Friday, January 23, 2009

Otepää, I Love Ya

Whether you call it Otepaeae, Otepaa, or Otepää, the traditional World Cup venue in southern Estonia is almost always a good place to race - last year's low snow notwithstanding. The racing is always in the classical technique at Otepää's Tehvandi sports center, and always in front of nutto (and often apparently blotto) Estonian fans, including the requisite group sitting in a damn hot tub.

As Fasterskier says in its preview of the weekend's races, the fields are back to normal size and depth for both the 10/15km interval starts on Saturday and individual sprints on Sunday, after the smaller and shallower fields in Canada. The Italians are persona non grata, but then we know they're no good at classic-technique racing anyhow. My picks:

men's 15km classical
1. Axel Teichmann
2. Anders Aukland*
3. Martin Johnsrud Sundby
N.B. I: No American or Canadian men are racing in Otepää. N.B. II: I don't think good old Jaak Mae is going to pull a podium finish out of his ski hat this year.

women's 10km classical
1. Petra Majdic
2. Therese Johaug
3. Aino-Kaisa Saarinen

As a bonus, here are the five best-named Estonian racers:
1. Aivar Rehemaa
2. Algo Karp
3. Kaija Udras
4. Priit Narusk
5. Martti Himma

* Aukland hasn't had a start yet has had just three starts [thanks, Luke] in this World Cup season, but last week he finished second at the Norwegian national champs in this event. As soon as he finishes in Otepää, he's off to race the Marcialonga on Sunday in Italy.