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."


Colin R said...

Argh! I should have written this one first, if only because you took most of my picks.

Surprising: Cologna, obviously!
Disappointing: Why the hell is Vincent Vittoz over two minutes back, in 43rd??
Men's Winner: It's Cologna's to lose, like you said.
Women's Winner: I like the newer, lighter Marit Bjoergen to win it on the final climb... although Saarinen was my first choice :)
Best Racing Performance: Jean Marc Gaillard has somehow snuck into 3rd overall. His final-straight skate sprinting bursts were straight out of Northug's playbook -- he might be a much better all-around skier than either of us knew.
Worst Performance: Yeah, I was going to say Kuitenen as well.
Best Crash: Claudia Nystad crashing without touching anyone or anything in the Women's Final was pretty terrible.

Colin R said...

Perhaps writing Virpi off before the individual-start classic race was a bad idea.

Christopher Tassava said...

Uh, yeah. My bad. Holy cow. Talk about ruling the race...

keeron said...

I'm a little bit bummed that no one mentioned Sami Jaeuhojaervi as surprising.
The little guy not only showed some serious jam coming 5th in the 15km Cl, but also managed to show up in 4th in the sprint, after qualfying 30th. I know, I know, I watched Devon do his best Dion Phaneuf impression on Hellner on that last corner, and that's how he got through, but still.
And he's 2.01 back now. But still...
Also, either of you two get in on the SkiTrax Tour de Ski pool?

Christopher Tassava said...

Keeron -

Thanks for the comment! I agree that Jauhojarvi is putting on a good show, even if he did get out-thrown for third in the Oberhof pursuit. I'm a big fan of the Finns, and he's my favorite on the men's side. If all of the Finnish men start firing on all cylinders, a Nousianen-Heikkinen-Jauhojarvi-??? relay could do some damage.

Re. Sami's deficit: I'm going to crunch some numbers tonight (god willing) to see if I can guess at the maximum possible gap that can still be overcome on the last day.

Any opinions on the other items in our little list?

I did get into the SkiTrax pool as "Northfield Nine." I'm doing okay right now. You?

Again, thanks for the comment!

keeron said...

More than happy to leave comments, it's tricky to find anyone who likes WC skiing, much less those who treat it as equal to football for those in the States, or hockey for those of us up here.

As for my personal opinions, I'll hold off on weighing in, as the Sprint on New Years Day is still fresh in my mind and will take most of the picks.

My SkiTrax pool is 'Udder Domination', and I'm fairly pleased with the way things are going. I'll admit I messed up a bit in picking Legkov as my Dark Horse, and that taking Kristian Dahl instead of Kershaw has come back to haunt me. Luckily though, Saarinen, Majdic, Kuitenen and Bjoergen are solid. But it's hard to gain points when I'm sure almost everyone has the same set of women.
Great blog, I love it. Hope you don't mind if I come up with a knock off at some point...