After the Nor-Am mini-tour in Rossland, British Columbia, last weekend, racers from both sides of the border raved about the event as an exciting change of pace where all racers – sprinters and distance skiers alike – have a fair chance to fight for the overall title. Contributing to the positive reviews was the excellent job that the organizers and volunteers put down to make it fun, fair and entertaining.
“I love the mini-tour – fun to watch and great to ski in. It adds a lot of excitement for us racers and a great challenge as well. I don’t know if you can do anything much better. The Rossland ski community had done a great job organizing and made a 3-day race series go very smoothly and was lots of fun,” Stefan Kuhn (NTS) said in an email to FasterSkier. The overall men’s tour winner also thought the sprints were factored fairly into the overall results.
“You get a 60-second bonus if you win and down from there, and that is a lot,” Kuhn said.
The overall women’s winner, Jessie Diggins (CXC) also enjoyed the format.
“I think the mini-tour was really fun. The way it was set up made the last day pretty exciting since you knew exactly where you were in terms of the overall tour standings during the race,” Diggins said in an email to FasterSkier.
On the World Cup, some European racers have complained that a mini-tour is not worth the effort for sprint specialists. That was not an issue for the Nor-Am racers that FasterSkier spoke with. If anything, Diggins thinks the sprints may have been weighted a little too heavily, though it was not a problem for her.
“Because the 5km skate was so fast, the girls who weren’t sprinters weren’t given as much of a chance for the overall tour,” Diggins said.
Good mix of sprint and distance
“I really enjoyed the mini-tour format. I think it’s a great way to give both sprinters and distance skiers a chance to mix it up together,” Drew Goldsack (NTS) said in an email to FasterSkier. Going into the event, Goldsack was a bit concerned about the sprints being given too much emphasis. But in practice, he thought the concept worked out fairly for all.
“On paper I thought that the sprint was maybe weighted too heavily but…it actually worked out perfectly. I think it was partly due to the fact that we had distance skiers sprinting better than usual and sprinters skiing distance better than usual, but it worked out well and made for some exciting racing.”
Goldsack, who was third overall, had one single complaint.
“The only thing I’d like to see better is the prize money; it seemed a little chincey for three hard days of racing. $700.00 for the win isn’t bad, but $400.00 for second and $250.00 for third place seems a bit low to me,” Goldsack said.
Great format but keep it reasonable
Holly Brooks (APUNSC) thinks the mini-tour format is both entertaining and fair, especially on the Nor-Am circuit where there are fewer specialists than on the World Cup. She also thinks the bonuses for the sprints helped even out any discrepancies.
“Especially in the women’s field, the sprinters and the distance racers are the same people anyway, and the bonuses awarded for the sprints were huge, so I think the format was fair. I think on the World Cup there is more of a difference because the racers are more specialized,” Brooks said to FasterSkier.
“We train so hard all year and make so many sacrifices. We train to race, and this is it. For me, this was a good intensity block before nationals. There were good interesting courses, and you have to be really versatile with this format that includes sprint, skate and classic,” Brooks said, but added that she doesn’t want organizers to go bananas with the concept just because the first one was a hit.
“I hope they keep mixing it into the schedule, but I wouldn’t like to see all race weekends turn into mini-tours,” Brooks said, noting that one or two of them per year could be a reasonable amount.
“Mini-tours are hard on both racers and organizers. There are more logistics and it’s easy to make mistakes, and it makes it complicated for everyone,” she said.
Just a good, hard weekend
“Overall I think the mini-tour format is really good. I wished they had them at the start of my career. I have always enjoyed racing different formats and distances,” Lars Flora (APUNSC) said. The only thing he would like more of was hills, even on the last day.
“The time bonuses seem to play out fairly between sprint and distance racing. The only thing I would change is adding a hill climb at the end of Sunday’s race. It would have been fun to finish with a classic hill climb,” Flora said.
Caitlin Compton (CXC) also thoroughly enjoyed the Rossland experience, both for the variety and for the rigor. For Compton, the mini-tour was also an opportunity to test her own limits.
“I knew that Saturday’s 5K skate would be my better event, but I also wanted to see how my fitness was through the entire weekend. I was pleased to find that my energy and quickness was still there (on Sunday), if not higher than the days before,” Compton said, noting that Diggins had reserves nobody else could match.
Mixed feelings on the World Cup
US Ski Team’s Kikkan Randall, who is on the FIS Athlete Commission for cross-country skiing, said in an interview with FasterSkier earlier this season that she has mixed feelings about the mini-tour concept. On one hand, Randall likes the idea of cross-country capitalizing on the increased TV-viewership that comes with these tour type events. On the flip side, Randall is concerned that by adding the overall time component and with each individual stage only worth half World Cup points, the sprint race is being devalued. She is also skeptical to adding a longer event weekend to the early World Cup season.
“I also feel that with an already packed ‘Period I’ racing schedule, it is better to have two races instead of three this early in the year to allow for a little more training during the week and thus better longevity through the season,” Randall said.
Among the Norwegians, some of the sprinters left Kuusamo after the opening sprint event of the “Tour de Opening” in November. Ola Vigen Hattestad and Kuusamo sprint winner John Kristian Dahl were among those who left early. Dahl dislikes the mini-tour, and was happy to explain why.
“We get more points for regular WC sprint races than we do here, there is a packed schedule with a lot of races before the end of the year, and we have important races in Düsseldorf (GER) already next weekend. To do three races here takes an incredible toll (on the racers), and it seems a little oddly placed,” Dahl said to the Norwegian TV station NRK.
The mini-tour in Kuusamo consisted of three competitions. Sprint on Friday, individual start classic on Saturday and pursuit/handicap start skate on Sunday. Only the overall winners will be listed as World Cup winners for the event. The sprint winners were awarded only 50 points compared to the normal 100 points.
“It’s no secret that the mini-tour robs some of the status from the sprinters. For me as a sprint specialist, this is not great,” said Ola Vigen Hattestad.
According to Vegard Ulvang, the Cross-Country Committee Chairman, this year the mini-tour is a test-event and it will be evaluated in the spring as to whether to make the Kuusamo “Tour de Opening” a permanent part of the World Cup calendar.
As for the Nor-Am mini-tour, it seems like the athletes are giving the format a thumbs up, at least after the Rossland experience last weekend.
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.