Continental CupRacingSuperTour Finals Preview and Predictions

Avatar Topher SabotMarch 25, 20102
Kikkan Randall leads up the last rise during yesterday's 30km at US Distance Nationals.

The SuperTour Finals fits into a relatively new genre of competition – that of “mini-tour.”  The term derives from the Tour De Ski, the multi-stage World Cup event featuring eight races in ten days.  And while World Cup points are awarded for each individual race (half points actually), the big prize is the overall title.

The success of the Tour on the global stage has led to the concept of the mini-tour, a similar format usually consisting of three races in three days.  The recently concluded World Cup Finals is an example of just such an event, and the OPA Cup Finals in Slovenia, another iteration.

Read more about the importance of this new format here.

Skiers must complete all three events to be eligible for the overall.  In a break from the standard Tour format, skiers will be allowed to enter one or two races if they choose.

Breaking News:  Ivan Babikov has reported that he is feeling sick.  If Babikov is not in top form, or does not race, it will have a major impact on the results.  Of course he is known for his toughness, and won the Final Climb at the Tour de Ski a year ago when sick.

Mass Start

The US version starts Friday with a classic mass start event 7.6km for women and 10.9km for men.  As is standard practice in the mini-tour format, bonus seconds will be awarded at various intermediate points throughout the race.

The mass start races are very short for that format, so it is likely that the field will stay tight at the front and the bonus seconds will be critical in the overall standings.

The 4.3km main loop features one large extended climb nearly 1.5km in length, and one of the bonus preems will be awarded at the top of this hill.  The men’s race features three preems, at 3km, 6.3km and 9.6km.  The women’s race has two bonus sprints, at 3km and 6.3km.

15,10 and 5 seconds will be subtracted from the overall time for the top-3 at each preem.

It will be interesting to see how the bonus seconds will impact race strategy.  On the World Cup, they have generally led to more exciting races with more attacks and counters.  It is likely we will see similar action tomorrow, and given the short race distances, an attack for the preem could turn into a full break away.

Ivan Babikov (CAN) is the heavy favorite to win overall honors this weekend.

The fields are large and highly competitive.  World Cup skiers Ivan Babikov, Andy Newell and Torin Koos headline the men’s field, but will be pushed hard by a number of domestic racers.

Koos has been sick this spring, and did not travel to Europe, so his form is unknown.  Newell and Babikov have been racing a ton and fatigue could be an issue.

Babikov won yesterday’s 50km US National Championship event, while Newell did not start.  The two skiers are polar opposites, with Newell a world-class sprinter, and Babikov a top-10 World Cup distance skier.

Newell’s distance racing has vastly improved this season, and he will be looking to stay with the leaders in preparation for the sprint on Saturday, while Babikov needs to get as much cushion as possible as is sprinting is weak to say the least.

Tad Elliot, the Naitonal Champion in the 50k is coming off a very successful season and will be in the mix.  The list goes on form there – James Southam, Lars Flora, Gord Jewett, Simi Hamilton, Brian Gregg, Garrott Kuzzy, Frederic Touchette, Brent McMurtry, and Len Valjas to name just a few.  Patrick Weaver, former Olympian, and current UVM assistant coach will join the fray, as will former UVM standout Juergen Uhl.  It will be interesting to see how they fare against the current crème de la crème of North American ski racing.

Young David Norris, who leapt into the national spotlight with his performance in Anchorage in the 30k, is also worth keeping an eye on.

This is the most elite field for a US race of the season, and it is hard to pick favorites.  Gregg has been racing in Europe, and should be confident.  But Kuzzy and Hamilton are more rested…

And again, the short distance does create even more uncertainty.

The one thing that you can count on is that if he is recovered, Babikov will attack on the big climb and try to get away.  Whether or not he succeeds is another question.  The rest of the field should stay tight and battle for the bonus seconds.

The women’s field is just as impressive.  Kikkan Randall, Rebeccas Dussault, Holly Brooks, Caitlin Compton, Brooke Gossling and Kristina Strandberg will do battle in Madawaska.

Randall is definitely the favorite.  She is a top-20 World Cup skier in distance events, and is skiing very well right now.

She has also been racing a ton and just arrived from Europe to boot.  She won the 30km and is stronger as the distance gets shorter.  Look for her to ski at the front and use her superior sprinting speed to collect bonus seconds and the overall win.

It won’t come easily, however, and it is unlikely that she will be able to break away completely.  Many of the women have unfinished business after a very hard 30k where things got rough as the finish approached.  No one will be settling for second.

As with the men’s event, the short distance and bonus sprints will make for an exciting and close race.

On top of that, this should be an excellent opportunity for good FIS points.  The times will be close, and the presence of the World Cup skiers, as long as they are at the top of the result sheet, will make for a good base.

In addition to the bonus seconds, there is a preem of $250 at the 1km mark, ensuring there will be no relaxed skiing out of the start.  1st, 2nd and 3rd receive $250, $150, 1n2 $100 respectively.

Sprint

Andy Newell recently took home 4th place in the overall Sprint Cup (Photo: Kikkan Randall)

The classic sprint is a little more straightforward.  There is no question that Newell and Randall or the favorites.

Newell is coming off his first World Cup podium in the event, and is fit and fast.  Koos would normally be considered a challenger, but his health raises questions.

The biggest threat to Newell is most likely Hamilton, who raced very well at both the Olympics and in the Oslo World Cup in the classic sprint, and should be in the final.

After that it is another crapshoot.  Kuzzy is always a force in a US sprint, and based on the results at US Nationals in Anchorage, where the final was made up of young, relatively (and relative is the operative word here) unknown skiers, there could be many surprises.

Look for Len Valjas of Canada to be in the mix.  He has been skiing very well and has the speed to reach the final.

Randall set a career-best in the Olympics, finishing 8th in the classic sprint, and followed up with a 2nd in the skate sprint in Oslo.  She is rolling now, and the women’s sprinting field in the US is not as strong as the distance racers, so it is unlikely anyone will be able to hang with Kikkan.

The usual suspects of Brooks, Dussault, Gosling and Compton should be contending for the podium, but don’t count out Ida Sargent, a ripping fast sprinter who skied very well at U23 Championships.

Sargent could easily take the 2nd spot behind Randall.

Like the European tours, bonus points are awarded to all sprinters qualifying for the heats.  The race winner receives 60, down to 1 for 30th place.

With just three events, and both distance races quite short, these bonuses will be huge.

The big question in the men’s race will be whether or no Babikov can qualify.  He needs to have a good race to keep his chances in the overall alive.

In an interesting and fun variation, the top qualifier in both races receives a $250 bonus.  Race winners will get the same prize money as in the mass start.

Hill Climb

Tad Elliot (USA) racing earlier this year at the U23 Championships, Hinterzarten, Germany - 15km Classic.

Sunday marks the final day of racing, and as in the Tour de Ski, racers get to tackle a major climb.  The Maine version is a bit easier, but should provide plenty of suffering.

The men race 7.5km, the women 5.3.

Both courses feature rolling terrain over the first portion of the race.  The women ski roughly 2k before hitting the climb, while the men do nearly 4.5.  There is a rolling gradual descent over the kilometer approaching the hill.

The climb itself is not long, just over 1 kilometer long, but gains 125 meters of elevation in that time.

In an interesting adaptation, the race does not end at the top.  Another 2 kilometers of rolling terrain awaits skiers at the summit.  This will  definitely impact race strategy, as simply hammering the climb may not be the wisest of choices.

The race is a handicap start meaning racers will start in order of the current overall standings.  The shorter climb and rolling terrain on the rest of the course will make it more likely that sizable leads will hold up, but there should be plenty of action where the field is compressed.

Babikov is the clear favorite in the men’s event.  He won the Final Climb in the Tour de Ski last season, and was 5th this year.  He is one of the best pure climbers in the world.  The big question will be if there is enough climb for him to come back after the sprint., but the “man of the day” should go to him (skier with the fastest time).

Newell should like the short distance, and the somewhat individual nature of the race, and Elliot, if continues to ski well, could make the podium for the day.  But again, any of a dozen or more men should be in the mix.

Randall is an obvious pick on the women’s side.  The 5.3km distance will suit her well, and her fitness is a step above the rest.  Her body just needs to hold on for one last race after a grueling month.

Compton will also be very strong – she is a better skater, and had an impressive 14th on the notoriously hilly Canmore World Cup course.

An unknown is Japanese World Cup skier Chisa Obayashi.  The veteran of the 2005 World Championships, Obayashi’s results have been on par with the likes of Brooks and Dussault.  She has never cracked the top-30 on the World Cup, so it is unlikely she will challenge Randall.

Overall

As this is the first time most of these skiers have raced a mini-tour event, predictions are tough.  If Babikov can stay close enough in the sprint, he should be in position to take the lead on the last day.  He will be gunning for every second in the mass start, and no one is tougher.

Newell should make some time on the sprint, and will be in position for the podium.  After that it is wide open, but given the short formats, I believe the sprint will hold extra importance.  The difference between any two places is not significant, but a skier in the top-5 of that event will gain big time on the back of the top-30 and those who do not qualify.  For that reason, Simi Hamilton is my pick for 3rd.

Brent McMurtry has not received any hype so far here, but the Canadian is an excellent all-rounder, and could be in the top-5 in any event, putting him in position for the overall podium.

For the women, it is all Kikkan.  She is the best in each event, so the only thing that will derail her is fatigue or illness.

Compton is a stronger skater, so the first two classic races will be a challenge, but she will love the last day and could make up big ground.

Finally, Brooks has shown she can compete with anyone other than Randall in any distance and technique in the US.  This versatility will put her on the podium.

Prize money for the overall is as follows: 1st – $1,500, 2nd – $1,000, 3rd – $500, 4th – $400, 5th – $300, 6th – $200.

Predictions

Here are my predictions, but what do I know?  FasterSkier is running a “Pick the Podium” contest for the SuperTour Finals.  You pick the podiums for each race as well as the overall.  Prizes to the winners.  You can enter the contest here.

Mass Start

Men:

  1. Babikov – he will charge hard early and try for every second.
  2. Hamilton – has the speed to sprint for the podium.
  3. Kuzzy – he was the fastest Continental Cup skier in North America in the fall.  He rallies here
  4. Chris Cook – a great classic skier and fast finisher
  5. Southam – has been the 2nd best distance racer in the US behind Kris Freeman.
  6. Newell – I think he has the distance chops.
  7. McMurtry – could be on the podium.  Talented and fast, he has gained valuable international experience.
  8. Elliot – smoking fast, a great talent.
  9. Gord Jewett – experienced, fit and fast.
  10. Koos – he could easily be further up, or way down.  Depends entirely on health and fitness

Women:

  1. Randall – she is the best in North America.
  2. Brooks – More experienced with every race, she didn’t have the Olympics she was hoping for.  She will be hungry.
  3. Dussault – An excellent season on the SuperTour circuit.  She will not back down.
  4. Gosling – will just miss the podium again, but will be in the mix.
  5. Kristina Strandberg – a great classic skier, she could sneak onto the podium.
  6. Compton – classic is not her forte, but the distance and mass start format will keep her in the mix.  Her fitness is excellent.
  7. Nicole DeYong – showed good stuff in the 30k, and skied very well on the OPA circuit this spring.
  8. Tazlina Mannix – has been quiet this year, but has plenty of speed.
  9. Ida Sargent – Has been a little inconsistent in the distance races this season.
  10. Katie Ronsse – Fast Alaskan should be looking for the top-10 in every race.

Sprint

Men:

  1. Newell – World Cup podium, need I say more.
  2. Hamilton – top-30 at the Olympics, and more impressively, 34th in Oslo.  Legit.
  3. Koos – When he is on, he can sprint with anyone, will he have the endurance in the heats?
  4. Cook – the classic sprint is his best event.
  5. Kuzzy – I am predicting a good weekend from him, but he is not a sure thing.
  6. McMurtry – Will lead the Canadians.

Women:

  1. Randall – the best.  By a long shot.
  2. Sargent – one of the best sprinters in the country.
  3. Brooks – a finals appearance for sure.
  4. Dussault – will just miss the podium in a tight finish.
  5. Strandberg – Dominated the SuperTour a year ago.  Anything classic is good for her.
  6. Compton – classic sprinting is not her thing, but she has the fitness to make it to the finals.

Final Climb (best time of the day)

Men:

  1. Babikov – no one should be close.
  2. Elliot – has the legs for the climb.
  3. Noah Hoffman – Surprise of the weekend, Hoffman is light and quick on the climbs.
  4. Newell – Will be working for the overall podium.
  5. Hamilton – like Newell, will be pushing for the overall.

Women:

  1. Randall – she could end up further down if she has a big lead.
  2. Compton – skating + climbing = good race.
  3. Dussault – Will like the tough course.
  4. Ronsse – Will move up in the overall.
  5. Gosling – finishes strong.

Overall

Men:

  1. Babikov – he will make up some big time.
  2. Newell – Starts with a lead, but can’t hold Babikov on the hill.
  3. Hamilton – Can do it all, and the sprint will be big.
  4. McMurtry – consistency will pay off.
  5. Kuzzy – ends the season the way he started it.

Women:

  1. Randall – The best.
  2. Compton – a great final 3 k.
  3. Brooks – toughness pays off on the hill.
  4. Dussault – gets Gosling at the end.
  5. Gosling – solid racing in every race.

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Topher Sabot

Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.

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