Friday, December 28, 2012

Tour de Ski-kkanimal, and Assorted Nonsense

While my co-blogger loves the Tour de Ski, I’ll be honest, and utterly contradictory, and say that I hate it (but just a little bit).

I know, there is much to get pumped about! It’s such a big production, it’s such a show, it’s racing day after day, a test of athlete’s ability to travel, to grind out race after race, and to push the boundaries of what it means to really hammer your body. I get it, and I like that part.

But I find the competition itself never lives up to the hype. Last year the men’s race just about pulled it off – it was a close battle almost all the way through, except you knew by the point-to-point stage that Dario Cologna had a lockdown on it. For the women, it’s never even been close. I might suggest next time the women might as well skip the Final Climb entirely.

Which, I will say outright, is the most awful ski race ever invented. “Oh wow, you know what would be fun? If we watched the world’s best skiers offset/herringbone/coach skate/V-something-dumb up a downhill run for 5 kilometers, zig-zagging back and forth,” said literally no cross-country skier, ever, anywhere, even in Italy where this kind of weird shit takes hold after a few bottles of wine.

Watching the Final Climb is a bit like reading about global warming – after a certain point it stops being entertaining, starts being depressing, but you really feel like you’re obligated to sticking it out to the end. But I digress.

However, certainly the Tour does contain some highlights.

The sprints, for one, are always fantastic. I’m not sure why having more non-sprinters making the heats is more exciting, but it just is. Devon Kershaw body-slamming Marcus Hellner to the ground in a corner a few years ago was great, as was the finish-line exchange of words. Simen Oestensen actually being fast – that’s pretty cool. Dario utterly decimating everyone, even when he looks down and out – that’s what I want. Kershaw trying to win last year in Toblach’s skate sprint, resulting in me yelling at my computer, calling him a gigantic moron, only to celebrate like mad after he held on. Emil Joensson being Emil Joensson.  All great stuff!

The mass-start racing is also occasionally pretty good, and full of drama. Petter Northug was a big goon last year in trying some new and completely illegal tactics. Johaug and Kowalczyk engaged in an insane duel of interesting double-pole techniques, both of which are much faster than mine. 

The point-to-point race only happens once a year (and that’s all I have good to say about it, because it can still be a snooze-fest, and a poorly covered snooze-fest – see point-to-point racing, and lots of gratuitous mountain, snow, and tree shots. I get it, people who watch the Tour de France love this ‘cultural helo-cam’ approach that brings them views of rural France. I guess I’m someone who likes to tune in to a race to see, you know, a race. If I want the Discovery Channel, it’s over on 42 and is playing Gold Rush: Alaska.)

My misgivings about the Tour aside, it certainly won’t stop me from making predictions. And my offer still stands – anyone who can beat me in the period from the start of the Tour de Ski to the end of it (total points, including each day, and the final results) in WhoWins predictions will earn themselves a six-pack of beer. It won’t be good beer, and I won’t deliver it person, but I will make good on it. The only condition is you do have to register as your real name, (sorry, Kieran Sucks, not that you’re going to beat me anyway).

Half-Arsed Predictions
Saturday’s Freestyle Prologue



Yeah, I know. I just predicted the biggest favourite in women’s cross-country skiing, the most obvious choice, the easiest pick ever, Justyna Kowalczyk, NOT to win the Tour.

It’s a gutsy move. Or a stupid move. Probably the latter.
But hear me out, as I present 7 reasons (one for each race on the Tour!) why Kikkan Randall will win the Tour de Ski, and Justyna Kowalczyk will not:

1.         1. It's shorter. Randall is better than Kowalczyk at shorter distances. Fact.
      2. There is only one sprint. Some people think this favours Kowalczyk. Wrong. There is only one sprint, and it’s a skate sprint, which Randall is money at. Kowalczyk, on the other hand, is not as good at skate sprinting. She finished 21st in the most recent skate sprint in Canmore. Weak sauce for the World Cup overall leader.

3      3. Randall has emerged as a viciously good all-around skier. Verbatim from my esteemed former co-worker Audrey Mangan at the hub of all Nordic News,, Randall has “finished in the top 10 eight times this season — more than any other woman on the World Cup”. And yes, they are including Justyna Kowalczyk in the women category there.

1.       4. Subway. Eat Fresh. Especially the meatball sub, a foot-long one of those did me well on every ski trip I hit as a Junior athlete, and look where I am now.

2.       5. The short and mass-start nature of the classic races. I won’t deny that Kowalczyk has an overwhelming advantage in classic distance racing over Randall. That’s a fact. In Canmore, Kowalczyk put 30 seconds into Randall in the 10 km classic. However, I will point out that it’s far less than the Pole could amass in an individual start, and actually pretty impressive given Randall’s track record with classic skiing over the last few years. And while Kowalczyk has a 9km classic pursuit on Day 2 with which to create a big gap, it’s a pursuit after a short skate prologue, which Randall will undoubtably win by a minute (so long as there is a slightly technical downhill, on which Kowalczyk will most definitely fall and be killed).

3.       6. She’s married to a Canadian who’s working for FIS (nice video work, Jeff Ellis, one of these days I'll stop hating you for scoring such a sweet job).

4.       7. Momentum. The US women have become some sort of tidal wave on the World Cup this season. It doesn’t matter what the weekend, format, or race is, it seems like someone is able to keep the ball rolling. Jessie Diggins and Liz Stephen are sick? No problem, let me carry the mail in the distance racing, says Ida Sargent (yes, I did just write that). Holly Brooks can’t start the sprint? No worries, Sophie Caldwell and Sadie Bjornsen will just qualify instead. Can you honestly say you don’t want to back the Americans, and therefore Kikkan Randall? Someone get the Department of Homeland Security on the phone…

     Nine days of ski racing, North Americans – let’s get at it!

     Tomorrow's post - some skiers I would have loved to pick for the Overall, but couldn't for some basic reasons. Also revealed will be why Tim "Chonky" Tscharnke is such a killer dude.


Christopher Tassava said...

Great post! I'm amazed that I hadn't think of the Subway angle before! It's OBVIOUSLY the key factor in Randall's success!

Kuan said...

What Chris? You hater! Kikkan is bigger than Santa Claus in Alaska.

Derek Hoff said...

Very funny paragraph on the hill climb. But I still side with Christopher -- long live the TDS. And I sort of like sitting on my couch after a 45-minute flat ski and enjoying watching the misery of those athletes on the final climb.