This weekend’s World Cup city sprints in Dusseldorf aren’t supposed to start in the airport. But the American and Canadian ski teams will be cutting it pretty close.
Thanks to a strike by Finnair’s flight attendants, the two squads’ sprinters are spending Thursday night in Finland and departing for Germany on Friday—giving the teams a buffer of roughly 24 hours before the start of the races on Saturday. American Andy Newell’s schedule will be even tighter: due to a passport mishap, he won’t arrive in Dusseldorf until Friday night.
But while limited prep time might be a disadvantage at other venues, it’s not at Dusseldorf, since the snow for the sprint isn’t laid out until the night before the race.
“It’s not like you can ski on the course, anyways,” Newell said.
Both North American teams will field larger squads in Dusseldorf than they have in years past.
The U.S. will start Newell, Simi Hamilton, Chris Cook, Torin Koos, and Kikkan Randall in Saturday’s individual sprint, while the Canadians will have Chandra Crawford, Dasha Gaiazova, Len Valjas, Stefan Kuhn, Brent McMurtry, and Phil Widmer.
On Sunday, barring health problems among the others, Randall will be the only one to sit out the team sprint—her potential partner, Ida Sargent, left Europe earlier this week to get back to Dartmouth College in time for finals.
Kris Freeman, Noah Hoffman, Liz Stephen, and Morgan Arritola, the American distance contingent, are all training in Davos, Switzerland, in advance of next weekend’s World Cups there.
Hoffman’s itinerary had originally called for him to return to North America for domestic racing in December, but his results this fall were strong enough for the U.S. Ski Team (USST) staff to opt to keep him on the World Cup circuit, for its stops in Davos and La Clusaz, France.
Compared to dark, frigid Finland—where last weekend’s World Cup races were held—Davos, a Swiss resort town, is said to be paradise. As USST coach Matt Whitcomb put it on Twitter earlier this week, “perfect skiing in Davos, but at least it is sunny and the coffee is good.”
Meanwhile, the Canadians have also split up. Their sprinters are headed for Dusseldorf, but Alex Harvey and Ivan Babikov flew back to North America after last weekend’s races in Finland. Babikov, who travels well, is planning his return to Europe for the Davos races, while Harvey won’t be back in action until December 31—the first stage of the Tour de Ski. George Grey and Devon Kershaw are staying in Europe but skipping Dusseldorf, instead hunkering down in Livigno, Italy, for some training. Apparently, the food at their hotel, the Bivio, does not suck.
The sprinters, however, are all still stuck in Helsinki. Despite their plans for a last-minute arrival, the Americans won’t be cutting it any closer than last year, when a bird flew into their engine on one of their travel legs and delayed the team’s arrival in Dusseldorf until the day before the race.
At the very least, the American equipment will be there, thanks to a van driven 1,800 miles from Finland to Germany by USST staff.
That van, though, contained an unintended piece of cargo: Newell’s passport. He has to wait for it to arrive in Helsinki before he can fly out, but he said it shouldn’t be a problem. Plus, he added, with Dusseldorf, “it doesn’t matter when you get there, as long as you get there in time to race.”
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.