The 2010 Tour is shaping up to be incredibly close and it is likely that the winner will not be decided until the last kilometers of the climb.
Early leader and favorite in the men’s event, Petter Northug (NOR), faltered in the skate sprint, and slipped in the standings. Northug said he was tired during the classic sprint, in which he still managed 2nd, but then failed to qualify for the heats in yesterday’s race.
He is now 5th, but while the official standings list him as 47.3 seconds off the lead, Emil Joensson (SWE) the overall leader, has withdrawn form the Tour, passing the red bib to teammate Marcus Hellner. Hellner is only 2.5 seconds ahead of Northug.
“Now we start at zero again,” said Northug.
There are currently six skiers listed within 17 seconds of Hellner, but three of them have also dropped out, leaving Hellner, Simen Oestensen (NOR), Northug, Dario Cologna (SUI) and Axel Teichmann (GER) battling for the top spot. Cologna, Northug, and Teichmann took the top three spots in last year’s Tour.
Additionally, there are another seven skiers within one minute of the lead, and as we have witnessed in the past, anything can happen on the brutal climb up the Alpe Cermis. TOp distance skiers Lukas Bauer (CZE) and Giorgio DiCenta (ITA), despite being further back, cannot be counted out. Tobias ANgerer (GER) is also still in the hunt.
We know that the Italians Giorgio Di Centa and Pietro Piller Cottrer will go fast in the last hill. We must keep up the pace so that it costs much energy to take us back,” said Northug.
Saarinen Leads Women
The women’s field is not quite as tight, but the Tour is far from decided. Aino Kaisa Saarinen (FIN) holds a 25 second lead over Justyna Kowalczyk (POL). Petra Majdic (SLO) and Arianna Follis (ITA) another five seconds back.
With the next race another pursuit, it is very possible that the chase pack will be able to close on Saarinen.
Norwegian Kristin Stoermer Steira is 5th with the withdrawal of Natalia Korosteleva (RUS). She failed to qualify for the sprint heats in Prague, but is still only 1:13 down on Saarinen, and has been skiing very well.
Her teammate Marit Bjørgen, at home training for the Olympics, feels Steira has a good shot at the podium.
“I think Kristin can take 30-45 seconds, maybe as much as a full minute, from Saarinen on the final mountain climb. As I see it, Kristin has a very good chance of winning. She is certainly a good position with regard to the podium,” said Bjørgen.
Pursuit Provides Little Opportunity for Gain
Tomorrow’s pursuit will not provide much opportunity for anyone to break away. Both men and women will race a point to point course, with the women covering 16km and the men 35.
The women’s course loses 200 meters of elevation, making the chance of a break-away very slim. The big question will be whether or not Saarinen can hold onto her gap.
The men’s course is more challenging as they climb up to the women’s start before descending to Toblach. But the last 15km of elevation loss means that the field should be very tight at the finish.
Distance All the Way, But Sprinting Still to Factor
Sprinting in the Tour is over, though the women will race a 5km and the men 10km on Thursday. These distances are no longer contested (outside of the relays) on the World CUp circuit. This individual start race will be followed by a 10/20km Mass Start and then the FInal Climb.
With the pursuit, short individual start race, and then a mass start, the skiers event is being set up to create a tight field for the last day.
Despite the fact that there are no more sprints, sprint points could tip the balance. Bonus seconds will be awarded during the Mass Start race – significant seconds are available – 15,10,5 for the top three at 3.3 and 6.6km for the women and 3.3, 6.6, 9.9, 13.2 and 15.5km for the men. Bonus seconds will also be awarded at the finish.
This should create the potential for hard racing and significant maneuvering.
Majdic currently leads the women’s Tour sprint cup. Saarinen is second, 19 seconds back with Follis in a virtual tie.
Sweden’s Teodor Peterson leads the men’s sprint rankings with the withdrawal of Joensson. Oestensen is 2nd, eight seconds back, and Hellner is just another two seconds behind him.
Norway currently leads the Tour Team Standings, 1:11 ahead of Russia. The top two men and women for each nation form each race count toward these standings. With all the withdrawals, the rankings could change dramatically. Finland, currently in third, has a chance ot make up ground over the next four days.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.