Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How Bad Are the German and Italian Men?

Pretty bad.

Through nine individual events in this World Championships season, the Italian and German distance-racing men are really stinking it up. I dunno what the nordic-skiing communities in either country are saying about this, but I'd wager it isn't good: Worlds are only two months away.

In the head-to-head matchup of dismal distance teams, the German men have a slight advantage. Thanks to a sixth-place finish in the 10km classic race in Kuusamo, Filbrich ranks 21st in the WC overall. The young Tscharnke is in 23rd, just a few points behind. After that, though, it's a long way down to Teichmann in 46th (on the strength of a 5th in that Kuusamo classic event) and even further to Goring and Angerer in 57th and 58th - so far from the Red Group, they're only faintly pink. And none of the German sprinters - er, the German sprinter, Wenzl - have scored meaningful points.

So far, the best Italian men's finish is Scola's second in the Dusseldorf skate sprint. Ranked 12th in the overall, Scola also finished fourth in the Davos skate sprint, to go along with two twenty-something finishes earlier in the season. The only other Italian man in the top 30 of the World Cup overall is another sprinter, Renato Pasini, in 25th; his best is a fifth in the Kuusamo classic sprint. The once-vaunted Italian distance skiers are nowhere to be seen: di Centa is 39th, on just three point-scoring races (two 15ths and a 22nd), Hofer is in 49th, Piller-Cottrer is in 67th, Checchi is in 68th, and Clara is in 85th.

Counterpose these dismal accomplishments first to the respective teams' female racers: Germany has two women in the overall top 20 (Fessel in 5th and Zeller in 20th) while Italy has two in the top 10 (Follis, 3rd; Longa, 6th), one more in 30th (Genuin), and some promising skiing from Rupil, ranked only 44th but holding a 9th in the La Clusaz skate race.

Counterpose the men's results next to their early-season results last year. By the Christmas break in 2009, Teichmann had a 7th place in the Kuusamo classic race, di Centa had finished 4th and Filbrich 5th in the classic mass-start at Rogla, and Angerer had garnered a shock 2nd in the classic sprint at the same venue. Even Piller-Cottrer had an 11th, a 10th, and a 9th to his name.

What to make of all this? At the very least, it bodes poorly for good German or Italian results at Oslo, either individually or in the relay. In the latter discipline, the Germans' and Italians' weakness means that the track is clearer for Sweden and Russia, for Norway (not an untroubled men's squad), and even for outliers like Finland, Switzerland (winners of the La Clusaz relay) and the Czech Republic (with their bronze at Vancouver).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bibs and Boards: La Clusaz

I've got lots to say about the last races and the upcoming ones, but no time to say it. Until I do, here's a cheap post - a bad screen-cap of the terrible bibs worn at the La Clusaz race, here mercifully covering some of the hideous suits worn this year by France. Awful, awful, awful - so bad that Eldar Rønning seems to prefer looking closely at Maurice Manificat's ass than the bib.

For what it's worth, these bibs advertised the Rhone Alpes region of France and the city of Annecy's bid for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Annecy is in a part of the world that is neither ugly nor flat, so it seems like a good spot for the WOGs - though I'd hope that another site would host the cross-country skiing events, since the round-and-round format of the La Clusaz races leaves something to be desired.

Maurice Manificat

Saturday, December 18, 2010

La Clusaz Parte Deux

The La Clusaz mass starts were great races, though surprising in lots of ways. I didn't expect Northug to be playing his A- game (second!), and I didn't expect either Kalla or Hellner to be playing their C- games (14th and 29th, respectively). Seeing Northug in the lead group with a thousand meters to go, I sure didn't expect to see him get outsprinted. And I was happily surprised to see a bunch of Canadian men toward the head of the race (Kershaw 13, Babikov 17, Harvey 24), Freeman with a good-but-not-great 25th, and two American women inside the top 20: Stephen 18, Arritola 19. Good stuff.

And but so, the mass starts definitely show which countries oughta do well in the relays on Sunday.

Finland has only two good skiers right now, Roponen and Lähteenmäki, so I don't see them figuring. Russia is a cipher, and Sweden looks to be at least one in-form skier from contending - though if Kalla gets up for the race, they'll be on the podium.

1. Norway I (Johaug will turn in the fastest classic lap, I'll eat the wax on the bottom of my iron)
2. Italy (Follis, Longa, and Rupil were all in the top 10 in the mass start)
3. Norway II (Jacobsen and Kristoffersen went 8, 10, 30 in the mass start)

Switzerland and/or Canada might pull off a top 5 in this event, but the usual suspects will be on the podium.

1. Russia I (Belov, followed by Legkov [third in the mass start], Sedov [10] and Vylegzhanin [1])
2. Norway I
3. Sweden

Friday, December 17, 2010

Clues about La Clusaz

This weekend's World Cup races - the last events before the Tour de Ski starts on New Year's Eve - take place at high altitude in La Clusaz, France. La Clusaz is Vincent Vittoz's home, but he won't be racing this weekend as he continues to recover from the injury that knocked him out of the Gällivare relay.

On Sunday, La Clusaz will stage the second relay races of the season, following on Saturday the first mass-start races of the season: a 15k free for women and a 30k free for men. Both races be run on a short 2500 meter course, which means the women will ski six laps and the men twelve. This track-meet format doesn't please some racers, such as Grumpstyna Kowalczyk: "Both Justyna and her coach have many objections to the prepared by the French route, which according to them is not suitable for performing at the highest level of competition."

Someone give Justysia a gold medal for lowering expectations, eh?

The last time La Clusaz hosted races,* two years ago, Petter Northug won a two-up sprint against Dario Cologna, while Kristin Størmer Steira won on a breakaway, finishing 13 seconds up on Aino-Kaisa Saarinen for only her second WC win. I don't think either Norwegian will win again on Saturday, though both might figure in the podiums. Here are my picks, as submitted to the excellent WhoWins prediction game over at World of XC. If you're the kind of person who reads Nordic Commentary Project, you're definitely the kind of person who'll like WhoWins - go over and enter your own picks for La Clusaz.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Therese and Pølsa

I'm not sure why the Swix website is letting Therese "Energizer Bunny" Johaug show us why she ditched her last boyfriend, but there you go.

What's that, Pølsa? Really?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Picture of the Weekend

Bjørgen, having closed her 30 second gap to Kowalczyk, sits in on the descent to the finish line at Davos. "Hey, Justyna. I'm glad I caught up to you. Have you seen my inhaler? I thought I had it, but maybe you have it. Pass it back, wouldja?"

I almost wished that Marit had come around Justyna on the straightaway, just as a "fuck you." She didn't, but then again she didn't need to. The yellow bib speaks for itself.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Davos Sprints

My picks for the distance races didn't suck: I wound up finishing second among "Who Wins" 106 predictors of the Davos distance races. If I hadn't been such a homer, picking Freeman in fifth, I'd have done even better. I hope my picks for Sunday's freestyle sprints are as good:

Friday, December 10, 2010


I love the racing in Davos. Last year's predictions were way off, but I was right on in describing the course as
"about as simple as it can be. On the x axis, you go out, then you come back. On the y axis, you go up up up, then you come down down down - a 41m max climb at worst, but 180m total climbing each lap, including a couple sharp ramps on the "downhill" half of the course."

Same goes this year, course-wise, though I'm now making my picks on the cool"Who Wins" feature at World of XC, a great XC skiing news aggregator. My picks for the Davos distance races:

Since you can only pick the top five at Who Wins, I'll add that I see Kershaw in the top 15, Randall in the top 30, and good old Odd-Bjoern Hjelmeset in the top 20. Dude turned 39 just a few days ago. Another old classic specialist, Andrus Veerpalu, is racing at Davos, too. He's a lock for the top 30, but probably not better - he was only 29th in the 10k classic at Kuusamo.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


The team sprints at Düsseldorf were fine events, lemme just say. The Italy I duo of Genuin and Follis led from wire to wire in the women's event, giving Follis her second win of the weekend. Norway I - Brun-Lie and Falla - eked out a frankly unimpressive second place, just ahead of Canada's Gaiazova/Crawford team, which finished in a shock third after Slovenia's anchor, Visnar, tripped over her own pole on the finishing straight. Follis and Genuin outclassed everyone in positioning themselves as one of the favorites for the team sprint at Oslo, though that race will be run in classic. Depending on whether Bjørgen races the TS, and on who composes the Swedish team, Italy could be on the top step of the podium.

By my count at least five of the ten teams in the final crashed at least once, with Visnar's self-inflicted tumble being the most significant. A slow-mo collision between the Finnish and Swedish team in the exchange zone was the most entertaining, with some shouting and pole-swinging.

The men's race was comparatively cleaner, with (in my viewing) no serious crashes until the last S-turn before the "downhill" to the finish. There, Germany II's Wenzl, running in first, moved hard to the inside of the turn, trying to fend off Norway I's Dahl, who was trying to sneak past along the barriers. Elbows rubbed, shoulders bumped, and Dahl's ski went under Wenzl's, bringing them both down.

Everyone else zoomed by, setting up a sprint that Norway II's Gløersen took by a toe ahead of Sweden I's Jönsson, with Italy I's Hofer taking third. Amazingly, the Russian teams of Kriukov/Parfenov and Petukhov/Morilov went five and six, fading badly on the last lap (and finishing behind Austria [Austria?]). As the sprint was decided 400 meters away, Wenzl and Dahl discussed their situation. Great stuff - setting things up nicely for Oslo, where I'll be shocked if the Germans figure.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bibs and Boards (Kuusamo Edition)

Having received widespread acclaim* for the first "Bibs and Boards" post, after Gällivare, I thought I'd do another for the races at Kuusamo.

In Friday's sprint races, everyone wore the bibs seen here on the blogger-like upper body of John Kristian Dahl:
It's actually kinda difficult to figure out just what Weber is, though the company's web page is a model of corporate-speak. Eventually one learns that Weber is "a leading manufacturer of easy to apply products in the facades, construction mortars, flooring systems and tile fixing markets." Nothing says aerobic sport like concrete! More importantly, I guess, the company supports the Norwegian women's XC ski team under its Leca brand name. This might be why I think of lightweight expanded clay aggregates whenever I think about Steira and Johaug.

With the bibs worn by the masked racers during Saturday's 5/10k classic races, we get right into doping. Or at least dope, for ratiopharm describes itself as "Europe's leading generics brand." The company makes 950 different drugs, with "the largest share (around 25 per cent)... aimed at treating blood circulation problems" and other products designed to treat asthma. Put differently, Russia loves ratiopharm and Kowalczyk hates 'em.

In the final race on Sunday, the men's freestyle pursuit, racers like winner Alexander "V2 to Death" Legkov sported these bibs, which are the best of the year. The Eurosport commentators could hardly wait to pun about Legkov's "gutsy" attack late in the men's 15k, an attack which might well have been powered by Gutzy's energy drinks and bars. It's Finnish Gatorade, basically.

Finally, I have to say that I welcome the trackside sound of vuvuzelas. They're not quite cowbells, but they're pretty good - and much more distinct on the broadcasts. I'm sure the Norwegians are opposed to this innovation, even as they secretly prepare a horde of the world's best vuvuzela-blowers to swarm into Holmenkollen for Worlds.

* This acclaim was "widespread" in intensity and credibility, consisting as it did of one tweet from the world's best nordic-skiing journalist.