Drammen, Norway – Break time is over, and all the top World Cup skiers are back in action for Thursday’s classic sprint in downtown Drammen. 30,000 spectators are expected to pack the streets along the 1.2km course.
The event was last held in 2008 when Boerre Naess led a Norwegian sweep of the men’s podium, and Virpi Kuitunen (FIN) won the women’s race.
The course is not flat – as many city sprints tend to be – with two climbs, including up to the finish line.
Favorites in the men’s race include Emil Joennson (SWE), looking to rebound from a disappointing Olympics, Petter Northug (NOR) who could pull away from Lukas Bauer (CZE) in the race for the overall World Cup title, and Ola Vigen Hattestad (NOR), in contention for the Sprint Cup title.
John Kristian Dahl (NOR), left off the Olympic team, is also in the hunt for the Sprint Cup, and has something to prove.
The US starts a large contingent, led by Andy Newell. Newell will be joined by Simi Hamilton, Mike Hinckley and Brian Gregg.
The Canadians skipped the Lahti World Cups, but will start Stefan Kuhn (10th in the Olympic qualifier), Devon Kershaw, and Graham Nishikawa.
The Drammen sprint is one of the toughest events on the circuit. With Norway entitled to a large Nation’s Group, World Cup points are hard to come by. One year, Norway took 8 of the top 10 places in the men’s race. That is unlikely to happen this year, but qualifying for the heats will be even harder than usual.
The women’s field is just as daunting. Marit Bjoergen (NOR) leads the way, with Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) hot on her heals. Swedes Hannah Falk and Ida Ingermarsdotter are both strong, and Finland will also start their A team.
Kikkan Randall is the lone starter for the US. She is coming of a career-best 10th in the Olympic classic sprint, and has been in fine form.
Daria Gaiazova starts for Canada, and the classic sprint is one of her top events.
Norway has 17 of the 57 starters in the women’s race, and 20 of the 67 scheduled to start in the men’s event.
One of the Norwegian women is Kari Oeyere Slind, who spent a year in the US as a child, and was 3rd in the World Junior sprint, and a member of the World Junior champion relay team.