Tomorrow sees the start of the fourth annual Tour de Ski. Oberhof, Germany is the location of the first two stages and will be the first time the 10-day competition has taken place in an Olympic year. Subsequently, some big names will not be taking part as they have prioritized the Olympics and the preparation more vital than competing in the Tour. Still, both fields will be heavily packed with talent. I can’t see anyone upsetting the favorites; Northug and Kowalczyk, with the form that both are currently in. The current odds for the two are 1.85 and 2.05 respectively. However, the bookmakers have generous odds on such skiers as Størmer-Stiera (17.00) and Legkov (13.00). You can find a list of all the odds for the Tour de Ski winners here.
Though Northug has enormous pressure on him as many expect him to win, he has been rather humble saying that he fears the Russians most, especially Legkov and Vylegzhanin, but says that he has to be aware of Cologna’s ability to race any distance in either technique. Northug’s plan is to have at least a one minute lead on everyone before the final climb up Alpe Cermis. I guess we’ll have to wait and find out if he’ll be able to build on his second, third, and eighth placings in the previous editions of the Tour.
Here are my predictions for the Tour de Ski.
1. Petter Northug
2. Alexander Legkov
3. Dario Cologna
1. Justyna Kowalczyk
2. Aino-Kaisa Saarinen
3. Kristin Størmer-Stiera
In other news, Vassili Rotchev will not be on Russia’s Tour de Ski or Olympic teams. According to skisport.ru, the races for team selection was the Krasnogorsk races. Rotchev had just had an operation due to appendicitis and was unable to races, thus not qualifying. It’s too bad since Rotchev has been such a great ambassador for Russia skiing over the years, especially in the past couple as there has been a cloud of suspicion hanging over the Russian ski federation.
On a more positive note, the Canadian national team got some good news as head coach Inge Bråten will be back in time for the Tour de Ski after successful hip replacement surgery. This should greatly increase the team’s spirit heading into the new racing period.
Over on the official Tour website, Vegard Ulvang has good article discussing how individuals view the radical changes to cross-country skiing over the past 20 years from the same race day in and day out dominated by only a couple names to being a multi-national sport where no one is ever sure who will win the next race. He also goes on to say:
…one of the most important proposals on the agenda at the Cross-Country Committee meetings in May will be the introduction of a new multi-stage event over three days in the beginning of the season (November). The first racers to cross the finish line on Sunday will be the winners of the first weekend and immediately bring the focus to the fight for the overall World Cup.
I personally think that this would be a great idea. All the athletes would have relatively fresh legs due to being so early in the season and it would definitely put an emphasis on the World Cup Overall as some big points would be immediately up for grabs. Some athletes could put a big gap on the competitors with a good showing.The spotlight could also be shone on emerging talents such as those handfuls of Norwegians and Swedes trying to make their respective national team. Also, due to the timing, the “mini-tour” wouldn’t interfere with those World Championship or Olympic years since it’s so early in the season. We’ll have to wait until May to see what the verdict is.
Tomorrow will see the prologue to kick off the Tour. It can be argued that it is the toughest distance of them all (2.8km for women and 3.7km for men) ; where we see both sprint and distance specialist struggle with the same dilemma… it’s too short to pace and too long to go 100% from the start line. It’ll be interesting to see who gets across the finish line only to crumple into a heap of exhausted athlete. One thing is clear though, Axel Teichmann loves this distance as he has finish first and second in the two previous years. Here are my predictions:
1. Dario Cologna
2. Axel Teichmann
3. Alexander Legkov
1. Justyna Kowalczyk
2. Arianna Follis
3. Anna Haag
Til Tomorrow, Happy New Years!