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.