In ginning up this post for the Tour de Ski rest day, I discovered why the next venue, the first in Italy, is always listed with two names: Toblach is the German name for the town while Dobbacio is the Italian name. Thanks, Wikipedia! (But no thanks for not telling us the Ladin name for the place.)
The first race in Toblach/Dobbacio is an unusual one: a 3k/5k classical technique run in interval start. The funny distances put this race somewhere between a prologue and very short distance event. The pacing is going to be a critical issue, especially since the courses are Davosian: up a huge climb, then down a giant descent to the finish. If the race were longer, I'd tab Johaug for the women's win, but I don't think she and her ponytail can outdescend the bigger racers like Bjørgen and Kowalczyk, who is so much better on the downs that I suspect she did some alpine skiing in the offseason.
Beyond those predictions, I wanted to look briefly at the general classifications as the race shifts to Italy. I had the impression that both the men's and women's GC were pretty tight, but they're actually not, at least relative to recent history. On the men's side, Northug and Cologna are separated by just 1.1 seconds, but Legkov is at +52.3, Vylegzhanin is at +59.8, and Kershaw is at +1:03.3. On the women's side, Kowalczyk has a small but respectable gap back to Bjørgen at +26.6s, a bigger gap of +1:06.6 to Johaug, and very solid gaps of just over three minutes to Randall and Saarinen.
Looking back to comparable moments in previous Tours de Ski, we find two different stories. The men's GC is currently tighter at the top but about the same for the rest of the top five. Only in the 2007-2008 race, when Bauer led but just seven seconds covered the top five places, was the men's GC more closely packed. (Arguably, the 2008-2009 resembles this year's, since the top five were within 48s. However, Bauer, the eventual winner, was way back in 18th place, two minutes out. What a comeback he made!)
Compared to last year's race, when Kowalcyzk was in control by the halfway point of the Tour, the current women's GC has a smaller gap between 1 and 2, but bigger intervals after that. In this sense, both last year and this year differ from every other running of the TdS, during which the top five women were all within about thirty seconds of the frontrunner. If nothing else, these comparisons speak to the fact that two pairs of skiers - Northug and Cologna, Kowalczyk and Bjørgen - are easily the best skiers in each race right now. Whether that means they win the Tour, we'll start to see on Wednesday morning.
Here's the historical record (asterisks make the eventual winners)...
2010-2011 - after fourth event (5+5k pursuit at Oberstdorf)
* Kowalczyk 1:01:52.3
2010-2011 - after fourth event (10k+10k pursuit at Oberstdorf)
* Cologna 1:37:51
2009-2010 - after fourth event (1.2k C sprint in Prague)
* Kowalczyk +24.9
2009-2010 - after fourth event (1.6k C sprint in Prague)
( * 18. Bauer +1:59.5)
2008-2009 - after fourth event (9k C in Nove Mesto)
* Kuitunen 57:49.3
2008-2009 - after fourth event (15k C in Nove Mesto)
* Cologna 1:24:36.9
Johnsrud Sundby +47.9
2007-2008 - after fourth event (10k F pursuit in Nove Mesto)
http://www.fis-ski.com/pdf/2008/CC/2438/2008CC2438TDS.pdf* Kalla 1:03:25.5
2007-2008 - after fourth event (15k F pursuit in Nove Mesto)
* Bauer 1:24:02.1
Piller Cottrer +3.4
2006-2007 - after third event (10k C in Oberstdorf)
2006-2007 - after third event (15k C in Oberstdorf)
* Angerer 1:32:30.3