Stockholm, Sweden – The end of the 2008/2009 World Cup season draws near as the World Cup Final and Nordic Cup gets underway in downtown Stockholm this afternoon.
The World Cup final consists of four races – a classic sprint today, a 2.5/3.3km freestyle on Friday, a 10/20km pursuit on Saturday, and a 10/15km handicap start on Sunday.
The event functions like a mini Tour de Ski, with the first across the line on Sunday the winner of the Nordic Cup. Substantial World Cup points are available, with 200 going to the overall winner, and 50 for the winners of each individual stage. The overall World Cup standings are extremely close right now, and much could change over the weekend.
In the women’s overall, Petra Majdic (SLO) holds a a 91 point lead over Justyna Kowalczyk (POL). Majdic remained in the driver’s seat with a come from behind win in the 30km mass start in Trondheim. Kowalczyk actually picked up ground in that race despite finishing second – she won 45 bonus points at intermediate sprints. Aino Kaisa Saarinen (FIN), who has led the overall standings for much of the season, is now 200 points back. It will be difficult for her to overcome this gap, but with the extra points available to the overall winner, it is not out of the question, and the format favors the Finn.
Majdic has already locked up the sprint title, and Kowalczyk would have to be out of the points in all remaining races to be threatened for the overall distance title.
The men’s race for the overall title is even closer. Petter Northug (NOR) overtook Dario Cologna (SUI) last weekend, capping a string of stellar performances with a hard-fought 5th in the 50km. Northug also picked up 45 bonus points at the intermediate sprints. He now leads Cologna by a mere 22 points. Sprinter Ola Vigen Hattestad (NOR) is well back in third, and is no threat on the top two.
The battle for the final overall podium spot is also quite close. Hattestad will probably fall out of that spot. Start lists for today’s sprint have not been released yet, but Hattestad would have to complete all four World Cup final races to earn points for the sprint. he has not raced a World Cup distance event this season.
Axel Teichmann (GER), Pietro Piller Cottrer (ITA), and Sami Jauhojaervi (FIN) are separated by just 28 points in places 4 through 6. Jauhojaervi, in 6th may have the best shot. He has proven to be strong in all distances and all techniques this season. But he and Piller Cottrer both fought hard in the 50km on Saturday, while Teichmann appeared to cruise for much of the race after falling off the pace earlier, and is likely more recovered.
Hattestad dominated World Cup sprinting this year, and is already the sprint champion. Piller Cottrer holds a 57 point lead over Cologna in the distance standings.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.