All is set for the start of the 2007-2008 Tour de Ski. Snow conditions are good, the weather is stable and waxing is expected to be relatively easy. The Stage 1 Prologue is a short interval start classic race, 3km for women and 4.5km for men. A new starting system is being used for the first time. The athletes are seeded according to World Cup ranking, with the leaders going off last – the same as currently used in interval start races on the World Cup. The first skiers, however, will start at 20 second intervals and the top 30 ranked competitors will start at one minute intervals. The intention is that the television cameras will able to focus more on the highest ranked athletes. Some coaches have expressed concern that some of the earlier starters could get â€œa rideâ€ to a better result if they are caught by a faster skier from behind, while the last 30 skiers will essentially ski the race entirely alone. As this format has not been used before, we will not know until after the races are over.
As these race distances are not used on World Cup it is difficult to predict the Prologue winners, particularly for the men. With the women, most of the top sprinters are also the top distance skiers, so the usual suspects such as Bjoergen and Jacobsen from Norway, Kuitunen, Saarinen and Muranen from Finland, and Madic from Slovenia will likely be prominent. Prochazkova from Slovakia could be an outside chance to make the top 5. Rest assured there will not be many seconds separating the top 20.
With the men, will it be the top sprinters or distance skiers who will be prominent? There has been some speculation about Kershaw from Canada, who is regularly a fast starter in the distance events and had a great start to the Tour last year, finishing second in the opening Sprint. Mats Larsson from Sweden could be a good bet, and Chebotko from Kazakstan could surprise. However, it is hard to look past the stack of Norwegians who are very fast classic sprinters, including Hetland, Roenning, Svartedal and Hjelmeset. One thing is for sure — whoever wins the Prologue will have a large pack of eager skiers massing behind them when they start the Stage 2 Pursuit the next day.