The Tour this year had some of the most impressive performances of the season, and due to the format changes, some races that were more exciting than expected. There were spills and thrills but at the end of the 10-days, there were two champions: Kowalczyk and Bauer. There were many other great performances by athletes so I give to you my top 10 performers of this years edition of the Tour de Ski:
10. Ivan Babikov – Perhaps my Canadian bias, but Babikov had grown quite the reputation as a skier that will put it all on the line. His skiing in the fifth stage to earn the fastest time of the day. He also had a very impressive race in the climb up Alpe Cermis to secure the fourth fastest time only 5.3 seconds off the win and a meager 2.8 seconds off of the podium. His ninth place overall is a great improvement on his 36th overall which he managed a year prior. A skier that has his best races in the skate technique, he’ll be a threat in Vancouver for the 30km pursuit if he is able to stay with the leaders and ski well within his abilities for the classic portion of the race.
9. Petra Majdic – The Slovenian has been on the Tour podium for past two seasons. She has also won the sprint rankings the same years. She won three stages this year, but was still unable to win the overall classification (sound familiar?). The combination of the skate technique and the painful climb up Alpe Cermis was kryptonite for the tall Slovenian. Unless she has a monumental lead going into the final stage, I have a hard time seeing her becoming victorious in this prestigious event due to her size and not her talent.
8. Emil Jönsson – He proved to be a dominant force this year and was leading the overall classification when he abandoned the Tour to concentrate on his Olympic preparations. With an unfortunate tangle up with Alypov in the final of the Oberhof sprint, he redeemed himself in Prague and had a phenomenal race in stage two skiing to the 10th best time of the day and taking the scalps of Northug, Teichmann, Cologna, and Legkov among others.
7. Kristin Størmer-Steira – The small Norwegian had a Tour to remember. She won the final stage but it was not enough to climb onto the podium for this years Tour de Ski. The highlight race had to be the stage three sprints in Oberhof where Størmer-Steira unexpectedly made it to the finals and finish fifth. Perhaps next year Størmer Steira will make the Tour podium as the first Norwegian female to do so since its inaugural year when Bjørgen claimed second overall.
6. Jean Marc Gaillard – Based on pure time (no bonus seconds) he was the seconds fastest skier in the Tour behind Bauer. Quietly went about his business and racked up two top five placings including the third fastest time up Alpe Cermis. I think he’s one of the most underrated skiers on the Tour as he has been skiing in the shadows of France’s ski star Vincent Vittoz, but as it stands right now he’s the best Frenchman on the circuit as he sits fifth overall in the World Cup standings.
5. Daniel Rickardsson – The Swedish men had a very strong performance in this year’s Tour and Rickardsson was a big part of that team. He had a breakthrough performance in stage six as the 27-year-old recorded his first ever World Cup victory. He surpassed everyone’s expectations and finished eighth overall in this years Tour which was an improvement on last years 24th overall placing.
4. Riitta-Liisa Roponen – After skiing for years in the shadows of Saarinen and Kuitunen. The likes of Roponen and Sarasoja showed how deep the Finnish ladies team is right now. Add in Muranen and it’s no surprise that they dominated the women’s Nations Cup last year. Roponen is coming into the best form of her life as the 11 year veteran of the circuit and showed great form as she skied to the seconds fastest time of the final stage, only three seconds behind Størmer Steira. The skate specialist turned in a very impressive sixth overall in this years Tour and looks to be an integral part of the women’s relay team for the Olympics.
3. Justyna Kowalczyk – We’ve all come to expect that Kowalczyk with throw down every race she enters. We saw this first hand at the Torino Olympics when she collapsed from exhaustion going up the final hill in the 10km classic and was unable to finish. The Pole is a true all-rounder, she is a threat whether the races is a sprint of a 30km in classic or skate. She had great performances and showed she deserved the title as she was on the podium four times in this years Tour.
2. Petter Northug – The 24 year old turned in five great podium finishes (three wins and two seconds places) and it looked like he was going to walk away with this years Tour. Was he burned out after he put so much effort into the early stages? Probably. Some chalked up his inability to win the Tour to a flaw in the way the bonus seconds were distributedwhile other stated it was simply fatigue that failed him. He was undoubtably the star of the first half of the Tour. He’s still easily the best male all-rounder to come along in the ski community for a while. But the amount of paper talk about how he should’ve won the Tour is getting ridiculous. If you strip it to the bare bone, Bauer was the faster skier; in fact, the Norwegian had the seventh fastest time when you take away all the bonus seconds. It’s been discussed greatly in the comments section of the previous post. Still, one of the most/if not THE most talented skiers in the world today.
1. Lukas Bauer – The Czech skier has slipped into a group of athletes I like to refer to as the “hard hat racers”. It includes those racers who roll up the sleeves and do what has to be done to try to win the race. Sometimes it pays off, but sometimes it doesn’t. In Bauer’s case, it’s more often than not. That’s why it’s so exciting to watch them cause the degree of predicitability is really low. These type of racers are my favorite. The ones that aren’t afraid to take the race by the throat and go until they can’t go anymore. The Babikov’s, Sodergren’s and Kowalczyk’s define this category for me and with Bauer’s performances in the final two stages, he’s proved a worthy candidate. He looked like he deserved to be in a class of his own and his performances have been described as “incredible” and “out of this world”. Skiers said he made it look so easy while some think he may be doped. I think it’s hard work paying off.
I know my list will probably be different from everyone elses, but I’d like to hear who your top 10 or even top 5 athletes/performances of this years Tour was. So hop on down to the comments section and share your opinion with me and the other readers.
Til Next Time.
P.S. If you happened to miss any of the races from this years Tour, you can now download all the races following the links in the media page.