Friday, December 14, 2012

Can-What? Canmore!

Now THAT’s what I’m talking about! Thursday’s mass start 10/15 km racing had to be some of the most exciting skiing I’ve seen this season at minimum, and in the last year or so.
When fans tell FIS that they want more mass-start racing, for my money we’re talking about action specifically like the men’s 15 km and women’s 10 km classic.

Why am I so stoked? There’s a pile of reasons!

-         -  It had lead changes like no other. What other race can you see Ivan Babikov, Noah Hoffman, Mattia Pellegrin (that’s not a typo – the kid was in his first World Cup race ever, and picked up some bonus points), Tobias Angerer, Giorgio di Centa, and Daniel Huen in the lead – and actually making a difference?
-          Bonus preems actually being bonus. Without the big guns controlling the race, it spread it wide open, and 15 different men picked up bonus points, including some unlikely heros. Fabio Pasini? Not usually a front-runner in distance races. Noah Hoffman? He normally couldn’t get a World Cup sprint point with rocket boosters.

-          - Spills. I hate to be the guy promoting accidents, as I hate it when a crash determines a race outcome (see: Quebec team sprint), but it does make it exciting. Whether it’s Alexander Bessmertnyk needing a harness and a top rope to climb back onto the course, or Martin Johnsrud Sundby tangling with Andy Newell  and taking out a sizeable chunk of the pack, it definitely keeps you on edge. Nothing hurts more than seeing your favourite guy take a nose-dive, or pumps you up watching a rival go ass-over-teakettle. Un-classy? Absolutely. But entire sports are made on a lack of class. Just ask anyone who likes UFC or NASCAR.

-         - Come-backs. I know I just said that falls are epic, and make the race happen. But even better was watching Masako Ishida drive through the field after popping a squat on the first lap, dropping herself out of the top 30. I was looking out for the Japanese classic specialist every time check, and not just because I predicted her to win…

-          - Gaps and explosions. Anyone see aging Ukrainian veteran Valentina Shevchenko go charging after Kowalczyk, only to spectacularly pop in the middle of the steep uphill, almost coming to a dead stop? Or Evgeniy Belov blow a silver medal in the final stretch by skiing outside the tracks? How about the three-wide Italian assault on preem number one? There was always a race within the race worth watching, for once without the constant nattering of the brilliant 'never-count-out-Northug' Eurosport announcers. Although I could have used an Andrew Musgrave reference or two.

-         - The absolute randomness of the podium. On WhoWins, 172 podium predictions were made for Thursday’s race. One person picked Tim Tscharnke, and they only thought he could come 5th. A mere two people thought Tobi Angerer could get a medal. Fifth place finisher Giorgio di Centa? Two people thought he would crack the top 5. As for the Norwegians, 87% of people picked Eldar Roenning and Johnsrud Sundby to at least place 5th, and they ended up 12th and DNF respectively.  On the women’s side, Anne Kylloeenen won her first-ever medal. Meanwhile Maiken Caspersen-Falla out-dueled sprint superstar Kikkan Randall (sorry Americans) as well as proved herself the best in the strong Norwegian quartet of Vibeke Skofterud, Ingvild Oestberg, and Kristin Stoermer Steira (who shattered everyone’s predictions by coming 7th rather than her usual 4th)

To paraphrase one of my favourite writers, if the mass-start 50 km is a game of chess, then the mass-start 15 km is strip poker.  No one wants to watch 40 guys ski in a tight pack for 2 hrs (or 49 km) and then see it determined by a 30 second sprint. I might as well go watch an over-distance workout over my Junior ski team.

No, what I want is the unexpected. The surprising. The epic, dare I say it. The kind of action that makes you hate the commercial breaks, lean forward in your chair, and wear an adult diaper lest you miss a move on a pee break. And for me, nothing does it better than the 10/15 km classic mass start.

Coming up shortly – my predictions for tomorrow’s sprint, and a review of the weekend of World Cuppage Quebec. (Hint – I don’t get nearly as orgasmic as my American co-bloggers.)