The city sprint weekend in Dusseldorf continues on Sunday with a Team Sprint, one of only three such events on the calendar this season.
With most of the top sprinters in town, the field is packed and the tight curvy riverside course should feature plenty of drama.
The men’s field consists of 27 teams from 13 different countries, split into two preliminary heats.
The defending duo from Russia, Alexei Petuhkov and Nikolay Morilov will pair up once again, though they will reverse their running order from a year ago, when Morilov skied the first leg.
Petuhkov qualified first in Saturday’s individual sprint, and advanced to the finals before finishing fourth. Morilov also made the heats, but didn’t make it out of the quarterfinals.
They will ski in the first prelim, a stacked affair with the top teams from Norway, Finland, the Czech Republic, Italy, Germany and France as well as an impressive Sweden II team of Jesper Modin and Robin Bryntesson, both of whom finished in the top-10 in the individual event.
The top three teams in each heat will advance to the finals along with the next four fastest teams from either heat.
Russia and the Norwegian team of Oystein Pettersen and John Kristian Dahl are certainly favorites to move on. Pettersen skied very well in the individual, and Dahl followed up a victory in the classic sprint in Kuusamo with a solid 7th place effort Saturday.
Both men have the experience and the endurance to contest the event.
Italy I, running Renato Passini and Fulvio Scola, 11th and 2nd respectively in the individual, are a threat, and Germany I with Jens Filbrich and Tim Tscharnke, back with bib 12, cannot be overlooked.
Tscharnke teamed with Axel Teichmann to win the silver medal at the Olympics in this event, and will be racing in front of the home crowd.
As is usually the case with men’s team sprints, it is difficult to pick favorites. The race will stay tightly packed until the last lap, barring crashes, with plenty of fighting for position. The key will be positioning for the last lap, and any one of ten teams could come out on top.
The second semi is not quite as strong, good news for the American duo of Simi Hamilton and Andy Newell. They will battle the top Swedish team of Mats Larsson and Emil Joensson, Norway II with Ola VIgen Hattestad and Anders Gloeersen and Russa II’s Nikita Kriukov and Andrey Parfenov.
Newell is an old hand at this game, and will not be intimidated. He and Torin Koos finished 4th in this race two years ago after coming out ahead of a major pile-up and 6th last year.
The same cannot be said for Hamilton, who raced just his second World Cup freestyle sprint in his first Dusseldorf appearance. He definitely has the speed to compete at the World Cup level, but has been slowed by a knee injury early in the season.
Hamilton is immensely talented, but his lack of experience in these types of races will be difficult to overcome. The US should have a good shot to advance, but don’t expect too much in the final this time around. Either way it will be good practice for the combo that has a good chance of pairing up at World Championships.
A key component to advancement is the speed of the heats. With four “lucky losers” there is a certain amount of luck based on how fast the pack moves.
Look for Norway I, Russia I, Italy I, Sweden II, Germany I, and Finland I to move on from the first heat, and Sweden I, Norway II, Russia II and USA I to advance out of the second semi.
In the final – Norway I, Russia I and Sweden I.
The Canadian pair of Stefan Kuhn and Len Valjas, both coming off strong races in the individual, should be in the mix in the second heat. If the overall speed is fast, they could definitely advance over several of the heat one squads.
USA II is unlikely to be competitive with both Torin Koos and Chris Cook skiing slowly.
Phil Widmer and Brent McMurtry of Canada II can be expected to fight hard, but lining up in the stacked first semi should result in an early end to the day.
Women’s team sprint events can often be more exciting than men’s as the field can spread out a bit more, creating more opportunity for attacks and responses.
Magda Genuin and Arianna Follis, racing for Italy I, will try to defend their title. They should be a shoe-in to advance out of the first semifinal.
Follis looked extremely strong on her way to the victory in Saturday’s individual event, and Genuin is consistently solid.
After Italy, the first semi is wide open. Denise Herrmann and Nicole Fessel will be strong for the hometown Germans.
Sweden II, Russia I and Norway II have a good shot to advance, but none are favorites win.
The second semi is led by the strong Swedish Hanna duo of Brodin and Falk. The Swedes are favorites to battle for the overall podium and should move on with relative ease.
Norway I is also strong and Canadians Chandra Crawford and Dasha Gaiazova could surprise.
Crawford looked good in her return to the sprint heats in the individual event, and Gaiazova qualified as well. The big question will be Crawford’s endurance. She is not a strong distance skier, and the season is still early.
Her raw speed has never been in question, so if the pair can enter the final lap in a good spot, Crawford has the potential to bring it home.
In an interesting move, neither Petra Majdic nor Vesna Fabjan will race, leaving the final member of the impressive Slovenian trio, Katja Visnar, to race with the hardly awe-inspiring Alenka Cebasek.
With no partner in town for Kikkan Randall, the US will not field a women’s team – a shame given Randall’s impressive fitness at the moment. The reasons are understandable, however, and Randall will have to wait for Oslo to race the team event.
Predictions? Italy I, Finland I, Germany I, Norway II and Russia I out of the first semi. Sweden I, Norway I, Canada, Germany II and France I out of semifinal two.
And in the final – Sweden I, Italy I and Norway I on the podium.
The next opportunity for the team sprint comes in Liberec, the weekend after the conclusion of the Tour de Ski, so a large field would be unexpected.
And after that there is only World Championships, in the classic technique like the Liberec race.
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Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.