The Tour is done another year and most athletes will start to look forward to the Olympics while some have their sights on more immediate races that will be taking place in Otepaa this coming weekend. Numerous athletes have yet to qualify to represent their country and this is their last chance to prove their worthiness. It should be another great weekend of racing. Arguably, my favourite race took place in Otepaa back in the 2005-2006 season when Bjorn Lind was at the height of his sprinting powers. In the final, he absolutely destroyed the field by such a margin that he was able to bow to the crowd on the home straight. You can check out the race for yourself on youtube. Four years after that win, he will go to Otepaa to fight it out with his teammates to punch his ticket to Vancouver.
This years edition of the Tour de Ski saw record numbers of participants, but also record numbers of drop-outs. A total of 42 female athletes completed the Tour out of the 74 that started 10 days ago in Oberhof. That equates to 57% of the athletes completing all eight stages while the men’s side had an even worse ratio as 39 of the 88 men finish…a mere 44%. The Olympics and Otepaa obviously had their say on the amount of drop-outs due to racers choosing – smartly – to prioritize those races instead.
Langrenn.com has gone about doing some confidence padding calling Northug the king of this years Tour and how he won the hearts of Norwegians. Also, another article has raised questions about the rules of the Tour, citing there aren’t anough bonus seconds. I’m sure if Northug had won, this wouldn’t topic even be discussed. There are many different views on this but the response of Norway’s sports director Åge Skinstad says it all, “I will not talk about it now. Then it sounds as if I am a bad loser.” At the end of the day Bauer was the fastest skier over the past 10 days and it’s as simple as that. If you compare how many bonus seconds Northug (136 seconds) racked up compare to Bauer (60 seconds), Northug had 76 seconds of additional help to win the Tour but he didn’t deliver. Had no bonus seconds been awarded in this years Tour, the final standings would’ve looked like this…
1. Lukas Bauer 4:14:10.6
2. Jean Marc Gaillard +1:26.6
3. Dario Cologna +1:42.2
4. Rene Sommerfeldt +2:01.4
5. Marcus Hellner +2:03.4
6. Daniel Rickardsson +2:25.3
7. Petter Northug +2:32.4
8. Ivan Babikov +2:36.8
9.Georgio Di Centa +2:43.4
10.Axel Teichmann +3:10.0
So how many more bonus seconds should be introduced if the Norwegian’s had their way? Well even if Northug had qualified and won the Prague sprints (which was unlikely due to the form of Jönsson), he still would’ve needed another 16 seconds on top of the Prague sprint bonus to overtake Bauer.
Some have suggested to add bonus seconds to the pursuits. I think this is a bad idea and tilts the playing field unfairly. It would be like “making the rich richer while the poor get poorer” in terms of athletics. It would essentially make it easier for those in the lead to make their lead even bigger while those who were chasing fell further behind.
Others argue that sprinters don’t have a chance because of the format, but one has to remember the roots of cross-country skiing and that sprinting is something realtively new to this sport. Skiing was never an all out sprint that was over only 1-2kms. I think next years version of the Tour will be even better and I don’t believe that more bonus seconds should be handed out.
I think there was an ample amount of bonus seconds up for grabs in this Tour and if someone of Northug’s calibre can’t win the Tour by having that many bonus seconds on his competitors..tough. Is Bauer the best all-rounder? Not a chance, Northug still holds that crown, but Bauer is easily the best distance skier in the world right now and his achievements over the past two days of distance racing is frightening for those who will be racing him in the near future.
In the World Cup overall standings, Northug now has a demanding lead over the rest of the athletes. Bauer is in seconds and 397 points adrift while Hellner rounds out the top three 433 points off of Northug.
On the womens side, Kowalczyk and Majdic are rather close with the Pole ahead of the Slovenian by only 67 points. Saarinen is in third and 300 points back of Kowalczyk.
On a more somber note, the Russian’s Alypov and Kuznetsov didn’t drop out of the Tour prior to stage 7. Reports from ski-nordique.net suggest that the two Russians were banned from the races due to hemoglobin levels above the allowed limit. Speculate what you will from that, all I know is that this will not help lift the doping cloud of suspicion off the Russian team.
Til Next Time.