Oslo, Norway – The World Cup has moved to Oslo, the site of the 2011 World Championships, and Saturday’s 30/50km freestyle will be a preview of that event.
The Holmenkolen Ski Stadium has undergone a major renovation since the last World Cup races here in 2008. The biggest change is the new Ski Jump overlooking the city.
The women will race a single 5km lap and then three 8.3km loops. The men will ski the 8.3km loop six times. In recent years a 16.7km lap had been used.
Ski change rules will be in effect, with the women allowed two swaps and the men three. Intermediate bonus World Cup points will also be awarded – 15, 10, and 5 points will be given to the top-3 at various distances. The women will have three opportunities to earn points, at 8km, 16.3km, and 24.6km. The men have five chances – 11.3km, 19.6km, 27.9km, 36.2km, and 44.5km.
The fields are strong and deep, with Olympic standouts Petter Northug and Marit Bjoergen both competing in front of the home crowd. Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) and Virpi Kuitunen (FIN), however, are both missing from the women’s race.
With Kowalczyk on the sidelines, Bjoergen is the clear favorite in the 30km. She has been on fire for the last month, and is in perhaps the best form of her career. Victory at historic Homenkolen will not come easily though. Charlotte Kalla (SWE), one of the best skaters in the world leads a the challengers. Her teammate Anna Haag, Aino Kaisa Saarinen (FIN) and Kristin Stoermer Steira (NOR) will also be in the hunt. Kristina Smigun (EST) also return to the World Cup for the first time following the Olympics, and is strong in the longer distances.
The US starts three skiers – Morgan Arritola, Caitlin Compton, and Liz Stephen. Stehpen is looking to regain her early season form after struggling at the Olympics. Both Arritola and Compton are capable of posting top-30 results, but with a strong Norwegian Nations Group, places will be hard to come by.
No Canadian women will start.
Following Wednesday’s sprint in Drammen, Northug was not a sure thing to start the 50, but he decided to go for it, and immediately becomes the favorite. Dario Cologna (SUI) will not race. He has been battling a sinus infection and will race the Engadin Ski Marathon on Sunday.
With the exception of Cologna, the top of the field will closely resemble the group that battled for medals in Whistler. Lukas Bauer (CZE), Axel Teichmann (GER), Marcus Hellner (SWE), and Jean Marc Gaillard, among many others will fight with Northug at the front.
Canada starts a strong contingent with Ivan Babikov, Devon Kershaw, ALex Harvey, and George Grey, all looking to repeat their Olympic successes. Graham Nishikawa also gets the call.
The US is led by James Southam. Brian Gregg and Mike Hinckley will get some additional World Cup experience in the tough 70-man field.
1. Marit Bjoergen
2. Charlotte Kalla
3. Kristin Stoermer Steria
1. Petter Northug
2. Marcus Hellner
3. Giorgio DiCenta
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.