Saturday, January 3, 2009

Final Climb Predictions

Today's mass start classical races were great, with more-or-less predictable results. Each of the three Tours de Ski has featured this kind of mass start race as the penultimate event, with mixed results on the final standings. Today, Virpi Kuitunen continued her domination of this event, winning her third in three years, rather handily and aggressively. Axel Teichmann, who simply worked harder than everyone else, won the bunch sprint at the end of the men's race. With the bonus seconds on offer, the mass starts thus created these standings in advance of the Final Climb:

1 Kuitunen - 1:29:14.5
2 Saarinen - 1:29:46.2 (+31.7)
3 Majdic - 1:30:03.6 (+49.1)
4 Bjoergen - 1:30:50.7 (+1:36.2)
5 Longa - 1:31:56.5 (+2:42.0)

1 Cologna 2:20:53.4
2 Teichmann 2:21:27.5 (+34.1)
3 Roenning 2:21:58.6 (+1:05.2)
4 Rotchev 2:22:12.5 (+1:19.1)
5 Northug 2:22:16.8 (+1:23.4)

On the women's side, I don't think Majdic's newfound skating ability is going to be enough to hold off a determined Bjorgen for the third podium spot. Between Saarinen and Kuitunen, though... Virpi's back is apparently acting up, which was the trouble last year when she gave up her lead to Kalla - who trailed Kuitunen at the start by more than Saarinen will tomorrow. Of the two Finns, Saarinen has done better in the season's two distance skate races: 3rd at Gallivare (Kuitunen was 13th) and 2nd at La Clusaz (Kuitunen was 9th). Still, I don't think a racer with the killer instinct like Kuitunen will give up on the hill. My picks:
1. Kuitunen
2. Saarinen, +10s
3. Bjorgen, +45s

On the men's side, it's even tighter. Northug showed, with his respectable race in today's mass start, that he has just enough oomph to ski well on Sunday. I think he'll catch Rotchev, who won't be able to go the full distance, and Ronning, who is better in classical, and take third. Further up the mountain, it will be a battle between Teichmann and Cologna, who should be neck-and-neck for much of the climb. With three stage wins so far in the Tour, Teichmann should want to take the overall away from Cologna, who has used high places and bonus seconds to maintain his lead since the second stage. I think Cologna will give him a run for it, though, and prevail near the top thanks to his superior skate-sprinting ability. It'll be the closest men's finish in the short history of the Tour de Ski:
1. Cologna
2. Teichmann, +5s
3. Northug, +60s

Just for the record, here's the final climb itself: