Di Centa, Giorgio
Piller Cottrer, Pietro
Follis is in good form this season and likely the main overall contender amongst the Italian women, although Valbusa is an experienced campaigner and can't be discounted.
Follis excelled in the Sprint events in the 2006/2007 Tour, taking two podium finishes, but also skied a very solid 8th fastest time on the Final Climb to end up 16th overall. Valbusa was also strong (5th fastest) on the Final Climb, however both she and Follis lost too much time on the Classic mass start the day before to threaten the top ten.
With the configuration of the Tour this year Follis could well be in the top five or even better after the first four stages. But it won't be until after the Classic stages that we will see if she is capable of finishing the Tour within the first 10.
Moroder and Genuin have their best chance to feature in the Tour in the Sprint events. Confortola could be a dark horse in this Tour. She prefers the longer cross country skiing distance events, but is also a very good mountain runner and has her eyes set on the Final Climb up Alpes Cermis. It may be too late by then for Confortola to have any impact on the top of the overall classification, but it will be interesting to see how many people she can overtake on the last stage.
Italy has a very strong men's team, with Piller Cottrer, Di Centa and Checchi all contenders for the overall classification; and Zorzi, Pasini, and Schweinbacher some of the strongest freestyle sprinters. Zorzi is also handy in a pack sprint if he can be close the front in one of the Pursuit stages. While Italy's distance World Cup form started a little slow this season, there were good signs for Piller Cottrer (3rd), Checchi (4th) and Di Centa (13th) in the 30km Freestyle World Cup in Rybinsk.
One problem for the Italian men is that their preparation has not been ideal. As most are employed by the various forms of Italian police force, it was mandatory for them to compete in the Italian championship last weekend. Coach Marco Selle believes that they have not had time to recover properly since Rybinsk; regardless they will do their best and we will see if it is good enough.
The interesting thing about the male Italian sprinters is that they are all fairly handy distance skiers as well, and will have no problems with the time cut-offs. Of the overall contenders, Di Centa probably has the best chance of picking up time bonuses in the Sprint events.
With the exception of Chebotko in the Sprint events Kazakstan hasn't demonstrated anything extraordinary this season. Antonova hasn't been able to break into the top 30 on World Cup this season and will need to find some special form if she is to make an impact on this year's Tour de Ski. Of the men, first year senior Poltaranin was 24th in the 15km Classic in Kuusamo, and could perhaps make a top 20 Stage result in the Tour if everything goes his way. Odnodvortsev and Cherepanov will need a big turn around in form to make it into the top 30. Which leaves Chebotko as potentially Kazakstan's shining light for the Tour. The 25 year old is a regular World Cup sprint finalist, and easily fast enough in the distance events not to struggle with the cut-off times. With many of the sprint specialists from World Cup absent, this could be Chebotko's chance to get some good World Cup points and perhaps have a crack at some A-finals.
Jacobsen Uhrenholdt, Astrid
Steira Stoermer, Kristin
Stemland MÃ¼hrer, Kristin
Dahl, John Kristian
Gjerdalen, Tord Asle
Hetland, Tor Arne
Svartedal, Jens Arne
On paper Norway has the best combined team going into this Tour. Their women's team is incredibly strong, with the top three skiers on the current World Cup ranking. Jacobsen has really stepped up this year, winning her first distance World Cup in Rybinsk and finishing second in three other events. 2006-2007 Tour de Ski runner-up Bjoergen has two World Cup wins and opted out of Rybinsk in order to prepare for the Tour, while Skofterud is experiencing a return to her best ever form and was unlucky not to win the 10km Classic World Cup in Davos, going down to Kuitunen just at the end of the race. And that's not even the end of it. Steira has one World Cup podium this season, and with a Stage win and the second fastest time up the Final Climb in the 2006-2007 Tour can't be overlooked. Still a junior, Johaug already has a 30km Classic World Championship bronze medal and a World Cup Pursuit bronze medal to her name. Even Muhrer Stemland took a 7th place in the 15km Freestyle World Cup in Rybinsk. With those sort of odds, surely Norway will have at least one women on the podium in the overall classification, and probably a couple on top of the Sprint ranking as well. Who will it be?
In comparison to the German team the top three Norwegian men have much greater potential to pick up bonus time from the sprints. Ostensen, Northug, and Hetland were 3rd, 4th and 5th overall in the 2006-2007 Tour, and 3rd, 4th and 1st on the sprint ranking. Ostensen and Northug haven't demonstrated their best form so far this season, but in contrast Hetland is in great shape. Winning the 30km Freestyle in the Rybinsk World Cup and backing up the next day to take 4th in the Sprint (behind sprint specialists who are not starting in the Tour), Hetland is definitely one of the men to watch in this Tour. Let's not forget about Roenning, currently 5th on the overall World Cup ranking, or Svartedal and Helmeset, who can both win Classic World Cup events when on fire. Depending on how they are sitting in the overall classification, these last two may save themselves to work for the rest of the team in the Stage 7 20km Classic mass start event. Gjerdalen is also a handy distance skier in both classic and free technique, and may sacrifice himself for the good of the team if necessary.
This leaves Kjoelstad and Dahl as the two specialist sprinters in the Norwegian ranks, who will both be looking for nothing short of the podium in the two Freestyle Sprints. One of the mottos of the Norwegian sprinter is â€œNever give wayâ€. The question is — if they are in the finals against Hetland or Northug, will they hold back to let one of the overall contenders take the extra bonus seconds?
With Kowalczyk as the sole Polish competitor at least the service team will know where to focus their attention. Kowalczyk is a very good all-round skier and a definite contender for the Top 10 in the Tour de Ski. She is currently sitting in 11th place on the World Cup rankings, with one podium finish from the 10km Classic in Kuusamo. She was also 11th in the 2006-2007 Tour, though uncharacteristically failed to do well in the Sprint events. Kowalczyk will need to pick up more bonus seconds this year if she is to have a chance on making it into the top 5.