The U.S. cross-country skiers are ready to roar for this weekend’s three-day mini-tour in Kuusamo, Finland. The team is coming off a good season opener in Gällivare, Sweden last weekend, where Kris Freeman placed ninth in the men’s 15 k skate, and Kikkan Randall was 19th in the women’s 10 k skate.
“As far as race formats go, I think all three events should suit me well,” said Randall. “I’ve had a mixed history of results in the sprint race here, but when I’m skiing well, I can get into the heats, and I’ve finished as high as 12th.”
The mini-tour features a classic sprint Friday, followed by two distance races: a 5/10 k classic on Saturday, followed by a pursuit-style 10/15 k skate race on Sunday. The first person to cross the line in Sunday’s race will be the overall winner.
Randall said that she likes the pursuit format that the mini-tour reintroduces. She has delivered good 5 k classic races in Kuusamo before, and feels like she can place well in Saturday’s event, which should give her a good start on Sunday.
“I prefer racing head-to-head, so with the handicap start I am looking forward to trying to hang with some skiers that were ahead of me last week,” Randall said.
“I am also very curious to see how I can do at this three-stage back-to-back-to-back format of racing. With my increasing distance ability, I think it could be a good event for me,” Randall said.
U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover is excited for the new mini tour format, and curious to see how it works out for the U.S. racers.
“Everyone in the U.S. group is excited for this format. I guess the biggest difference is that the athletes will race everything. On a normal World Cup weekend, the sprinters might skip the distance race in order to be rested for the sprint, and vice versa. In a tour of this nature, only one entry is submitted for the weekend,” Grover said.
Grover said to watch for Kris Freeman in the overall tour, and Andy Newell in the sprint.
“Kris has finished as high as fourth in the classic distance race here. Kuusamo is one of the best venues on the World Cup for him. He is in great shape, and is clearly a threat for a podium on a distance day and/or in the overall tour,” Grover said. “(Newell) has finished as high as fourth in this sprint. Last year he was seventh.”
On the women’s side, Grover is optimistic for a top-ten finish from Randall. “Kikkan Randall is also in amazing shape, and I believe [she] is a serious threat for a top-10 overall finish for the weekend,” Grover said.
Finally, Grover is also looking for good performances from Ida Sargent in the sprint.
“Ida has been skiing really well, and I would not be surprised to see her take some points in her first-ever World Cup sprint,” Grover said.
The competition weekend in Finland features World Cups in cross-country skiing, nordic combined, and ski jumping. Organizers expect some 400 athletes from 28 countries, 400 media representatives, and 650 volunteers as well as 20,000 spectators. However, conditions are still frigid, and expected to stay that way this weekend, which worries the U.S. coaches.
“We are concerned about the cold. The high tomorrow (Friday) is supposed to be -16 C and -17 C on Saturday. In addition, there are some fast down-hills that make for a serious wind chill issue,” Grover said. “We are concerned about athletes that have a tendency to develop breathing issues in connection with hard breathing at low temperatures, as well as athletes that easily lose feeling in their extremities. We will certainly pull any athlete that is prone to these issues if the weather makes us think that any damage could be done.”
Randall and the U.S. racers are dealing with the situation, but not shy about wishing for warmer weather.
“I think I’ve figured out why the Finns like saunas so much! We’re surviving the cold so far. The upside is that now –10 C feels almost warm,” Randall said.
All on board
The US squad consists of Freeman, Newell, Simi Hamilton, Noah Hoffman and Chris Cook on the men’s side. Randall, Sargent, Liz Stephen and Morgan Arritola make up the women’s team.
As for the Canadians, head coach Justin Wadsworth reports that all athletes are entered for the full mini-tour, but that they will adjust throughout the weekend if things change.
“All athletes are slated for the full mini tour, but cutting the last stage for those with Dusseldorf as a goal isn’t out of the question,” Wadsworth said.
Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey, Ivan Babikov, George Gray, Stefan Kuhn, Lenny Valjas, and Brent McMurty make up the men’s squad. Dasha Gaiasova and Chandra Crawford will start the women’s mini tour.
Race program for the World Cup in Kuusamo:
Thursday November 25
15.00-16.00 Nordic Combined HS 142, Provisional round, 1 round
Friday November 26
10:45 Sprint Qualification (L+M), Cross Country skiing (C), WC
12:30 Cross Country, Sprint Ladies +Men, final (C), WC
13:30 Trial round HS 142, Nordic Combined
14:30 Nordic Combined, Ski Jumping HS 142, WC
16:15 Nordic Combined, Gundersen 10 km, WC
19.00 Qualification HS 142, Ski Jumping
Saturday November 27
10:30 Nordic Combined, Ski Jumping HS 142, WC
12:00 Cross Country, 5 km ladies (C), WC
13:30 Cross Country, 10 km men (C), WC
15:15 Nordic Combined, Gundersen, 10 km, WC
16:00 Ski Jumping HS 142, Team Competition, WC
Sunday November 28
12:00 Cross Country, 10 km ladies Hcp (F), WC
13:00 Cross Country, 15 km men Hcp (F), WC
14:15 Ski Jumping HS 142, WC
Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.