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


Anonymous said...

Heikkinen is an excellent climber and will probably have the best time of the top guys in the last stage so i think it will be important for the rest to try to put more time between them and him.

Luke S said...

If Babikov has a good one today and can get some bonus seconds, he could put himself in incredible position for the final climb, which he is an animal at.