Friday, January 18, 2013

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.