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.


Christopher Tassava said...

Great stuff: well done. The races were pretty exciting, and reading this brought my attention to some incidents I'd missed. I think the women's small final had 7 racers because of the trouble between Sachenbacher-Stehle (she was skating horribly today, no?) and Roponen - some sort of re-qualification?

I hope you can do this for the rest of the races!

I'm trying to dampen my frustration with the announcing - you get what you pay for? (Just the same, watch Sunday's pursuit for some truly terrible announcing: misidentifying racers and uniforms, declaiming erroneously [saying Northug's a great classic technique skier], etc.) They're trying! And by golly we get to watch racing the same day it happens!

Colin R said...

Ha! I actually remember them identifying Northug as a "great classic skier," and thinking "wtf?"

So I re-read the live blog and Roponen and Stehle tangled in quarters, so I guess both went through on a jury decision (lucky losers were Stehle, Longa, Kowalczyk, that's one too many :)), so one of the semis had 7 skiers. I never identified Roponen in a semi but with only 6 start lanes she must have been behind someone when they lined up.

Actually if she had to line up at the back that means the jury relegated her behind Sachenbacher I guess. Anyway. I thought the Gaillard-over-Roenning move was far dirtier but I guess they both advanced to the final on time, with no jury necessary.

Luke S said...

come on...WE'VE been in a race that was announced by Peter Graves. Shows you how much he knows.

Christopher Tassava said...

But did he say, "And there, skiing VERY strongly, is Loo-kay See-byerd from, I think, Illinois! Look at him attack on the corner!"