At 35, Kristina Strandberg (XC Oregon) has enjoyed something of a resurgence in her career this year, with strong results in the West Yellowstone SuperTour races and in events in her native Sweden. Still, it might come as a surprise to see Strandberg on the start line of the Tour de Ski on Tuesday.
No, not that Tour de Ski—Strandberg won’t be in Germany alongside Justyna Kowalczyk and Kikkan Randall. Instead, she’ll be in the town of Xiwuqi in Inner Mongolia, for the first race of the four-stage Tour de Ski China.
In an e-mail, Strandberg said that she was invited to participate in the event in a month ago, and while the details weren’t clear, she accepted.
“It was hard to turn down a free trip like that,” she said.
According to its official website, the Tour de Ski has been held every year since 2008. It’s organized by Nordic Ways, a Chinese sports tourism company, with the help of the International Ski Federation and the Chinese Ski Association.
The 2011 edition features four stages: two sprints, a short distance race, and the 50-kilometer Vasaloppet China. The third stage—one of the sprints—will be held at night in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium, which was used as a venue for the 2008 Summer Olympics.
In the past, a number of Scandinavian athletes have competed, including Norwegian Kjetil Hagtvedt Dammen, and Swedes Anders Hoegberg, Peter Larsson, and Maria Rydqvist.
Olympic gold medalists Bjoern Lind and Thobias Fredriksson, both Swedes, headline this year’s start list. And Kjell-Erik Kristiansen, the peripatetic World Cup announcer, will be on hand to call the sprint at the Bird’s Nest, according to the race website.
The prize purse isn’t on the same scale as the European Tour de Ski, which awards upwards of $100,000 to the top finisher. But it’s not bad: stage winners in China will take home 1,075 euros, while the overall victors each get 2,150 euros.
Strandberg departed from Europe on Sunday, and with the first stage of the tour coming on Tuesday, she won’t have a lot of time to adjust to jet lag. In her e-mail, she said she wasn’t sure what to expect from the race.
“At this point, I have no idea what I’m getting myself into,” she said. “I hear from the girls who have done it before that it is a lot of fun, and some good skiing, but beyond that, I know as little as you.”
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.