Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tour de Skiathlon

The Tour de Ski has been a rock 'em-sock 'em set of races so far. In addition to the crazy weather, we've seen an unusual number of crashes, ranging from the meaningless to Kikkan Randall's digger in the classic sprint today. And we've seen some unexpected results, including Kowalczyk's incredible form, Bjørgen's vincibility, and Teichmann's from-nowhere win in the Oberhof 15k.

Given all that, I'm looking forward to the skiathlon on New Year's Day. It's going to be a brutal, fast-paced affair, I think, and here's how I think it's going to shake out:

Friday, December 30, 2011


How unexpected was Teichmann's win in the Oberhof classic pursuit? Unexpected enough that none of the 187 guesses on XC Predictions included ol' Axel for any of the three podium spots. The wisdom of crowds?

Of course, who'd have thought Teichmann had anything left? His last top-ten finish was last February. His last podium finish was the 2009 Tour de Ski, when he was famously blown away by Northug on the Final Climb. The guy hasn't been fast in a while, and yet: there he was at the front of the race and perfectly positioned to exploit the crash to take a surprisingly easy win - and the top spot in the general classification.

The women's race played out more conventionally, though surprisingly Bjørgen was not there to vie for the win at the end. I really through Johaug would be able to take Kowalczyk in the finishing straight, but the taller, bigger Pole had a little too much today.

These results - the one crazy, the one normal - have whetted my appetite for the rest of the Tour. Can the Germans - both men (three in the top dozen today and overall) and women (two in the top ten today and overall) - stay strong? What about the Russian men, who were massed at the front of the race today?

My picks for the classic sprint in Oberstdorf:

Thursday, December 29, 2011

For-Real Pursuit

It's great that FIS has switched back to calling it the pursuit. And tomorrow is going to be worthy of the name, at least on the women's side.
Therese Johaug clawing back 27 seconds is going to be impressive, if it happens, and my guess is that there will be a lot of movement on both sides as the one-hit prologue wonder-skiers fade.
Frenchman Robin Duvilliard, anyone? In three trips to the prologue course in Oberhof, he has finished in the top 30 three times - impressive for a guy who usually can't find the top 30 in a sprint qualification round with a road map.
Better get the goods in print...

Half Arsed Prediction

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tour de Ski, imPossible Prologue

First of all, I would just like to say that I think hate prologues as much as Tassava loves the Tour de Ski.

They play absolutely zero role in the finish of the Tour de Ski, are a waste of a day, and are so massively unpredictable they drive me nuts.
Cross country skiing has enough complicated formats to explain to non-skiers that yet another one is completely unnecessary. You're likely to spend more time explaining the race format than it will take the winner to ski it.
I have yet to see any sort of rational that explains the existence of such an event satisfactorily - please Vegard, just give us an individual start 10 k classic to kick the thing off. Everyone gets it, it doesn't exist on the World Cup any more, and Devon Kershaw is good at it. 'Nuff said.

With that little rant out of the way, on to my:

Half-Arsed Predictions - Oberhof Prologue

Half-Arsed Predictions - Tour de Ski

Tour de Whee!

I love the Tour de Ski - always have (even when it was just a twinkle in Vegard Ulvang's eye), always will (even after Northug reels off five straight wins starting this year). I'm especially jazzed for the 2011-2012 edition, since it's the only major event of the season and is thus getting all the focus of the big-name racers. Before getting to my picks for the prologue in Oberhof and for the overall TdS standings, I want to hit on a few themes that have emerged so far this year and that will matter to the Tour:
  1. The lack of snow. With one exception - ironically, the city sprints in Dusseldorf - every World Cup venue has had to deal with a lack of snow. At least a few of the Tour sites are facing similar problems, though apparently the crucial last few stages in Italy have good snow already. Day-to-day worries about low snow are one thing, best left to the FIS and the event organizers (and to me, suffering through a no-snow winter in southern Minnesota), but skiers and ski fans should worry about the long-term outlook for our favorite season, as pointed out in Audrey Mangan's excellent interview with Bill McKibben on
  2. Norwegian dominance. This isn't so much a new trend as the exaggeration of a fact of life. Bjørgen and Northug are of course far and away the best skiers on the circuit right now; each is leading both the overall and the distance standings - Marit over Skofterud by 103 and 2 points respectively, Petter by 52 points to Cologna and 138 points to Manificat, respectively.  Amazingly, no other Norwegian men are in the top ten of either the overall or distance standings; four (but not Northug) are in the sprint top 10. On the other hand, Norwegian women are dominating all three categories: five in both the overall and the distance standings and three in the sprint standings. Guess who's winning the Nation's Cup?
  3. Kikkan Randall. We at NCP have already waxed rhapsodic over Kikkanimal's racing this winter, which we would call a "breakout season" if she hadn't already broken out last year. This year, Kikkan is in the top ten of every ranking: 10th in distance, 4th in overall, and - wonderfully - 1st in sprint. I think that she's going to have a fantastic Tour de Ski. She is exactly the right kind of athlete to capitalize on the Tour's mix of sprint and distance races - especially the relatively short distance races  such as the 2.5k freestyle prologue in Oberhof, the 5k+5k pursuit in Oberstdorf, and the 3k classic in Toblach. With her skating prowess, Randall is also poised to do well in the 15k point-to-point race to Toblach and of course the 9k Final Climb. In short: go, Kikkan, go!
Beyond all that, this year is going to be interesting because both Bjørgen and Northug are in good shape and are gunning to win the Tour. It's astounding that neither of the two racers, certainly the best skiers in the world right now and probably the best racers of the last decade, have won the Tour, but those are the facts. Northug comes into this season's edition with three straight second-places (behind Cologna in 2009 and 2011 and Bauer in 2010 - plus a third-place finish in 2008), while Bjørgen has managed to finish the Tour only once, taking second behind Kuitunen in the inaugural Tour in 2007. I see them performing well in every stage, and winning the overalls:

Oberhof classic technique prologue (2.5k women, 3.75k men)

Tour de Ski overall

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Rogla Sprints

On Sunday, the Rogla course can finally be put to its natural 2k purpose: sprinting. My picks, for whatever they're worth:

An Introduction!

Yesterday may have been a bit confusing for some – I really didn’t announce my presence very well.

My name is Kieran Jones – if you are a regular FasterSkier reader, you may recognize it from my by-line as the Canadian guy, or most recently from a sojourn to Dusseldorf, Germany, and Davos, Switzerland, for the World Cup action there. If you’re into that sort of thing, check out my race report from the sprint in Davos, which I happen to think is the best thing I have ever written for FasterSkier, despite what some others feel.

I’ve also done the FasterSkier World Cup preview series two consecutive years, and while it hasn’t made me any better at predicting results, it has made very familiar with the FIS database, using Google Translate, and the fact that the Norwegian Sprintgutta website is perhaps the most ridiculous in existence.

Joining the Nordic Commetary Project seemed like the natural choice for me because it’s owners have offered me the use of the company Learjet, a million dollars in small unmarked bills, and access to a fridge full of cold beers, something which FasterSkier refused to furnish. But I’m limiting myself to a few Half Arsed Predictions TM, some random musings, but not much more.

What’s my story?

I’m Canadian, and sucked hard at skiing for a significant portion of my career, but I love it, so there’s that. Go ahead, make fun of me for it – you can’t say anything worse about my skiing ability than I already have, and I guarantee you I coach a junior girl that is faster than you if you really want to get into that pissing match.

I recently departed FasterSkier due to a hectic winter schedule that his me appearing in no fewer places than U.S. Nationals in Rumford, ME, an Ontario Cup in Thunder Bay, ON, Canadian World Junior Trials in Callahan Valley, BC, and Canadian Nationals in Quebec City, QC as my role of coach of the Nakkertok L2C program demands.

I’ll also bring my self-deprecating sense of humor, a rack of hopefully-cool pictures, and a massive love of World Cup skiing in general.

Enjoy the show!

Half Arsed Predictions

In my first outing, I did not too badly. My women all finished in the top 10, which was handy, but I was stung by my gut feeling that the Canadians have to get a medal soon, as Kershaw dropped to 16th, and my belief in Roenning's ability to classic ski.

For tomorrow, barring unforseen circumstances, I can't see anyone beating Kikkan Randall. Trust me, she's just that good right now. Mens sprinting is notoriously fickle, but Emil was impressively on his game last weekend given the fact that he had a nasty injury, and I think a week to train and get his sea legs under him won't have hurt - update - Joensson isn't racing, and I'm a hack and can't get in and change my World of XC predictions, but here in writing, I'm going to replace the Swede big man with Teodor Petersen. Yup, off the list to first in one fell swoop - nice work, T.Pete.

Here goes nothing...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Round and Round Rogla Goes

Rogla, Slovenia, has only hosted the World Cup once, back in 2009, when the venue ran classic mass-start races over 15k for the women (Kowalczyk, Bjørgen, Haag) and 30k for the men (Northug, Legkov, Vylegzhanin). Those races were interesting for at least three reasons: the new site, heavy attrition in the men's race (19 DNFs!), and some nasty racing among the women, with Saarinen getting DSQ'd for bumping hometown girl Majdic.

This year the races are interesting because the organizers only have one flat, 2,000 meter loop to use. This would be a complete disaster if they were trying to run the 15k/30k races from two years ago, but - luckily? - they've only trying to run 10k/15k events. How exactly that's gonna work is anyone's guess, but even given the medium-sized fields, I've gotta think that they'll need to pull skiers as they get lapped - mostly the SLO skiers. (Get it?)
The short loops might also mess with the usual suspects in both the men's and women's races. Without any serious climbs, I can't see people like Johaug putting the hurt on anyone. On the other hand, I've learned that it's foolish to bet against Northug ever. I'll be interested to see how this craziness shakes out.

Note: I won't be surprised if Randall finishes in the top 10, or even better. Seems like the tight quarters could be made for her, and she does have a good spot in the start grid - tenth.

Swiss Sprinters and Bjoergen’s ‘Sore Throat’

One of the most intriguing story lines of the early season (last two weekends) has been the emergence of the Swiss sprint team as a force.

Okay, so ‘force’ is an exaggeration – they have only one medal – in Dusseldorf of all places, but still.

Eligius Tambornino has qualified second and third in the last two sprints, before fading to mid-pack finishes. Joeri Kindschi has also picked up two top 20 finishes, including 9th in D-Dorf. Add in Martin Jaeger, who finished 11th in Dusseldorf before being unlucky number 31 by .09 of a second in Davos, and you have three guys who seem to be at minimum consistent qualifiers. And I haven’t even talked about Dario Cologna, although if I’m honest the Swiss big man was a disappointment in his home town.

While there is pretty much just one Swiss women - Laurien Van Der Graaff – and she has been probably my favorite surprise of the season thus far. In Dusseldorf, she celebrated after every single time she crossed the finish line. And not just quietly – with yelling, jumping and arm waving, which was pretty cool to see. And rightly so – before D-Dorf, she had never advanced from a quarter-final, and she found herself with a bronze medal. Rad stuff, no doubt.

Now, the twenty-two year old firecracker has made appearances in sprint finals in back-to-back weekends.

- "Laurien, why are you so ****ing awesome this year?"

There are a lot of asterisks beside the Swiss team performances over the last two weeks. Yes, they were both skate sprints. Yes, one barely qualifies as a World Cup (D-Dorf had a smaller field, was pissing rain, and had a hamster-track of a course), and yes, in Davos it was effing beautiful and the crowd was overwhelmingly on their side.

But – and from my perspective this is the most important but – the courses were dramatically different between the two weekends.

Dusseldorf was hard-packed skating-rink-slippery artificial snow, icy, narrow, close-quarters combat, and it was 8 degrees Celsius and raining. The course was a so-called 750 meter loop (FIS may have called it 900 – but trust me the only way you were getting 900 meters on that course was by zig-zagging your way down it) that featured pretty much no hills, and just two big 180-degree corners.

Davos, by contrast was on fresh, machine groomed natural white stuff, on a blue-bird day just below zero. While also fairly flat, it was wide open for passing, and had big powerful downhill sections. At 1500 meters, for the women it was significantly longer than Dusseldorf, and many athletes repeatedly told me that the course had ‘no rest’ compared to the less than 2 minute effort the weekend before.

That brings us to Rogla this weekend. Slovenia has been home to fantastic sprinters recently (Majdic, Visnar, Fabjan, - I rode the elevator with her and boyfriend Ola Vigen Hattestad in Dusseldorf – she was looking good) but I’m going to be focused on the Swiss, because if they nail it down, I’ll believe they are for real.

Bjoergen Bails

Marit Bjoergen is backing out of Rogla due to a ‘sore throat’. Yeah, sure Marit.

While I’m sure she, like the other 100% of the top World Cup skiers is focusing on the Tour de Ski and wants to be healthy and at her best (read: able to slaughter the entire field by 50+ seconds in a 15 k individual start freestyle) I think it’s time the muscle-bound Norwegian owned up.

Marit, just admit it. You’re scared.

I saw your half-hearted sprint last Sunday – you just can’t face another round of mixed zone questions after having your winning streak ended by an American. An American who didn’t just win, but dominated the sprint, then showered the first row of Euro photographers with champagne, and hammed it up during the press conference.

- Randall whipping out the ole bunny ears. Bunny ears - cracking up pictures since 2nd Grade.

And you know what? It’s okay. Kikkan hugged me last weekend – I just went for the congratulatory handshake, but when an Alaskan with bigger everything muscles than you and pink hair goes for a hug, you don’t resist.

Also – if you want to trot out the fact that Bjoergen skied 30 km the day before, try this on for size. In Randall's warm-up, I counted the number of loops I saw the American do on the sprint loop. I gave up after 30, and if I had to guess, she did another 10 minimum. That would be 40x750m which equals… you guessed it.

30 km.

Half-Arsed Predictions

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Duhvos Sprint

I pretty much couldn't have made worse predictions for the distance races at Davos. Regardless, here are more foolish guesses, this time for the freestyle sprints. Despite having been soundly proven wrong about Northug in the 30k individual, I just can't see him placing well in the sprint after racing so hard today. I'm ready to be proven wrong again. And though I think Bjørgen would be a solid bet for first place, I think Randall is going to show up in a big way tomorrow.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Davos Oddness

After some off-again on-again decisionmaking due to a lack and then a surfeit of snow in Davos, we're going to see some unusual events this weekend: long(ish) individual-start skate races. A 15k for women and 30k for men are being run over a big 7.5k loop that, as usual at Davos, is basically a long uphill to the halfway point and then a long downhill back to the line. It's not the mythical 30k/50k individual races at Holmenkollen, but it's close!

As pointed out in Fasterskier's excellent preview of the race weekend, the altitude - and the early point in the season - has historically made for some oddball podiums in shorter skate races (10k for women, 15k for men), such as Heikkinen and Khazova in 2009 and Poltarinin in 2010.

This year, I think the distance is going to matter even more, with proven long-distance skiers atop the results sheets. Cologna has won skate marathons, and on home snow, he'll be charging hard. (I'd peg Northug for the win, but I don't think he can concentrate for 30,000 meters of individual-start racing!) Johaug won the 30k skate at Worlds last year, and is going to get another World Cup win.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

And Now for Something Slightly Different

... from my Randall-centric posts lately. Back in the States, Jessie Diggins is killing it on the SuperTour. After seven races at two venues, she's scored 200 points out of a possible 210. Not shabby:

  1.   classic sprint (West Yellowstone): 1st place/30 points
  2.   skate sprint  (West Yellowstone): 2nd/25 pts
  3.   10k skate (West Yellowstone): 2nd/25 pts
  4.   5k classic (West Yellowstone): 1st/30 pts
  5.   skate sprint (Bozeman): 1st/30 pts
  6.   5k skate (Bozeman): 1st/30 pts
  7.   10k classic (Bozeman): 1st/30 pts

I can't wait to see what she does abroad later this year.
Diggins at Bozeman MT (Photo via Dethier)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Better Than Kikkan

Kikkan Randall delivered the win in Düsseldorf today, confirming her status both as the best freestyle sprinter in the world and one of the overall best skiers in the World Cup.

This is a big "duh," of course. We knew that. Bearing with me for a minute, I'm interested to see who has beaten Kikkan in a more-or-less head-head-to-head way so far this season. Counting the two sprints, the Sjusjøen and Kuusamo individual races, and the second leg of the Sjusjøen relay, and taking the finish order of the Kuusamo pursuit (not the "stage win"), only eight women have beaten Kikkan this year. They're a talented bunch, which means that our Kikkan is, too.

Like I said, "Duh."

Sjusjøen skate 10k
1 Bjørgen
2 Kalla
3 Skofterud
4 Berger
5 Steira
6 Kristoffersen
7 Johaug
Kikkan 8th

Sjusjøen 4x5k relay (second leg)
8 Kowalczyk
Kikkan 2nd on leg

Kuusamo classic sprint

1 Bjørgen
2 Kalla
3 Skofterud
Kikkan 4th

Kuusamo skate 5k

1 Bjørgen
3 Skofterud
2 Kalla
7 Johaug
Kikkan 5th

Kuusamo classic 10k pursuit
1 Bjørgen
7 Johaug
3 Skofterud
2 Kalla
8 Kowalczyk
Kikkan 6th overall in the Ruka Triple

Friday, December 2, 2011


I'm not that big a fan of the city sprints, but I do like the annual shenanigans in Düsseldorf, which is especially tight and crashy. This year's slightly less interesting because of some big names (Bjørgen, Northug, Jönsson) are sitting out, but on the other hand, Kikkan Randall is the odds-on favorite for the win. So says Nordic Xplained and me, via Jan's Who Wins game.