Since 2002, the city sprint in Dusseldorf, Germany, has become a fixture on the International Ski Federation’s (FIS’s) World Cup calendar. One of three regular city sprints on the circuit, Dusseldorf features a flat, extremely fast, and almost dangerously narrow and twisty sprint course.
Over the last eight seasons, the German city has become renown for carnage and upsets, almost as much as for cross-country skiing in a unique location and with a great crowd atmosphere.
Every year, 3,000 cubic meters of artificial snow are trucked in from a nearby indoor ski slope, and the German organizers cover the boardwalk along the Rhine River and pack in thousands of fans. Dusseldorf is often a bit of a spectacle, as according to FIS, over 350,000 fans packed into the city to catch the World Cup in 2008. And speaking of spectacles, the 2006 edition of the race featured the little incident in which Oeystein “Sausage” Pettersen (NOR) earned his nickname.
Dusseldorf is notable for the lack of high-powered distance and all-around World Cup skiers. Top overall contenders like Lukas Bauer (CZE), Marcus Hellner (SWE), and Petter Northug (NOR) will be absent on the men’s side, and Marit Bjoergen (NOR) and Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) will also take the weekend off. This typically results in a few surprises – last season, Sweden’s 20-year-old Hanna Falk came out of nowhere to stand on the top of the women’s podium.
Dusseldorf is also home to a few consistently impressive city sprinters. Germany’s Josef Wenzl is a bit of a one-trick pony on the World Cup, as he skis amazingly in Dusseldorf, but struggles in most other locales. While last season he faltered, failing to make the heats, Wenzl has been in the A-Final in Dusseldorf three times, including two podium finishes in his four starts. He might not win, but it’s tough to count out a fast sprinter with that track record on home turf, especially when German Head Coach Jochen Behle backs him.
The Norwegian Sprintgutta has traditionally been a strong presence as well, and this year is no different. Of the eight men sent to Dusseldorf by Norway, six have stood on the podium there before. Anders Gloersen and Eirik Brandsdal finished second and third, respectively, last season. The stacked Russian sprint team will also make an appearance – Alexei Petukhov won in Dusseldorf last year, while Nikita Kriukov and Alexander Panzhinskiy, the top two finishers in the sprint at the 2010 Olympics, are both on the start list.
As for the North American contingent, Kikkan Randall is the only American woman racing, and she has skied well at the city venue in the past. According to U.S. Ski Team (USST) Head Coach Chris Grover, Randall has some unfinished business on the boardwalk.
“Last year in Dusseldorf, she got tangled up and fell down in her quarterfinal right after the start,” Grover said, “She never had a chance to demonstrate her ability.”
The two-woman Canadian sprint squad is undeniably led by Chandra Crawford (CAN). Crawford considers the Dusseldorf sprint a bit of a specialty, and she has made the heats in all of her starts there. She has been targeting the upcoming weekend all year for her first big performance.
Last season, Crawford finished 12th at the venue, punching her ticket to the Olympic Games. According to her blog, this season she looks to crack the top 20, which would cement her spot on the World Ski Championships team.
Dasha Gaiazova, Crawford’s counterpart, has been strong in both sprint and distance races this season, and there is no reason for that success not to continue, especially with a smaller field making for slightly less-competitive qualification.
Andy Newell (USA) will undoubtedly lead the North American men, as he proved in Kuusamo that he is top sprinting shape, and like Randall, he undoubtedly has an axe to grind from last year’s Dusseldorf event, where he qualified third but failed to reach the A-Final. While Newell’s arrival has been delayed by transportation and passport problems, so long as he arrives in time to hit the start line, he will still be a contender.
The performances of the other American men are harder to predict, however. Simi Hamilton had a breakout sprint season last year; however that was mainly due to his classic sprinting speed, and so far this year he has been hampered by a leg injury. According to his blog, the injury is now in the rearview mirror, and he will be looking for an opportunity to mix it up in at least one heat.
Torin Koos has been traveling and racing in Europe separate from the USST this year, but after finishing second in a sprint event in Norway last weekend, Koos was chosen to step up for his first World Cup of the season.
As for Chris Cook, his season has started out slowly, and he will need to take a big jump if he wants to advance on the fast course, with so many top sprinters taking to the start line.
In the absence of top male all-around threats Devon Kershaw (CAN) and Alex Harvey (CAN), the Canadians are rolling with a pure sprint squad for the weekend. Classic sprint specialist Stefan Kuhn, breakout talent Lenny Valjas, and Phil Widmer will all start. Kuhn and Valjas qualified last weekend in Kuusamo’s classic sprint – look for them to build on those strong results in the slightly reduced field.
Brent McMurtry (CAN) also gets the call for the Canadian team, and after two weekends which saw him fail to score World Cup points, he will hope to make a break through.