The sole Austrian woman Katerina Smutna is a good all-round skier with top 20 World Cup results in both Sprint and Distance events, however has taken her best results in the Sprint events. Smutna doesn’t seem to have the form this season to be one of the top candidates for the overall ranking, but could definitely be in there fighting for places in the semi-finals of the Sprint events.
Hoffmann is the only overall Tour de Ski contender in the Austrian team. He has the long distance credentials, including two Olympic medals over 30km and 50km, and can win a freestyle World Cup race when in top form. However Hoffman’s form is inconsistent and he could potentially lose too much time in the classic distance events. If within striking distance going into the last Stage he could move up on the Final Climb – he was 8th fastest up Alpe Cermis in 2006/2007. Pinter may be able to provide some support in the Mass Start 20km Classic on Stage 7 if he is not too tired by then.
Stockinger and Wurm are Sprint specialists and rarely compete in World Cup over longer distances. If these two athletes manage to conserve some energy in the first two stages in Nove Mesto they could be finals material in the Sprint in Prague. After that it might be a tough task for them to make the time cut-off in the Stage 5 individual 15km Classic and be contenders in the Sprint in Asiago.
Canada only has a small team this year, with most of the Canadian athletes staying at home for the Canmore World Cups in January. However they are not coming to the Tour just to make up the numbers. Kershaw has emerged this season as a genuine all-round skier. He can ski classic and freestyle, sprint and distance, and could potentially come away with a win in the Tour prologue. With a fast start, a top 20 classic distance result under his belt from Kuusamo in November, and 12th place from the mass start freestyle in Russia, if things go his way Kershaw could even arrive in Val di Fiemme among the top 10 in the overall classification.
Nighbor is also a good all-round skier however at this stage of his career has had relatively limited World Cup experience. Most likely Nighbor will not feature seriously in this year’s Tour, though Canadian skiers have been consistently improving in recent years and anything is possible.
With Neumannova now retired the Czech women’s team no longer has any top 10 contenders on the World Cup circuit. However they have a young team and perhaps the home crowd for five of the Tour events will help to bring them to new heights. 23 year old Janeckova took a medal at the 2007 Under 23 Championship, and 19 year old Hajkova whas been top 10 at the World Junior Championship. Janeckova, Erbenova, and Hajkova have all scored World Cup points, so they know what to expect at this level of competition. Tolarova has shown some good sprint form at World Juniors and World University Games and could surprise.
In comparison to the women’s team the Czech men’s team is full of experience. Coming off their first ever World Cup relay win in Davos this month team confidence is high. Bauer and Koukal both know what it is like to win at the highest level. Magal has strengthened in recent years and is also now a top 10 World Cup contender. Sperl can also break into the top 10 on his day.
Bauer has returned to his best form this season and has emerged as one of the overall Tour favourites. He can perform in classic and freestyle, although is unlikely to pick up many points in the Sprint events. Koukal is more of a wild card. He can pick up sprint points when the conditions are tough and has the ability to pull a big performance out of his hat.
Kozisek is the specialist sprinter on the team, finishing 11th in the TDS Sprint ranking last season. Making the time cut-offs should not be a problem for Kozisek, and he may even be able to sneak a couple of points from the intermediate sprints in the distance events.
Thor Olsen, Jonas
Denmark’s entry of Jonas Thor Olsen was made at the last minute. Thor Olsen normally competes in a couple of distance World Cup events each year however has had some good results on the marathon circuit. Finishing the Tour de Ski will be a major achievement for him, as the 15 % time cut-off for the men is around where he has often finished on World Cup. Good luck!
The absence of Kristina Smigun this season has left a large gap in the Estonian’s women’s team. Mannima, Pormeister and Sirge haven’t been into the top 30 on World Cup this season. Mannima probably has the best chance to get a good result in the distance stages, while Sirge and Pormeister have their best opportunity to make a mark on the Tour in the Sprint events.
Estonia’s best known male skier Andrus Veerpalu returned to World Cup this year after an injury last season, however has decided to skip the Tour de Ski. This leaves Jaak Mae as Estonia’s main contender in the overall classification, with Kokk and Rehemaa there mostly to provide support. At 35 Mae is one of the oldest skiers on the Tour, and though his best season was probably 8 years ago he has had reasonable form this winter and could be an outside chance at the top 10.
Kummel, Narusk and Simonlatser may also be able to assist Mae in the Stage 7 Mass Start Classic in Val di Femme, however the main focus for these three will be the Sprint events on Stage 3 and Stage 6. Kummel and Simonlatser were in the finals in the opening Sprint in Munich last year, and Narusk was in the Sprint finals in Asiago. All were knocked out in the quarter-finals, and they will be aiming to improve this time around.
Finland has a compact yet very potent team for the 2007-2008. All six of their athletes, four women and two men, are serious contenders in the overall classification.
The Finnish women’s team is lead by Kuitunen, the reigning Tour de Ski winner and 2006-2007 World Cup champion. Though she has been sick for part of this season, when in top form Kuitunen can win over any distance and style. Kuitunen is backed up very capably by Roponen, Saarinen, and Muranen (formerly Manninen). Each scored World Cup points in at least five of the seven events this season, with Saarinen making the podium in the 10km Classic in Davos and Roponen making the podium in the 15km Freestyle in Rybinsk. Saarinin was a major player in the 2006-2007 Tour de Ski, taking bonus seconds regularly and only dropping from second to fourth overall on the Final Climb up Alpe Cermis. One of the strengths of the Finnish women is that they can all score points and time bonuses in the sprint events as well as distance events.
Jauhojarvi was one of the surprise packets in the 2006-2007 Tour de Ski, finishing 7th overall less than 40 seconds from second place. Nousiainen also skied a solid Tour, finishing in 23rd place. Both Finns are coming into the Tour this year in good form, with Jauhojarvi making the podium in the 15km Classic World Cup in Davos, and Nousiainen taking second place in the 30km Freestyle in Rybinsk. A little overshadowed by the women’s team in recent years, the Finnish men are ready to mark their mark on the 2007-2008 Tour de Ski.
Bourgeois Pin, Elodie
Philippot, Karine Laurent
Gaillard, Jean Marc
Philippot skied her way up to 12th place overall in the 2006-2007 Tour with the 6th fastest time on the Final Climb. Though Philippot’s World Cup results leading into the Tour haven’t been as good as last year, there has been time since Rybinsk to sharpen her form. Bourgeois Pin on the other hand has improved this year, scoring World Cup points twice. A top 20 result from the 25 year old Bourgeois Pin would be a good result. Wibel will be aiming mainly for the Sprint events — she made the semi-finals in the World Cup in Dusseldorf back in October, and will be looking to repeat or better that performance.
The French men have five overall contenders and two sprinters in their team. The distance skiers Vittoz, Gaillard, Jonnier, Perrillat, and Rousselet didn’t live up to high expectations in the 2006-2007 Tour de Ski, with only Vittoz’ Stage 2 Pursuit win and a disappointing 19th overall to show for their efforts. Vittoz, Gaillard and Jonnier have had top 10-15 results on World Cup this season. France has tended to have better results in freestyle technique in recent years, though Gaillard’s 10th place in the 15km Classic in Davos was a promising result against this trend. The Stage 2 and Stage 4 Freestyle Pursuit events should be good for the French team, and if they can minimise damage in the Stage 7 Classic Mass Start then it could be an interesting Final Climb on Stage 8.
23 year old Ambrosetti is a late inclusion to join 2006 Olympic silver medallist Darragon for the Sprint events. Darragon took third place in the opening Tour de Ski Sprint in Munich last year, however withdrew from the Tour in the Pursuit event the next day. This time both French sprinters will likely be keen to make it through to the second Sprint in Asiago.
Nystad KÃ¼nzel, Claudia
Sachenbacher Stehle, Evi
Sprinting is not the strength of the German men, however Angerer proved last year that it wasn’t necessary for the men to take sprint points in order to win the overall Tour de Ski. The line-up of Angerer, Filbrich, Goring, Sommerfeldt and Teichmann is impressive. Teichmann has two victories and one third place from the three distance World Cups he has contested this season, and could almost be considered the outright favourite. Angerer hasn’t shown the form he had last season, yet is still 8th on the overall World Cup ranking. With Goring and Filbrich 6th and 9th in the 2006-2007 Tour de Ski, and Sommerfeldt back in form with two top 5 World Cup results this season, this is a team to be reckoned with. Seifert is no slouch either, coming fresh from a victory on the OPA Continental Cup circuit.
The German team as a whole is taking the Tour very seriously. They are here to win the men’s overall classification, and will work together to support whichever of their top skiers is in the best position to win.
The German women have two top 10 contenders in their ranks, Sachenbacher Stehle and Nystad Kunzel. Sachenbacher Stehle has shown the best form this winter, and currently sits in 7th place on the overall World Cup ranking while Nystad Kuenzel is in 10th. In order to step up and make the podium both will need to pick up more Sprint time bonuses than they did in 2006-2007. Nystad Kuenzel will also need to be closer to the leaders in the two Classic events on Stage 5 and 7 — this was her weakness last time around.
Zeller has improved this season and taken her first World Cup top 10, however she and Boehler are probably not quite strong enough at the moment to trouble the main contenders in the overall classification. Top 20 would be a good result. Henkel’s best chances lie in the Sprint events, where she narrowly missed out on making the semi-finals in 2006-2007.