The Tour de Ski kicks off on Saturday in Oberhof, Germany with a 3.1/4.0 kilometer skate prologue, marking the start of the second World Cup period of the 2013 season.
At the end of every World Cup period a new sprint and distance Red Group is released for next period.
As a quick refresher, the Red Group is about one thing, and one thing only, money.
Transportation and lodging are covered for Red Group skiers for World Cup weekends, providing a significant boon to national programs and self-supporting skiers alike.
The Red Group rankings are tabulated based on World Cup points for the previous calendar year. At the completion of a period, the corresponding period from the previous season is dropped.
This means the Red Group does not always consist of the current 30 fastest skiers.
Take for example the case of American athlete Holly Brooks.
Brooks is currently ranked 20th in the overall World Cup standings and 14th in the distance rankings.
Yet she is 41st on the distance Red Group list, 69 points out of the top-30. Brooks is hurt by the fact her best results last year came in period I, and those are now off the list.
Brooks is the type of skier who would be most helped by being in the Red Group. As a member of the United States B Team, Brooks is responsible for her own travel and lodging expenses.
Other “close but no cigar” skiers include Ida Sargent (USA) who is 32nd on the sprint list, just three points out. Sargent will skip the Tour de Ski, but with two post-Tour sprint races, in Liberec, Czech Republic, and Sochi, Russia that Sargent may race, she will have a chance to move up.
Next period she will drop just two points off the back-end from last year’s period II.
Perianne Jones (CAN) is 33rd on the sprint list another three points behind Sargent, and like the American, will not start the Tour.
On the positive side of the Red Group 30, Kikkan Randall leads the charge, ranked 1st on the sprint list, one of just two women to score World Cup points in every race covered.
Canadians Chandra Crawford in 19th and Dasha Gaiazova in 25th join Randall in the top-30.
On the distance side Randall is 7th, Jessie Diggins 25th and Liz Stephen 29th, with Brooks the next closest in 41st.
Gaiazova and Jones are the only Canadian women with World Cup distance points in the last year, but with a total of 12 points between the two, neither is in contention for the top-30.
Diggins is also ranked 36th on the sprint list with 64 points. Making the cut on both lists is advantageous, as sprint and distance World Cup events are considered separately. For example, a skier in the distance Red Group will not have expenses covered for a sprint-only World Cup weekend.
Devon Kershaw (CAN) leads the North American men on the distance list, ranking second despite a slow start to the season. Teammate Alex Harvey is 11th.
Ivan Babikov (CAN), however, just missed, and is ranked 31st, eight points from 30th.
The top Americans are Noah Hoffman in 42nd, and Kris Freeman in 45th. The pair stand with 97 and 96 points respectively.
Len Valjas (CAN) is 52nd, primarily on the strength of his strong World Cup finals last season.
In sprinting, Andy Newell (USA) is 9th, Kershaw 11th, Valjas 12th and Harvey 15th.
They are joined by Simi Hamilton (USA) in 29th.
Other rankings provide no immediate return, but hold more cachet at the end of the season. World Cup overall, Sprint and Distance Cups and Nations Cup are all based only on the current season.
The following is a quick summary of the top North Americans in each category.
World Cup Overall Men:
27. Babikov (CAN)
28. Newell (USA)
30. Hoffman (USA)
Distance Cup Men:
19. Babikov (CAN)
20. Hoffman (USA)
27. Freeman (USA)
Sprint Cup Men:
6. Newell (USA)
19. Valjas (CAN)
24. Jesse Cockney (CAN)
World Cup Overall Women:
2. Randall (USA)
19. Sargent (USA)
20. Brooks (USA)
25. Stephen (USA)
Distance Cup Women:
5. Randall (USA)
14. Brooks (USA)
20. Stephen (USA)
Sprint Cup Women:
1. Randall (USA)
12. Sargent (USA)
15. Jones (CAN)
18. Crawford (CAN)
23. Gaiazova (CAN)
25. Sophie Caldwell (USA)
Nation Cup Overall (Men+Women):
Nation Cup Women:
Nation Cup Men: