Sunday, January 31, 2010

Nordic Wattage Revisited

Two years ago we did a post looking at energy output by Andres Soedegren on the Mordarbacken in Falun. It was a fun one to write, and now that I've got all the formulas on hand it's not too hard to calculate wattage for any given climb.

It's kind of embarrassing that it took me a month between watching the Tour de Ski final climb and realizing that it would be interesting to run the numbers. The final climb is waaay longer than the Mordarbacken, so it's a whole different type of effort. Let's look at the data for the two winners, Lukas Bauer and Justyna Kowalczyk.

As usual, all these numbers are based on assumptions.

The "final climb" is the last 3.4k of the course, starting at the 6.6k checkpoint for men and 5.6k for women.
The "final climb" is 450 vertical meters.
There is no descending during the climb (some of the artificial switchbacks looked pretty flat, if not downhill, to me)
Both athletes are skiing flat out the whole time (clearly not true, as both had time to celebrate as they approached the line)

Our methodology will be the same as last time, so we won't spell it out as much.

Lukas Bauer: I just thrashed you guys so hard, I have time to pick up a flag.

Lukas Bauer (75kg with equipment):
3400m in 16:58 -- 3.34 m/s
450 vertical meters in 16:58 -- 1591 vertical meters per hour
Energy required for ascent: 330750 joules
Average Power for ascent: 325W

Ski normal force: 735N
Ski drag force at 0.025 friction: 18.375N
Power to overcome drag @ 3.34 m/s: 61W

Air drag: 1.5N
Power to overcome drag @ 3.34 m/s: 5W

Total Power Output: 391W (5.4w/kg) for 17 minutes

Justyna Kowalczyk: I just thrashed myself so hard, I might be dead.

Justyna Kowalczyk (62kg with equipment):
3400m in 20:58 -- 2.7 m/s
450 vertical meters in 20:58 -- 1287 vertical meters per hour
Energy required for ascent: 273420 joules
Average Power for ascent: 217W

Ski normal force: 608N
Ski drag force at 0.025 friction: 15.25N
Power to overcome drag @ 2.7 m/s: 41W

Air drag: 1.5N
Power to overcome drag @ 2.7 m/s: 3W

Total Power Output: 261W (4.42w/kg) for 21 minutes

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Those Who Can, Ski; Those Who Can't, Criticize

We're coming up on a big, big, big racing weekend - looking just at a few of the marathons, there's the Noquemanon in northern Michigan, Craftsbury in Vermont, and the fabled, giant, highly competitive Marcialonga in Italy. I'm not skiing in any of those races, though, so I'll turn my competitive impulses to critiquing some of the mainstream media's Olympic-preview coverage.

First up, Brian Cazeneuve's preview of the cross-country skiing events in Sports Illustrated. He's mostly right in talking about Northug's dominance and brashness (though arguably it's his tactics, not his antics, that trouble other racers) and about Randall as the best U.S. hope.

But he misses badly in analyzing the "grudge match" in the XC events. Four-country dominance? Sure, but look at 2006 or even 2002. At Torino, six countries won golds - but neither Norway nor Finland. At Salt Lake City, seven countries won golds (but only Russia and Norway from the Big Four). Depending on how the man wants to define the term "grudge match," he could have talked about
  • the Italy-Norway rivalry in the men's relay (since 1992, 3-2 in favor of Norway - but with Italy the defending champs after Norway's dismal performance at Torino),
  • Norway's nervousness about their prospects next month,
  • Saarinen vs. Majdic (a literally knock-down, kicked-out fight),
  • Northug vs. Teichmann (okay, okay - lopsided), or, of course,
  • Northug vs. everyone else.
And then there's the concluding paragraph, "Bet you didn't know":
The world's top female skiers come from a much more diverse group of nations than do the men. Consider that the top five world cup leaders all come from different countries: Justyna Kowalczyk (Poland), Petra Majdic (Slovenia), Aino-Kaisa Saarinen (Finland), Arianna Follis (Italy) and Kristin Stoermer Steira (Norway). In the top 15, you'll also find Swedes, Russians, a Slovak and a Ukrainian. Amazingly, though Germany often contends for the top spot in the medal count, there are no German women among the top 20 in a sport that provides the greatest chance to amass medals.
Except for the bit about the lack of German women in the top 20, he's pretty much entirely wrong. Today - after the Rybinsk events last weekend - the women's overall top 15 includes athletes from seven different countries* while the men's overall top 15 includes athletes from nine different countries**. What's more, there's no Slovak in the women's top 15 (the sprinter Prochazkova is in 28th in the overall - does he mean the Slovenian Fabjan, in 19th?) and the Ukranian Shevchenko is in 20th. Go down to 20th place, and the men's list adds a racer from one additional country (Canada!) while the women's includes only racers from the same seven.

What to make of these errors of fact and interpretation? Well, I suppose, not too much. Relative to, say, the American fan base for domestic or world soccer (or for the Big Three pro sports), there simply aren't many people who are deeply interested in top-level cross country skiing, and probably none of them work in Big Media. This kind of column - decently accurate, respectful, middlingly informative - is about the best we can hope for.

Which won't stop me from finding mediocre-to-poor coverage!

* Poland: Kowalcyzk; Slovenia: Majdic; Finland: Saarinen and Roponen; Italy: Follis and Longa; Norway: Steira and Bjorgen; Russia: Korosteleva, Savialova, Khazova, Medvedeva, and Sidko (cough cough - if she's not counted, another Russian, Tchekaleva, moves up); Sweden: Kalla and Falk.

** Norway: Northug, Hattestad; Czech Republic: Bauer; Sweden: Hellner, Rickardsson, Jonsson; Switzerland: Cologna; France: Gaillard, Vittoz; Germany: Teichmann, Sommerfeldt, Filbrich; Finland: Heikkinen; Italy: di Centa; Russia: Vylegzhanin

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dopers and Dopiness in Russia


Sadly, but not surprisingly, another overperforming Russian, Alena Sidko, has been caught hitting the erythropoetin. Via Skierpost:
The Russian cross country skier Alena Sidko was tested positive for EPO and is therefore not appropriate for the Russian Olympic team... Sidko, with a bronze from the sprint relay in the 2005 World Championships and 2006 Olympics, tested positve for EPO during the competitons in Krasnogrsk on 26th of December. 30 years old, Sidko had a ninth place in overall standings this year's Tour de Ski.
What is going on with these crazed bibs from Rybinsk? The bear is gonna eat Roland Clara's number!

Monday, January 25, 2010


The most depressing news of the day is that there are multiple Northugs. And they are apparently fast. Please, Odin, save us from a half-Northug relay team at Sochi 2014!

Via Skierpost...
Tomas Northug walks in his brother's shoes

Tomas Northug (NOR) was second best in the prologue at the Junior World Championships today. But nobody was able to hang on to Tomas in the finals. In the men's competition of Free Style Sprint, Tomas Northug (the brother of Petter Northug) claimed the Junior World Champion title, ahead of his teammate Paal Golberg and the Italian prologue winner Frederico Pellegrino.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ry Not?

True to form, the third set of races at Rybinsk - freestyle team sprints - have fairly small fields: ten women's teams, fifteen men's. (In comparison, the Düsseldorf team sprint events included 22 women's teams and 27 men's teams.) Four Russian teams are competing in each race, so let's go ahead and say that at least two-thirds of each podium will be from Россия.

So far, the Russian men have swept the podiums in both the freestyle sprint and the pursuit, with a who-dat skier, Artem Zhmurko, eking out a 0.9s win over bigger names like Chernousov and Shiraev in pursuit. (The win came too late for Artem, who was not named to the Russian Olympic team.) In the women's races, only one podium spot has gone to a Russia - Schuchkina's third in the pursuit that Kowalczyk won with almost a 10s gap on Sachenbacher-Stehle in second. The Russian men's domination will end in the team sprint, if only because the odds are against them.

The predictions:

men's freestyle team sprint
1. Russia I (Morilov and Petukhov, the winners at Düsseldorf)
2. Italy I (Zorzi and R. Pasini)
3. Russia II (Devjatiarov and Kriukov)

women's freestyle team sprint
1. Germany II (Goessner and Nystad)
2. Italy I (Moroder and Genuin)
3. Slovenia (Visnar and Fabjan)

Friday, January 22, 2010


The sprint fields were teeny, but at least that fact helped me pick all six of the racers who made the podiums. Sure, I only picked one of the spots exactly right (Kriukov in third) and exaggerated Kowalczyk's prowess, but who's counting? (I did 33% better than our Canadian friend!)

I ended my sprint-prediction post with a hope that the pursuit fields would be "bigger and/or better," perhaps as some sprinters tried the longer race. As my co-blogger sometimes tweets, "Hahahahaha!"

Ladies and gentlemen, there are only 29 men on the start list for the 30k pursuit (at least half of whom we can consider C-list racers) and only 25 women on the start list for the 15k pursuit (ditto). These intimate affairs will use the usual brutal up-and-down 3.75k loops, which means that, as in the past few years, the finishes will be ridiculous sprints. In the odd-distance mass starts that replaced the scheduled pursuits last year, for instance, Longa won the 10k with next nine women inside four seconds and Angerer won the 15k with the next sixteen men inside five seconds.

My picks, then:

men's 30k pursuit
1. Shiriaev
2. Rotchev
3. Sommerfeldt
It would be great to see the Canadians Nishikawa and McMurtry in the top 10.

women's 15k pursuit
1. Medvedeva
2. Nystad
3. Tchekaleva

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Seriously? Just 34 women are on the start list for Friday's freestyle sprints in Rybinsk? And only 43 men? No Finns, Norwegians, or Swedes? And no top Italians?

Gee, that makes the qualification round a little less important than usual and the actual heats a lot less interesting than usual. The courses are 1.3km long and feature one 27m climb right in the middle, topped by a nice left-hand curve.

I'll dangle from a damaged carbon-fiber ski pole and say that the Russians are going to do well:

men's freestyle sprint
1. Petukhov
2. Morilov
3. Kriukov

women's freestyle sprint
1. Kowalczyk (I mean, there's no comparison)
2. Fabjan (the other fast Slovenian sprinter)
3. Genuin

I hope the pursuit fields are bigger and/or better...

SOS from Norway?

The Norwegians are holding their national XC championships right now in the Stokke, south of Oslo and not far from Sweden. In addition to the team already named (which is of course full of top-notch racers), the poor guys are trying to find racers with enough right talent and fitness that they can ensure the upcoming Olympics won't be as dismal as the last ones were (no golds, three silvers, one bronze - and no medals in either relay).

The opening events today were freestyle middle-distance interval starts won by Bjørgen and Northug. She took the 10k by a big margin over Kristoffersen (+1:11) and Johaug (+1:26); Skofterud and Jacobsen finished fourth and fifth. (Steira didn't compete.) Northug took the 15k narrowly over Hafsås (+7.7) and someone named Sjur Røthe (+11.7). The "big name" men, such as they are, were further back, with perhaps the most interesting second-tier result being Thomas Alsgaard in 14th, +1:08. Neither Tor Ruud Hofstad nor Lars Berger raced.

I can't read the herring bones well enough to know what this means for the Olys, except that clearly Bjørgen and Northug on form and Hafsås looks to be at or near world-class speed, too. I can't imagine any of the other women who raced today will find another 60 seconds of speed before the women's 10k at the Callaghan Valley on February 15.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Oh Otepaeaeaeaeae

God, it's fun to watch the races in Otepää. Pretty much every meter of the distance course was lined with fans making a deafening din that doubled in intensity whenever one of the Estonians - like the two who finished on the podium, or favorite daughter Šmigun-Vähi (9th on the day), or any of the other racers in blue and white and black - passed through. They put the Norwegians (except maybe at Holmenkollen) to shame.

On the tracks, the Tour de Ski winners kept their hot streaks going, with both Bauer and Kowalczyk taking big victories. Beyond that, the races were almost opposite in top finishes: only Russians, Norwegians, and Estonians were in the men's top 10, while seven different countries (including Japan) were represented in the women's top 10 (and a Chinese racer took 19th!).

Justyna has a good chance at making the top three in the classic sprints on Sunday, but at some point the heavy efforts on the Tour and on Saturday will take their toll, right? Right?

1. Jönsson
2. Hattestad
3. Rønning
Newell: finals

1. Majdic
2. Bjørgen
3. Saarinen

(I'd wager 100 Estonian krooni that three of the other top-ten spots in both the men's and women's races will be occupied by Norwegians.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Oh Otepääääääää

I'm overdue to assess my picks for the Tour de Ski, but no matter: I'm plunging forward as clumsily as a Kenyan skier to make my picks for the World Cups in Otepää, which are being run, traditionally, as interval-start races in the classic technique. To prep for the races, you oughta read the rambling account by Bengt Erik Bengtsson (an FIS official) of how the FIS decided, way back in 1999, to stage races in an out-of-the-way country town in an out-of-the-way (and then newly-independent) nation. Basically it's because the Russians were too poor do to it, and the Estonians were just crazy enough to think they could.

And so they have, twenty-four times now. This year, quite a few top-tier racers are skipping Otepää (Northug, Legkov, Vylegzhanin), but then again some big names are returning after missing the Tour de Ski, including Bjørgen and Kalla for the women and Veerpalu and Södergren for the men. (And two Chinese racers are starting in each race!)

Beyond the boring old start lists, my picks are shaped by two considerations:
  • The Estonians are going to go nuts, either performance-enhancedly or not, on home snow.
  • The Norwegians (who have won 11 of the 24 races at Otepää, and taken 12 other podium spots) have to do very well to qualify for the Olympic team.
And but so:

men's 15km classic
1. Bauer
2. Veerpalu (koff koff)
3. Hjelmeset

women's 10km classic
1. Šmigun-Vähi
2. Kalla
3 Bjørgen

Monday, January 11, 2010

Final Climb Recap

It's already been five days since the Tour de Ski ended, but boy, that was a good race, huh? This year's tour was the first time that first place in the men's race changed on the final day - and more or less on the climb, too. (In 2008, Kalla passed Kuitunen to take the win, and of course last year Saarinen took the lead from but then gave the lead back to Kuitunen.)

Okay, maybe the drama wasn't so good if you were Norwegian and/or rooting for Northug, in which case you might write a column in a Norwegian paper outlining all the ways in which Petter got screwed out of his win - too many pursuit stages that favor late starters, too few interval starts, and too few bonus seconds. You might also suggest that the winner of the Tour wasn't tired enough at the top of the Alpe Cermis.

That may or may not be so, but Lukáš - which I believe is Czech for "Pettersmasher" - did have enough energy to find a use for the hole in the tip of his fancy-schmancy Fischer "hole skis" - holding the staff of the Czech flag that he stopped to obtain from a spectator.

In other related news, 2010 was the first year that a German didn't stand on the men's podium (Angerer, first, 2007; Sommerfeldt, second, 2008; Teichmann, third, 2009 - you can see the progression to Sommerfeldt in sixth this year) and a Finn didn't stand on the women's podium (Kuitunen, first, 2007 and 2009, and second, 2008; Saarinen, second, 2009). Over the four editions, eleven different countries have been represented on the podia. Not bad for the sport.

This year, a North American cracked the general classification top 10, as well: Ivan Babikov, on the strength of two great stages at the end of the Tour, wound up ninth, 3:32 behind Bauer, one of the few men who can outskate Babs. The previous N.A. best was Kershaw's 21st in 2009, and Kershaw did better than that this year by finishing 16th. Next year, maybe Kris Freeman can try the Tour in a season without either Olympic Games or World Championships.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Final Climb 1.5

The nordic combined racers are in Val di Fiemme this weekend, too. After this morning's jumping, Johnny Spillane is in third, Todd Lodwick in fith, and Bill Demong in seventh. The 9km skiing leg of the competition takes place soon - and sends the skiers up the Final Climb. Spillane will start at +23s to leader Anssi Koivuranta (FIN), a good skier; Lodwick at +24s; and Demong at +35s. Go, guys, go!

But what an irony - from flying down and off a hill to skier up and on one. Of course, the often-little NC guys are ready-made for a climb like this one... No Hattestads or Rickardssons in this group.

TdS: Women's Final Climb (Live Coverage)

12:27 pm*: Three minutes to the scheduled start. Petra Majdic is lined up and ready to tackle the 9km race to the top of the Alpe Cermis. She starts the day with a gap of 31 seconds over Justyna Kowalczyk, who you've got to think will annihilate herself to catch and pass the big Slovenian to take become the fourth women's Tour de Ski champion. Of the other racers who have been in the running for the crown, only Arianna Follis, starting at +56s, remains in contention.

12:30: Majdic is off! A powerful offset skate takes her out of the gorgeous Val di Fiemme stadium, which is today gray and foggy.

12:31: Kowalczyk and Follis are out of the gate too, and now Saarinen, who takes off like a rocket to try and close her 39s gap to Follis. Kowalcyzk looks tentative rounding the downhill corners between the stadium and the track to the Alpe, but typically easy on the uphills. Majdic does not look like she's laboring too hard.

12:33: On the flats and rounding a hairpin before the 1.7km time check, Majdic is using a powerful V2 stroke. Behind her, Kowalcyzk is visibly working harder, and crosses the check at +33.6 - meaning she's actually given up two seconds!

12:34: Follis goes through at +58.6 (giving up time), Saarinen at +1:30, the only of Majdic's chasers who has taken time back.

12:36: Steira, Sidko, and Longa are grouped, sharing pulls at +2:36 (a big gain for the Norwegian and Italian) but about to be joined by Roponen and Savialova.

12:38: It is not a pretty day in the Val di Fiemme - low-hanging clouds cast a gray pall. Zipping past a camera along the track between the stadium and the Alpe, Majdic is staring into the snow ahead of her, yellow glasses up on her hat. A respectable distance between, Kowalcyzk has her sleeves pulled up to her elbows.

12:41: The big wave of starters is now exiting the stadium as the leaders go through the 3.5k time check. Kowalcyzk and Follis haves cut Majdic's lead to +26.1s and +54.8s, respectively. Saarinen is at +1:22, and a five-racer group led by Longa is at about 3:15.

12:44: Majdic is on the climb, nearing the 5.6km check. She's V1'ing easily, face composed but serious. She gets so much glide out of those Fischers on her feet. She's through at 15:47. Kowalcyzk is closer now, but working harder and appearing strained. She crosses at +27.4. Follis, in the black sprinter's bib that Majdic can't wear because she'a already in the red leader's bib, comes through at +56.2, looking light and easy.

12:48: On a section just below the 6.5km time check, Kowalcyzk is just a short distance behind Majdic now - unfortunately it's a steep uphill marked with blue paint and running alongside some towering evergreens. Kowalcyzk has upped her workrate, but Majdic still appears to be working more easily. She crosses at 19:20.5, ponytail flapping. Kowalcyzk goes through at +18.8 - the gap is narrowing steadily!

12:50: Follis at +51.0 has a 23s gap to Saarinen at +1:14.2 - quite a bit less snow than the 39s she had at the starting line. The Finn is using her customary heavy-seeming skate, but could she pass the Italian for the last spot on the podium?

12:52: Kowalcyzk is closer still! She switches back and forth between a V1 and a herringbone skate on a very steep section, now just a few lengths behind Majdic! Follis is at the foot of this ramp, moving much more slowly than Saarinen, a bit further down the mountain.

12:53: Majdic has hit the switchback section in which Saarinen caught and attacked Kuitunen last year. She's looking back, but she can surely see Kowalcyzk around the corners. Majdic throws in a few quicker skates, but as they come out of the maze and head back straight uphill,Kowalcyzk closes in...

12:55: Another set of switchbacks, and Kowalcyzk is directly behind Majdic, who pulls up to the 7.4km mark. Now it's the Pole who looks better, glancing off to the side of the track. Where will she go for the pass?

12:56: Has a duel ever lasted so far up the mountain? Last year Northug attacked Teichmann up around here, but that was for second. Where did Kuitunen and Saarinen do battle last year?

1:00: Kowalcyzk is still content to follow Majdic. She must be waiting for the final straightaway to make the pass. Down the hill, Saarinen is still closing in on Follis, but hasn't caught on yet. Dozens of other skiers are visible on the mountain, weaving through the switchbacks among a substantial number of spectators.

1:01: the 8.1km check, and Kowalcyzk finally makes the pass! There's nothing snappy about it, but she edges through and leads Majdic around the 800m-to-go sign. Majdic lets a small gap open, then gamely closes it as they round another set of switchbacks! Majdic is right there as they head under the Craft kite and toward the finish line!

1:03: But no - Kowalcyzk surges and opens a lot of snow behind her. A spectator is running alongside her with a Polish flag. The skier is obviously energized by the success of her move, and increases the rate of her poling. She glances back once to make sure the attack has worked, then again near the 400m-to-go mark.

1:05: Majdic is still working, now in a V2 of all things, but the gap is too big. Kowalcyzk is on the final straight, framed by a yellow glow in the clouds behind her.

1:06: Kowalcyzk crosses the finish line and immediately collapses into the snow - 36:45.8. Majdic comes over at +19.6, throwing her hands in the air, and stops to lean on her poles. Neither can more. Is there a better sight in cross-country skiing than the bodies in the snow at the top of the Final Climb?

1:07: Follis comes over at +1:12 to loud cheers from the crowd. She's the first Italian to ever make the podium at the Tour de Ski, I believe. Saarinen scoots over at +1:34, and Steira follows at +2:07, then Roponen at +2:27. One of those two will probably have the stage win, having taken about a minute out of the winner.

1:10: As Alena Sidko waves to the camera, the cameraman falls over on his ass. She's not so tired that she can't laugh.

12:11: Marthe Kristoffersen is actually smiling as she comes through in 11th, but then lies in a heap in the snow. About three of every four skiers are falling to the ground when they cross, though none more dramatically than Kowalcyzk. There are enough in the way now that finishers can barely make it over the thick red finish line.

12:12: Majdic just gave a typically polite and enthusiastic few lines to the interviewer. She's a gracious silver medalist.

12:14: The women's final climb was a pretty damn good race! I'd give it a B+, if only because there was no real drama behind Kowalcyzk and Majdic. Saarinen couldn't muster enough energy to close on Follis and put the last podium spot into play. Just like yesterday, I can only hope the men's race is as good.

*All times are Central European Time.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Up, Up, Up, and Away

Holy cow, but the mass-start classic races were fantastic - the best pair of races all season, I think. In honor of Lukas Bauer's 112% effort, I'm going to add an "-sh" sound to endsh of all the wordsh in thish post that end in s. Dude'sh a stud, and Petra Majdic showed herself to be pretty hard-core ash well, taking all the bonush sprintsh, destroying pre-race Kowalcyzk'sh lead in the general classification, and staking herself to a 31s gap over the Pole at the start of Sunday'sh final climb.

Okay, that'sh getting annoying.

But Bauer is still a great racer, and by dint of his performance in the mass start, now in a surprising second place overall, just 8.3s behind Northug. He can probably close that gap down by the foot of the 3700 meter ascent (and knowing Northug's "let 'em come" racing style, he will), but I just cannot imagine ol' Lukáš maintaining any kind of lead over Northug. Remember how Petter exploded past Rotchev and then humiliated Teichmann at top of the climb last year to seize second behind Cologna? Northug will do something similar to win the Tour tomorrow afternoon - and down the mountain, C0logna will pass Teichmann to move up from fourth today to third.

men's Tour de Ski overall podium
1. Northug
2. Bauer
3. Cologna

The final climb is interesting in that, as a pursuit, it really offers two sets of podiums: one for the TdS general classification, and one for the stage win. Last year, Babikov won the stage, a feat that, given his recent form, he seems poised to repeat.

men's freestyle final climb (best time)
1. Babikov
2. Heikkinen
3. Hellner

In the women's race, I think that Majdic is going to bury herself for the overall win, but not quite realize that goal. Kowalczyk is just too Babikovian a hill climber. If Follis was 26, not 56, seconds beyond Petra, she'd be vying for the silver, too. But she's not.

women's Tour de Ski overall podium
1. Kowalczyk
2. Majdic
3. Follis

In the contest for the stage win, I think that Steira will redeem herself after falling out of contention on Saturday and, frankly, showing little verve in Wednesday's Dobbiaco descent.
women's freestyle final climb (best time)
1. Steira
2. Sarasoja (who's been knocking herself out these past few stages)
3. Kowalczyk

I can't wait to see how this stage plays out.

(Bonus: posted a useful list of all the final-climb stage standings: 2009 - Babikov and Johaug; 2008 - Sommerfeldt and Shevchenko 2007 - Shiraev and Neumannova.)

TdS: Women's Mass Start (Live Coverage)

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I can watch Norwegian TV's coverage of the women's 10km classic mass start race from Val di Fiemme. Sweet.

12:00*: The women are lined up in the start grid, waiting for the gun under a moderately heavy snowfall at exactly 0 degrees Celsius. These conditions make the race somewhat tougher than it might otherwise be. After being mentioned as a withdrawal for several straight days, today Therese Johaug has actually pulled out of the Tour, on the eve of a race that would normally really suit her.

12:01: The gun sounds and they're off! Majdic and Kowalczyk are at the head of the pack up the first hill. They've got to be the favorites today.

12:03: Already the pack has disintegrated, with eight racers establishing a small gap on the first main downhill. Everyone comes back together as they round one of those gorgeous stone buildings that make the Val di Fiemme courses so distinctive.

12:05: Steira moves to the front, as seemingly skinny as her poles. Marthe Kristoffersen is up there with her, then the favorites. It's always instructive to see the difference in technqiue as the pack passes: the leaders all look easy and light, the middle-packers are working slightly harder and more clumsily, and the red lanterns look like they're struggling already, 1,500 meters in.

12:07: First time check: Majdic, Steira, Kowalcyzk, three abreast across the tracks. They zoom away on the ensuing down hill and herringbone up and over the ensuing hill, where there's chaos as ski tips clash! Already a big break - four or more seconds, with Saarinen now gunning it to bridge.

12:08: The pack is shattered, less than a fifth of the way into the race. Majdic is pushing hard at the front, Saarinen is almost back on Kowalcyzk's tails.

12:09: Ascending the left-hand climb past an earth-colored church, Majdic is still off the front, but by a smaller margin now. Saarinen is now with Kowalcyzk.

12:11: The end of the first lap: Majdic leads and takes 15 bonus seconds, with Kowalcyzk second (10s) and Steira third (5s). This slightly narrows the Pole's lead.

12:12: Now Steira moves to the front and leads Majdic and Kowalcyzk up the next climb. Saarinen has fallen back into the big chasing pack. Longa is a bit off the front of that pack, and Sara Renner is right there, too, placed maybe fifth or sixth in the race. A great showing for the Canadian!

12:14: Longa has bridged up, looking quite good, and pulled the pack up to within a few seconds of the leaders. Renner is still there, next to Medvedeva.

12:16: And everything's back together, tight as could be. The three leaders are still at the head of the race, but their sizable gap is gone. Shevchenko is there, too.

1218: The ascents and descents will - surprise surprise - decide this thing: the leading trio effortlessly pull away up the hill with the 5.0km checkpoint, zoom down the sharp downhill, and then up and over the next up, where there's more chaos, with racers slipping and falling as they herringbone up that ramp. I count a half-dozen slips and falls. Half the pack was probably involved in one slowdown or another.

12:20: A small gap now again separates the usual triumvirate from the majority of the pack, though Longa and now Alena Sidko (!) are now in the mix with the leaders, too. The Russian looks especially strong - snappy and sure of her position.

12:22: Reentering the stadium at the end of the second lap, Majdic acccelerates and collects another 15 bonus seconds. She makes these hard pushes look so easy, just a tiny uptick in her poling rate and a slightly deeper drop with each DP. Sidko crosses in second, Kowalczyk in third. The Pole's lead over the Slovenian is now just 3s, with another 15s of bonus time available at the finish.

12:24: Follis is deep in the pack, as is Saarinen, who must be losing her slim chance at the overall TdS lead and championship today. The Finn is actually far off the back of the group. Appalling.

12:25: Up the biggest climb for the last time, everyone is now slipping and sliding - except the unimpeded group at the front.

12:26: Now Kowalczyk goes forward, making her usual late-race push. Savialova is now in third, between Majdic and Steira, but that group has just a few seconds on the chase led by Sidko and Renner.

12:28: It's a four-way race now. The leaders have the capacity to enlarge their lead at any time, and most of the members of the chasing group look heavy and labored.

12:29: The last time check before the finish, at 8.3km. Even the leaders are out of the track now, doing a little bit of herringboning. Majdic, Steira, Kowalczyk, Savialova, then Longa at +5.1s, then the pack.

12:30: The third time up that short, troublesome ramp is easier this time for most of the pack, but only because traffic is now so much lighter. Everyone looks like they weigh about 50 pounds more than they did earlier. Ahead, Longa is on the back of the front group, and so is a Finn - Roponen? No, Riikka Sarasoja! Suddenly, it's six racers vying for the podium!

12:32: Past the church and up the hill, Majdic has a second on the Finn, then Savialova, then Longa, but Kowalcyzk has disappeared! Bad news for the Pole! She's totally gone! Did she crash? Or just blow up?

12:33: Majdic leads back to the stadium, but barely, ahead of a rapidly reassembling group. A whole bunch of previously unseen racers are there!

12:34: Double-poling down that famous finishing straight, Elena Kolomina comes up on Majdic's right! Sarasoja is right behind the Slovene and Longa is off to the left, but neither can get through.

12:34: Majdic - by a boot ahead of Kolomina, who's come forward from 26th! Wow! A great run for the Kazakh. Longa edges in for third, a ski length ahead of Sarasoja, who immediately collapses into the snow trashed. Wow - a great race and a great, surprising finish.

12:36: Follis comes over in fifth, Britta Norgren in sixth, then Skofterud, Savialova, Eva Nyltova of the Czech Republic (who?), and Magdalena Pajala of Sweden (ditto) in tenth. Kowalczyk winds up deep in the pack, at +9.4s - a disaster for her but only a bit of the ruin that was Saarinen's race in finishing 29th, 29 seconds back. Sara Renner was swept up in the finish and wound up 15th, but all the chasers owe her a tin of kick wax because it was her hard work that kept them on terms with the lead.

12:39: Kowalcyzk's gap behind the winner would have hurt her chances on tomorrow's Final Climb, but Majdic also took 45 bonus seconds, for a total of 53.4s. Kowalcyzk's 14.1s lead over Majdic is now gone, having been replaced by a gap of about 30s - not a ton of time, but perhaps enough to make Kowalcyzk chase too hard on the way to the Alpe Cermis. Follis minimized the damage by coming up late, but she too let Majdic put time into her. This race did a great job of shuffling the start order for the Final Climb. I can only hope the men's race is so good!

*All times are Central European Time.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Second-to-Last Seconds

Looking toward Saturday's classic mass start races in Val di Fiemme - which will establish the final order for Sunday's "Final Climb" stage up the Alpe Cermis - the major story of the day is the small number of racers who are still within striking distance of the Tour lead and the championship, and the minor story is that 90 bonus seconds are up for grabs in each race - 15, 10, and 5 seconds available at the end of each lap (enough for a determined racer to vault up the standings or to stretch a lead.

Such has happened: in the 2007-2008 TdS, Kuitunen won the mass-start stage to stake herself to a 40s lead over Charlotte Kalla - a gap that the Swede closed while ascending the Final Climb on the way to her Tour victory. Conversely, that same year, Lukas Bauer collected numerous bonus seconds in the mass-start stage (though not the stage win) to enlarge his already-substantial lead over Gjerdalen and assure himself of his own Tour victory. Last year, the bonus seconds' effects were more subtle, with Teichmann gathering up 50 in a (vain) effort to establish a Petter-proof gap to Northug for the Final Climb and Kuitunen taking 40 to pad her lead over teammate Saarinen - and thereby make Aikku work just hard enough to chase Virpi down that the pursuer couldn't hold onto her brief lead on the Cermis.

Bonus seconds could shake up the four-racer group at the top of the women's general classification - the red bib Kowalcyzk, Majdic at +14.1s, Follis at +23.2, and Saarinen at +35.1 - but I don't see anyone below that who is in good enough classic-technique form to move into the lead group, with the exception of Steira, who could get into position for a great Final Climb However, I think Kowalczyk will work viciously hard to gather up seconds ahead of Majdic and Follis, with the Italian being the Pole's main threat on the Final Climb. Also-ran racers like Steira will want to make an impression on this stage, which should generate some action on the sawtoothed three-lap course around the beautiful ski stadium at Lago de Tesero.

1. Kowalczyk
2. Saarinen
3. Steira

On the men's side, eight racers are within the first minute: leader Northug, Hellner at +20.1, Teichmann at +29.5, Cologna at +29.7, Daniel Rickardsson at +32.3, Heikkinen at +34.4, Bauer at +34.8, and Gaillard at +57.9. Of these racers, Teichmann, Rickardsson, and Heikkinen have the most to gain, needing to either close or maintain their gaps to Northug if they want to be on the podium on Sunday, while Cologna and Hellner can feel pretty confident about their chances on the Alpe Cermis. While this race will almost certain end in a bunch sprint that includes Northug, I like the way the Finn has been racing, and I think that the Norwegian will hold back to save something for Sunday.

1. Heikkinen
2. Kershaw (who's effing due after his binding broke on Thursday)
3. Teichmann
Harvey: top 10

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Three to Go

No, that's not a guess as to the number of racers who will be left by the last stage of the Tour de Ski. In fact it refers to the three stages left in the Tour: the infamous Final Climb up the Alpe Cermis on Sunday, the tough mass-start classic races over 10km and 20km on Saturday, and, on Thursday, old school interval-start classic races: 5km for the women and 10km for the men. Near as I can tell from the FIS's databases, the last time these distances were used on the World Cup was in 2003 at Asiago, where Bente Skari took an easy victory in the women's race and Andrus Veerpalu handily won the men's. I remember watching the '88 Olympics and hearing the 5km called the "sprint" and thinking, "Damn - a sport where three miles is a sprint?"

Though no longer the shortest distance in the World Cup, the 13 or 14 minute effort in the women's race won't do much to separate the four remaining contenders for the TdS title, especially since no bonus seconds are on offer. My picks:
1. Majdic
2. Saarinen
3. Kowalczyk

Similarly, 10,000 meters isn't much racing for the men, but I think Northug's going to phone this one in ahead of Friday's rest day and the final two stages this weekend. Teichmann, on the other hand, looks to have just about 10k of snap in his legs. Picks:
1. Teichmann
2. Bauer
3. Heikkinen

Girls Can't Ski Far

It's 2010, and women's skiing is still stuck in 1980.

I mean, it's great that the women on the world cup get near-equal billing with the men, and near-equal participation. Relative to a lot of sports (*cough* road cycling), women's nordic racing is doing great. In fact, I only have one complaint: why don't they ski equal, or time-equal, distances as the men?

Fig 1: A group of fragile flowers who couldn't possibly race as far as the men

It's like the FIS (and by extension, everyone else) thinks that women can't race as far as the men. How else do you explain distance-discrimination at every single tier?

Fig 2: 2006 Olympic Distances

At the 2006 Olympics, the women's races covered a mere 56% of the distance of the men's races. Compare this to some other aerobic sports raced in the Olympics, like track and field and swimming. The women run and swim the exact same distance* as the men! It would be ridiculous to change the women's 1500m on the track to a 1200, right? And yet this is effectively what every World Cup sprint race does, cutting the women's course 10-25% shorter than the men's. Why? Because a woman can only make an anaerobic effort for 3 minutes instead of 3:30?

Even when the event is functionally identical, the FIS still has to get a little jab in at the women, to make sure everyone knows their race isn't as important -- check out the race distances in last year's Final Climb at the Tour de Ski! While the "final climb" portion (the part that mattered) was the same, the men skied a bonus kilometer at the bottom, so the women's race was listed at 9k and the men's at 10k. Why? So the fat sprinters didn't have to deal with getting "girled" by Virpi?

And this brings me to today, the 2010 Tour de Ski, where the FIS may have set a new standard for shortchanging women's racing. Let's look at the profiles for tomorrow's awesome point-to-point, over-the-pass, we-really-want-this-to-be-the-Tour-de-France stage.
Fig 3: Totally Awesome Men's 36k Race Profile

Fig 4: Boring Women's 16k Race Profile

In addition to setting a new record in race distance disparity (women ski only 46% as far as the men), it sets a new standard for race effect disparity. Check out that men's course, it's a freaking 35k point-to-point handicap start race with 600m of elevation gain. It is going to shatter the field. I have never been more excited to see how a race will turn out -- will gaps consolidate on the climb? How will the racers descend, in groups, after that much climbing? Can the heavier guys hang with the light ones? Will anyone get away on the descent? Or catch back on? How much time will be lost if you're having a bad day?

Meanwhile, the women's race is missing most of these elements -- it's a downhill pursuit at best. While it'll be interesting to see how the women descend, it will have minimal effect on the overall standings -- the race will basically come down to seeing who doesn't fall. And falling is nothing, compared to how much time can be lost or gained on a 600m climb. Ultimately, this stage won't have much to say about who wins the women's overall, unless someone crashes their way into the hospital.

Don't get me wrong, the women's race is still going to be cool, because I love crashes and descending in general, but come on, if there was ever a time to have women ski as far as the men it's this stage, which is clearly supposed to a be a showcase event, with a massive climb and descent, just like the Tour de France.

But the women aren't showcased, not like the men. The women's race will take all of 30 minutes, which much of it spent in a tuck; the men will be out for a well over an hour, spending most of that time climbing. Suffering on a climb is glamorous; crashing on a descent is not. If you're a casual viewer tuning in, there's no way you could watch these two races and come to the conclusion that women's nordic skiing is anything but a sideshow to men's racing.

And thus, by setting the women's race distance short, on a significantly easier course, the Tour de Ski given all of women's skiing a slap in the face. What else is new?

* - ok, so men have the 110m hurdles and the women have 100m. Close enough.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Point-to-Point, But Mostly Down

Wednesday afternoon's stages in the Tour de Ski are odd ones: point-to-point skate races over fairly long distances - almost 16km for the women and 36km for the men (the longest race of the season so far), both winding up in the Italian mountain town of Dobbiaco.

Or rather, winding down to Dobbiaco, for both races - as the course profiles show - incorporate k after k of downhill terrain. In the women's race, in fact, only a snippet at the beginning and a bit at the end are not downhill. The men's race is tougher because that long descent (and a few ramps in the last 5,000 meters) is the sequel to a tough, relentless ascent from Cortina d'Ampezzo - site of the 1956 Winter Olympic Games - to about 16k. Then it's one long snowplow - and probably a goodly number of crashes, like the faceplant demos in the Oberhof sprints.

Tactically, anything could happen in these odd but probably-exciting races. As in the second stage at Oberhof, the races are pursuits from a handicap start. After the rash of abandons today, Saarinen will be staked to a 25s lead in the women's race while the top dozen men will start inside a minute.

In the women's derby, I expect a big group to form behind Saarinen early in the race, one including all usual suspects: Kowalcyzk (+25s), Follis (+32, and maybe Longa, though she starts at +1:47), Steira (+1:15), and especially Majdic (+30, and a good descender, as she showed in last year's Trondheim 30k). Though the longest descent I can ski here on the northern prairie is maybe 45s long, I'll venture that all that downhilling will make for some wobbly legs by the time the leaders hit those sharp little climbs at the end - and plenty of good crashes before that point. (If only Krashy Korosteleva hadn't abandoned today...) On the hills, the light climbers will move away to vie for a memorable win in this wacky stage:

1. Kowalcyzk
2. Steira
3. Follis

In the men's race, 16k of climbing will do a great job of separating any natural groups among the starters, but by the crest of the climb, the strong men will be bunched or nearly so: Northug, Cologna, Teichmann, Hellner, Jauhojärvi, Kershaw, Angerer. It'll be fun to watch them handle the descent, and to see if anyone can use the drop to chase onto the leading group, like certain cyclists can do on long mountain stages. (It's a shame that Wobbles Legkov has gone back to Russia to take care of his "sickness" - he'd be entertaining to see on the downhill.) The podium will come from the usual candidates, though a wipeout could screw up anyone's chance for a good place:

1. Northug
2. Hellner
3. Cologna
Kershaw: top 5; Harvey & Babikov: top 20

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Prague Sprints

Why, hello, Eldar Rønning! Where have you been all season? Way to jump up the leaderboard! The Oberhof sprints had two other surprises (three, if you include the elderly Swedish unknown Teodor Peterson in fourth): Emil Jönsson ably following up his good 15k on Saturday, and Kristin Størmer Steira racing in a sprint final - a rather uncommon occurrence.

I think things will shake out more conventionally in the city sprints in Prague, which are being run on a substantially shorter course (1200m versus Oberhof's 1600m) that does not include any severe climbs but does have a long uphill to the finish line. My picks:

men's 1.2km freestyle sprint
1. Northug
2. Jönsson
3. Newell
Kershaw: semifinals; Harvey: quarterfinals

women's 1.2km freestyle sprint
1. Kowalczyk
2. Follis
3. Majdic
Renner: quarterfinals

Saturday, January 2, 2010

TdS: Shorter and Faster

The classic pursuits was great, great races - maybe the best races we've seen this winter so far. (Our friend at Nordicxplained recapped the races well, and posted video summaries of both Northug's incredible win and Kowalcyzk's slightly easier victory; Fasterskier's coverage of the men's and women's events is worth reading, too.)

The prologue and pursuit put Northug and Kowalczyk at the tops of their respective leaderboards, and I expect that to hold true through both Sunday's classic sprints (the first such events in the history of the Tour, amazingly) and Monday's freestyle sprints in Prague. The classic sprints are being run on a looping course that has a 180 soon after the start, a downhill left-hander, one 35m climb, and a shorter, sharper ramp about 100m from the finish. Picks for Oberhof:

1. Northug
2. Cologna
3. Legkov
Newell and Kershaw: semifinals; Harvey: quarterfinals

1. Majdic
2. Saarinen
3. Kowalczyk
Renner: quarterfinals

Friday, January 1, 2010

Tour de Ski Prologue Picks

The Tour de Ski prologue was as interesting as I hoped. In the women's race, Petra used her sprint power to take a convincing victory by 2.1s over Korosteleva and three times that much over Kowalczyk. Miriam Goessner of Germany held the top spot for a long time and eventually wound up a surprising fifth, with Arianna Follis in between. Petra's gonna be great in the classical pursuit tomorrow. In the men's race, Northug confirmed his form with a narrow 0.8s victory over Marcus Hellner, 2.0s up on Teichmann. Italian Loris Frasnelli - my choice for best-named non-Estonian racer on the Tour - slipped into sixth, just behind Cologna, who's obviously in good shape, and Shiraev, who has temporarily replaced Legkov as the bEst-PerfOrming Russian.

Recapping my picks and the actual finishers:

men's 3.7km freestyle prologue
1. Northug - Northug
2. Legkov (actual: 9) - Hellner
3. Teichmann - Teichmann

women's 2.8km freestyle prologue
1. Nystad (12) - Majdic
2. Kowalczyk (3) - Korosteleva
3. Follis (4) - Kowalczyk

Tomorrow's classic-technique pursuit races - 10k for women, 15k for men - will be run over the same course as today's races and seeded according to the finishes in the prologue. Northug will have a six-second head start on Hellner, +12s on Tiechmann, +17s on Cologna. Only a great classic skier will be able to catch him (Teichmann, Cologna, maybe even Bauer at +22s or Legkov at +25s), but no one will be able to make it stick. Petter should lead the TdS from wire to wire. In the women's race, Majdic has +7s on Korosteleva, +16s on Kowalczyk. The Russian will drop back, not preferring classical races, but I expect the Pole to come up at challenge Majdic for the win. Picks:

men's 15m classic pursuit (handicap start)
1. Northug
2. Cologna
3. Teichmann

women's 10m classic pursuit (handicap start)
1. Kowalczyk
2. Majdic
3. Saarinen (coming up from 6th, +30s)