Friday, January 18, 2013

La Clusaz

The mass-start events in La Clusaz always look to me like laps around a windy, hilly field. But they also almost always turn into good races. With the Tour now in the background, we should see all of the heavy hitters back in action. I would love to tab a couple of the Finnish women to do well, but who? Instead, I'm going with likely suspects:

La Clusaz - Crunch Time For Canada

Okay, things have taken a hit in my analysis of the World Cup since the Tour de Ski. It has something to do with my dismal predication performance in WhoWins (going from a solid top-20 at the midway point of the Tour to dropping all the way to 76th spot).

The real zinger isn’t that I dropped to 76th, but that my unnamed arch-rival “Kieran Sucks” finished in 25th, and arch-blog-writing-nemesis Nordic Xplained nicked me in 71st. Although, for the record, the final 5 days of the Tour de Ski I spent frantically waxing skis for 27 athletes in Thunder Bay, Ontario, for the combo World Junior Trials/Ontario Cup racing happening there. And two of my athletes are now representing Canada in Liberec, CZE at World Junior Championships, and Nakkertok came away with 18 medals on the race weekend. So really, it wasn't that bad at all.

But enough about me, this blog is about World Cup action!

This weekend racing moves to La Clusaz, France, for a 10/15 km mass start classic, and the second 4-by team relay. Two races that I just happen to love no matter what, and based on the two versions that have already happened this year, are going to be pretty firework-packed.

That being said, I’m going to bust out my grumpy-face and lay some smack-down – I don’t actually like La Clusaz as a race location, and I don’t like France as a World Cup team.

I’m not entirely sure who okay’ed La Clusaz as a race site, but quite frankly, it looks horrendous (on TV). A miserable wide-open wind-swept plain with a couple of massive uphill and downhill sections doesn't constitute a World Cup venue in my mind. It seems like it's always dropping knee-deep powder at race time, for whatever reason, making skate skiing pretty ugly. Check out this video if you think it looks like great spot for a nice European ski vacation.

And the French. Wow. Has a team ever fallen so far so fast down the Nations Cup rankings!?! (Don’t answer that – yes, the Estonian’s and the Finn’s come to mind). What was once a deep squad with perennial distance powerhouses Vincent Vittoz and Jean Marc Gaillaird, and a talented sprint pool including Torino Olympic silver medalist Roddy Darragon and Cyril Miranda is now a shell. Only Maurice Manificat is still standing, and right now he’s probably not doing much standing at all (too soon?). Also, they have ugly suits.

Now, my lack of respect for the French World Cup not-withstanding, I am excited to see some fast racing action. And therefore, here are my picks:

And a couple of notes about them:
- If you don't pick Masako Ishida to make the top 5, you're making a BIG mistake. She's significantly more rested after not doing the Tour de Ski, was one unlucky fall out of a medal in Canmore, and is already well on her way to a personal-best total in World Cup points this season.
- My faith in the Canadian men were restored following the Tour de Ski. Sure, they didn't blow everyone away like last year, but by the end of the week, there were finally some bright spots. Also, if they want to have anything close to the success they had on the World Cup last year, they need to turn things around this weekend. It's now or never for Harvey and Kershaw, in my mind.
- My faith in Kikkan Randall's classic distance skiing has been utterly decimated by the Tour de Ski. I bet the farm on her, and while her classic skiing has improved massively, it's still not at the level to compete with the best women in the world.
- Justyna Kowalczyk is so boring.

See you on the Twitter-box (@joneskieran) at 5:15 AM for the women's start! Two Canadian women are starting, so I'm obliged to crawl out of bed.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Cermis Surmise

The Final Climb matters this year, once again! I like this. The women's race is actually looking to be less interesting than the men's for once, though if Johaug goes bonkers she might be able to close the gap to Kowalczyk and outclimb the Pole. I'm not putting my money on the overall win for Johaug, but I do see her taking the stage win.

On the men's side, things are much tighter: the top four are within 16.5 seconds of each other, which should make for some legitimately head-to-head action on the climb itself. I think it'll come down to Cologna and Legkov, and I think the Swiss will be first to the summit. Cologna will turn in a good time, but I think that Ivan "Bulldog" Babikov, who has been skiing superbly throughout the tour, will take the stage win.

Regardless of what happens, both races are going to be insanely fun to watch (no matter what some people think).

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Classic Setup (Val di Fiemme)

Except for the Final Climb - about which my Canadian co-blogger and I will have to disagree - I like the mass-start classic race the most. Do I say that about the stages of the Tour de Ski? Maybe I do. But the classic mass start in Val di Fiemme is a brutal, brutal race, with a ton of climbing, more tactical maneuvering than a war game, and all those bonus points - fewer this year than last, but still a lot of them. And then there's the timing of the race, the day before the Final Climb. Some racers are going great guns to catch up, others are fighting to maintain a lead, others are doing their bits for their teams, and still others are just conserving energy. If that's possible on such a tough course.

Anyhow, here are my picks. I had a hard time not putting Randall in the women's top five, but I just don't see it. Up the Alpe, though...

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Queen Stage

I know the TdS stage to Cortina isn't perfect, what with the pursuits taking two different formats - the women's 3x5k lap race, the men's 35k point-to-point race - but don't bother me with details: I love this stage.

The men's long up-then-down race from Toblach is a great spectacle, at least as good - for my Euro - as the final climb. And while the women's race is less fun to watch, the pursuit start and the significance of the finishing order and gaps heightens the drama. Plus also freestyle technique, which just seems more exciting to me, even though I much prefer classical in general. And when the racers finish - undoubtedly in exactly the order below - on Thursday, they have just two more days before the final climb!