's side, Kalla (who is ill) on the women's. In other words, everyone's in.

As such, predictions of the general classification on Sunday, January 4, are even more provisional than in past years. Still and all, here are my picks, along with rationales:

men's overall
1. Teichmann (the only all-rounder in good form right now, and well ahead of his teammates Sommerfeldt and Angerer)
2. Hetland (just too big to win on the final climb)
3. Cologna (too young to win it all this year, but good at all distances)
4. Northug (great at any freestyle distance, not good enough at any classical distance)
5. Ronning (not quite good enough in freestyle to win it all)
North Americans: No Americans are entered in the Tour, but I can see both Babikov and Kershaw in the top 15, with Kershaw's sprinting skills pushing him up into the top 10.

women's overall
1. Saarinen (the best all-round racer right now, with enough guts to power up the final climb)
2. Bjoergen (also a great all-rounder, but just slightly behind Saarinen right now, and gimpy)
3. Kowalczyk (great at all distances and both techniques, but prone to tactical errors that screw up her chances)
4. Kuitunen ('06-'07 Tour champion, but still on the upward arc toward World Championships form)
5. Shevchenko (because she loves the Tour, and the final climb - but lacks the classical chops to win)
North Americans: Sara Renner will finish in the top 15 (no Americans are entered).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dusseldorf Team Sprints

Readers of this blog know that we love ourselves some ski throws. The end of today's men's team sprint offered a killer example. Here are Ola Vigen Hattestad and Tobias Fredriksson putting their best feet forward as they try to win the men's team sprint today in Dusseldorf:

As it happens, the win went to Hattestad, giving him four straight sprint wins (three individual events and this team event, paired with Tor Arne Hetland). Remarkable. Just out of frame, but evident in this (unembeddable) clip from Norwegian TV, is Andy Newell bringing the US team in for fourth. Fourth! That's almost third! In this case, third went to Russia's team of Petukhov and Morilov.

If you were wondering, these results line up well with my predictions the other day: I had Norway winning and Sweden in second. (Germany, which I tabbed for third, wound up twelfth.)

In the women's race, Russian Korosteleva and Matveeva skied strongly to take the win, edging the Norwegian team comprising the hot young Norwegian sprinters Brun-Lie (second at Davos) and Falla (third yesterday in the individual sprint). The German team of Nystad and Boehler took third, though only because Italy was DQ'ed for an illegal exchange. I had predicted the opposite order for those top two teams, and - assuming that Majdic would race on Sunday - picked Slovenia for third. Since Majdic did not race, SLO was slow, finishing 11th.

On to the Tour de Ski, which starts on Saturday with 3.0/3.3km freestyle prologues in Oberhof!

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Don't get into a drag race with Petra Majdic.

My podium picks were so-so. In picking Hattestad for second, I wrongly discounted his ability to win two straight races. I picked Morilov for third; he did make the final. Kjoelstad blew up and finished 44th. Nice race, Johan. On the other hand, I was not surprised to see Majdic win (as predicted), and I lucked out when Matveeva finished second, just as I thought. (As the video shows, she'll never overpower Majdic.) I expected an unknown Norwegian to finish third, and I was right - sorta: a different unknown Norwegian took the bronze.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Doozeldorf Picks

Since 2002, Dusseldorf's sprint races have been held in late October as the first stop on the World Cup calendar, a few weeks ahead of the first distance races in Scandinavia. This year, the Rhine races are the last tune-up before the Tour de Ski, which starts on December 27 in Oberhof, four hours east. Those eight days aren't very long, apparently, as practically everyone in the top tier of the World Cup is skipping Dusseldorf, leaving the field both anemic and open to domination by freestyle-sprint specialists.*

Over the half-decade of sprint races in Dusseldorf, Bjorn Lind and Pirjo Manninen/Muranen have captured a disproportionate number of podium spots: each has won twice (and Lind has another second). Both are on decent form so far this season, but it's probably no radical prediction to say that the men's podium is going to be owned, this year, by Norwegians: Hattestad, Kjoelstad, Dahl, and Hetland hold the top four men's sprint rankings. On the women's side, Celine Brun-Lie (who?) and Marit Bjoergen are three and five in the women's rankings, behind Majdic and Kowalczyk (Lina Andersson is in fourth). Beyond all that, practically everyone with any serious shot at the Tour de Ski is skipping Dusseldorf, even folks - Northug, Kuitunen, Saarinen, Cologna - who have real sprinting ability.* The TdS is more important than the 100 points for a win on the Rhine.

As such, my predictions:

men's freestyle sprint
1. Kjoelstad
2. Hattestad
3. Morilov
USA: Koos qualifies for the rounds, Newell makes the final.
CAN: Kuhn and Crooks qualify for the rounds.

women's freestyle sprint
1. Majdic
2. Matveeva
3. Brun-Lie
USA: Randall finishes in the top 10.
CAN: Nothing notable.

men's freestyle team sprint
1. Norway (team with Hattestad)
2. Sweden (team with Lind)
3. Germany (team with Wenzl)

women's freestyle team sprint
1. Norway (team with Brun-Lie)
2. Russia (team with Matveeva)
3. Slovenia (team with Majdic)

* Only one member of the men's overall WC top 10 is racing in Dusseldorf: Hattestad.
Cologna, Olsson, Northug, Jauhojarvi, Dahl (!), Johnsrud Sundby, Bauer, Piller Cottrer, and Teichmann are all skipping Dusseldorf. On the women's side, only Majdic is the only top-10 racer skiing at Dusseldorf, meaning that Saarinen, Bjoergen, Kuitunen, Kowalczyk, Steira, Follis, Kalla, Longa, and Shevchenko will all be absent.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Davos Sprint Recaps

One reason why nordic skiing is great: you can see chunks of the sprint races in Switzerland on the website of an Estonian tv network, with the Norwegian and Slovenian race winners giving their interviews in English.

Another, better reason: you can see extra-grainy, needlessly sountracked videos of the sprint finals on YouTube.

On the basis of the footage of the mens' final, I hereby submit that Ola Vigen Hattestad's speed is entirely due to the aerodynamic advantage created by the massive gap in his teeth.

On the other hand, Petra Majdic's new skating prowess is due to the fact that she is bigger, stronger, and more fit than all the other pipsqueak female racers. I hear that she eats Therese Johaug's weight in muesli every morning. For entertainment, watch Natalia Matveeva (Russia) slide all the way down the field. The contrast between Majdic and Matveeva on the last climb (ca. 3:40) is incredible.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Davos Sprint Picks

In the distance races, I hit the men's second-place finish on the head, picking Teichmann, and was close with Saarinen, who finished second even though I threw giant wads of good karma toward her by predicting a win. How to you say "ingrate" in Finnish?

Everyone else, I missed, though I was close with Kowalcyzk, who finished fourth after being tipped for second. The Norwegians, in particular, stunk, with Johaug - whom I thought was a freaking lock for top-five! - not even running, and Johnsrud Sundsby finishing fifteenth.

Among the the Nor-Am racers, George Grey came out of nowhere to finish 16th, ahead of all the other male racers, and was outdone only by Sara Renner, who bombed to a 9th place finish.

On the strength of that great race, I'm putting Renner in the mix for Sunday's sprints, the first freestyle sprints of the season.

women's freestyle sprint
1. Kuitunen (she finished second in a freestyle sprint here in 2006)
2. Kowalczyk
3. Renner
Randall qualifies but goes out in the semifinals.

men's freestyle sprint
1. Lind
2. Hetland
3. Trond Iversen
Koos and Newell qualify but go out in the rounds (quarters and semis, respectively); Kershaw also goes out in the semis.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Davos Picks (Updated)

Ahh, Davos - the simplest course on the World Cup: start at elevation, then go up, up, up before coming down. Repeat. Davos has staged a World Cup in all but two years since 1995, with Norway and Russia being overrepresented among the winners of the usual 10/15km individual races and a mix of relays and sprints.

There's something about the course that leads to dead heats. In both 2006 and 2007, one of the podium spots was shared: Aino-Kaisa Saarinen & Kristin Stoermer Steira tied for third in the 15km classic race in '07, and home-country boy Toni Livers and Vincent Vittoz tied for first in the men's 15km skate race in '06.

2007 results
women's 10km classic
1. Kuitunen
2. Skofterud
3. Saarinen & Steira

men's 15km classic
1. Teichmann
2. Hjelmeset
3. Jauhojarvi

The weather looks to be tricky for Saturday's individual races: temperatures near freezing, with falling snow. If it's a slopfest, anything could happen - but what's likely is that the classic-technique specialists will win out. My picks:

women's 10km classic (64 listed starters)
1. Saarinen
2. Kowalczyk
3. Johaug
Nor-Am racers: Renner in top 20

men's 15km classic (83 listed starters)
1. Soedergren
2. Teichmann
3. Roenning and Johnsrud Sundsby (gotta have that tie!)
Nor-Am racers: Kershaw in top 20, Babikov in top 10, Freeman in top 20

Note: Kristin Stoermer Steira, fresh off her breakaway win in the blizzard at La Clusaz last weekend, is registered to race the 10km at Davos on Saturday and the 42km freestyle La Sgambeda marathon on Sunday, 90 minutes southwest in Livigno, Italy. Prepping for the 30km classical at Worlds with some big kilometers? However, she's apparently now ill and may not do either race... Anders Aukland of Norway and Andrus Veerpalu of Estonia are also scheduled for the double.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


According to the FIS in late November:

Since Monday 17th November, it has been possible to produce man-made snow in Liberec (CZE). "As soon as the temperatures dropped below freezing, we started producing snow with 20 snow cannons and have since added others to the arsenal," commented Robert Heczko, manager of the Cross-Country area Vesec. In ideal conditions, fourteen days of snow production are required to create the necessary 30'000 m3 of snow to ensure coverage on all the competition courses at the venue.

In addition to artificial snow-making at both Vesec and the Jested Ski Jumping area, natural snow has fallen in the Liberec area, making it much easier for the Liberec 2009 organizing committee to prepare for its dress rehearsal, the DKB FIS Nordic Combined World Cup events, scheduled to be held in Liberec from 13th-14th December 2008.
This might have been a good sign, since last year's pre-Worlds events at Liberec were an utter disaster. Low snow forced organizers to replace the scheduled pursuits with "10" and "15" kilometer races that were really more like 8 and 11 kilometers long - multiple laps of a barren 1.8km course. (Andy Newell had some good pictures of the terrible conditions on his blog.). The scheduled team sprints did occur, albeit on the same horrible snow. If the cold weather keeps up, Katerina Neumannova and the rest of the Worlds organizers will be able to stockpile enough snow for all of the cross country and nordic combined events in February.

On the other hand, not two weeks later, the FIS canceled those "dress rehearsal" nordic combined races - lack of snow. However, according to the organizers, there's no cause for concern! Quoth Neumannova:
"We were snowing from the first day possible - and it looked optimistic. But a warm and wet weather front that followed after the cold period suddenly made it impossible to stage the cross-country part of the Nordic Combined World Cup at the Vesec ski stadium this weekend. However, this is no reason to be concerned about the World Championships - we are well prepared to produce snow at Vesec now that the weather forecast is improving again. And we have our plan B, and even a plan C," said Katerina Neumannova, President of the Liberec 2009 organizing committee.
God, I hope this works out.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

La Clusaz Relay Predictions

In the mass-start skate races, I had Saarinen the podium, albeit on place lower than her actual finishing spot (second), but missed all of the men's podium finishers (Dario Cologna? Really?). I did put the oldest man in the field, Giorgio di Centa, in third, while he actually finished fourth, in the same time as the third-place finisher. That should count for something!

Relay predictions:
men's 4x10km
Norway I (Northug on anchor)
Germany (whose team cannot suck as much as suggested by the individual race - no German in the top 10!)

women's 4x5km
Italy (three in the top 10 in the 15km)

Friday, December 5, 2008

La Clusaz Predictions

After two years away the World Cup returns to La Clusaz, France, the home town of French star Vincent Vittoz, for 15k/30k freestyle mass starts and relays (the second sets of relay events in three weeks). When the World Cup visited La Clusaz in December 2006, the podiums looked like this:

women's 15km freestyle mass start
close sprint finish
1. Virpi Kuitunen (FIN)
2. Riitta Liisa Roponen (FIN)
3. Arianna Follis (ITA)

men's 30km freestyle mass start
tight sprint finish
1. Tobias Angerer (GER)
2. Alexander Legkov (RUS)
3. Eugeni Dementiev (RUS)

women's relay
1. Germany (13-second win)
2. Sweden
3. Czech Republic

men's relay
1. Russia (24-second win)
2. Norway
3. Germany

This year, some good female racers are missing. Of the women in the top 20 of the distance rankings, Marit Bjoergen, Petra Majdic, Vibeke Skofterud, and Katerina Smutna aren't racing the 15km; Marthe Kristoffersen is also absent. Among the men in the distance-ranking top 20, Eldar Roenning, Andrus Veerpalu, and Vassili Rotchev are not racing the 30km.

Of course, this means plenty of racers are ready to mix it up in the first mass-start race of the year, and a good test for the 30km/50km mass starts at Worlds. My predictions:

women's 15km freestyle mass start
breakaway win in the last 2,000 meters
1. Charlotte Kalla (SWE)
2. Justyna Kowalczyk (POL)
3. Aino-Kaisa Saarinen (FIN)

men's 30km freestyle mass start
another bunch sprint finish
1. Marcus Hellner (SWE)
2. Pietro Piller Cottrer (ITA)
3. Giorgio di Centa (ITA)
(Kershaw, Babikov, and Freeman: all in the points, but outside the top 10 and the main finishing group.)

Monday, December 1, 2008

There Is No "Team" in Doping

It just wouldn't be the World Cup if we couldn't talk about doping.

At Kuusamo last weekend, Marit Bjoergen complained that Jarmo Riski, the personal trainer of Finnish stars Kuitunen and Saarinen, was present at the races. One might expect Herra Riski to want to see his racers in action, but unfortunately he was banned for life after the scandal of the 2001 Lahti World Championships, and as such can't attend events.

And then there are the rumors that the FIS knows of five high-level athletes who may be doping, but is refusing now to announce their names. Alleged to be among these five? Both Bjoergen and Kuitunen, who - as you expect - think the FIS oughta just shut up.