Retired Norweigan Olympic Medalist Vegard Ulvang is heading a group looking to implement an elite late-season ski event in the northern Barents region of Scandinavia and Russia. The Tour de Barents is set to debut at the tail end of the 2008-2009 cross-country season. The event is designed as a “mini” Tour de Ski. Athletes will compete in five races between April 4th and April 11th, including a 50km marathon – the Murmansk Ski Marathon.
The Barents region consists of the land bordering the Barents Sea – the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, and Finland, as well as the northwestern coast of Russia (see map below).
Ulvang told the Barents Observer that the event will not be part of the World Cup next year, but sees inclusion on that circuit as a possibility in the future.
The hope is that the world's best skiers will attend and cash prizes will be awarded to the top finishers.
The field will be limited to 55 athletes – 30 spots to the top World Cup athletes, 20 spots to the top Russian and Scandinavian skiers, and 5 spots on each day to the top local skiers. The local skiers will not be competing in the overall Tour, but will be eligible for daily prizes and bonuses.
Additionally, there will be a Junior competition that will parallel the main event in an effort to build the future of the sport and promote communication and collaboration among Barents' skiers. Five Junior skiers from each of of the Barents' nations (Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia) will compete. The planned prize for the top Junior is inclusion at a week-long camp with the winner's national team.
Mika MyllylÃ¤, the former Finnish star who was banned from the sport for two years as part of the doping scandal at the 2001 World Championships, is also involved in the planning of the event.
Writes Ulvang, “Fifteen years ago every one of the best cross-country skiers in the world ended their competition season in the Barents region. The Polar Cup events were world class competitions, and in Murmansk the Prazdnik Severa was the last race of the season for all the top skiers of Eastern European countries.
“Now is the time to relive this tradition. Many competition skiers and coaches, with extremely good memories, have expressed their wish to revisit the North for competition and training under the best possible winter conditions, during Arctic springtime.”
The Tour de Barents web site provides the following description of the event:
“The Tour springs into action amidst the 75th Anniversary celebrations of the traditional Festival of the North (Prazdnik Severa) in Murmansk, North-West Russia. After the first day’s prologue the athletes are challenged by the 50-km Murmansk Ski Marathon, which since 1999 has been part of the European long-distance ski race series 'Euroloppet'.
“The third Stage of the Tour will take place in Vads, a fascinating multicultural town on the Varanger Fjord in the far north-eastern corner of Norway. After Vads the Tour continues with sprint races in the fell highland resort of SaariselkÃ¤-Inari in Finnish Lapland.
“The winner of the overall Tour de Barents will be determined in Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland and home to Santa Claus. The final will be a pursuit race. After the first 5 kilometers, athletes will twice ascend the 520-meter slope up the Ounasvaara Fell (climb of 140 vertical meters). Only after this exciting double ascent will the athletes continue along the home straight to the finish line.”
The Tour de Barents is still under development and all aspects are subject to change.
The proposed schedule is as follows:
|Stage and Date||Venue||Race||Technique||Start method|
|Stage 1Saturday 4 April 2009||Murmansk Russia||PrologueWomen 3 kmMen 5 km||Classical||Individual|
|Stage 2Sunday 5 April 2009||Murmansk Russia||Marathon Women 50 kmMen 50 km||Free||Mass|
|Stage 3Tuesday 7 April 2009||VadsNorway||DistanceWomen 10 kmMen 15 km||Classical||Mass|
|Stage 4Thursday 9 April 2009||SaariselkÃ¤-InariFinland||SprintWomen 1,2 kmMen 1,4 km||Classical||Individual|
|Stage 5Saturday 11 April 2009||RovaniemiFinland||Pursuit and Ounasvaara Climb Women 5 km + climb + 5 km Men 5 km + climb + 10 km||Free||Pursuit|
Sources: tour-de-barents.com, FIS.com, Barents Observer