Oberhof, Germany – The 2010 Tour de Ski kicks off tomorrow with the 2.5/3.75km freestyle prologue. Despite rain today, the course is in excellent shape, and organizers are expecting it to be hard and fast tomorrow.
88 men and 74 women are scheduled to start. The prologue is an interval start, and the non-traditional distance makes for interesting results. Too long to be a sprint, and shorter, by far than any distance race on the circuit, this event sets the stage for the Tour. Saturday’s 10/15km classic race is a pursuit based on the standings of the prologue.
Last year 51 women and 66 men started, so the field is significantly larger.
Claudia Nystad (GER) has owned this race, winning it all three years of the Tour. She should challenge for the victory again, battling the usual suspects Justyna Kowalczyk (POL), Petra Majdic (SLO), and Aino Kaisa-Saarinen (FIN).
A handful of top women are not competing – Marit Bjoergen (NOR), Charlotte Kalla (SWE), Anna Haag (SWE), Kristin Smigun-Vähi (EST) and Irina Khazova (RUS) will all spend the time preparing for the Olympics.
The men’s race is wide open, but the longer distance will disadvantage the sprint specialists. Look for Petter Northug (NOR) to set the pace. He will be challenged by any of a number of distance racers, including Marcus Hellner (SWE) and Axel Teichmann (GER).
Swedes Anders Soedergren and Johann Olsson will not start.
With rule changes to allow skiers to keep their points and prize money if they drop out, expect significantly more attrition than in past years, Especially after the second sprint in Prague.
American Andy Newell and Canadians Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey, George Grey, Ivan Babikov, and Sara Renner will all start.
Newell plans on withdrawing after the Prague sprint.
Predictions – Tour de Ski Prologue
Predictions – Overall Tour de Ski
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.