The World Cup season is bearing down on us with the finishing straight speed of Petter Northug and the hill-climbing mastery of Therese Johaug – but are you prepared for the explosion of elite cross country skiing talent?
The water-cooler chat is heating up (okay, well maybe just here at FasterSkier) and you need talking points!
Who is this Finn Hagen Krogh guy? What kind of car is Anna Haag driving? Is Justyna Kowalczyk really going to race all those World Cup weekends again? Have the Italians embraced the youth movement? Are there still Russian skiers testing positive for/on/returning from doping bans? Will Dario Cologna bounce back from a sub-par World Championships and stick it to his Scandinavian rivals in a year with no major Championships? Has Andy Newell cut his hair? (For the record, the answer to the last one is yes.)
Here’s your chance to find out!
FasterSkier is proud to present its exclusive second-annual World Cup preview series – 23 Teams in 23 Days, a collection of articles in which each team that scored points on the Nations Cup last season will be profiled.
The format remains the same as last year – if your nation scored a World Cup point, you get featured! We provide a short run down of how each nation performed last season, notable happenings in the off season, and factors to consider for the coming season. Finally, we make a debatably-expert pundit’s prediction on a possible point of interest to watch for this coming World Cup season. Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts or opinions!
2009-2010 Nations Cup Ranking: 21st (33 pts)
2010-2011 Nations Cup Ranking: 23rd (2 pts)
Women: 22nd (2 pts)
2011/2012 World Cup Team
What You May Have Missed Last Season
Aside from the oft-referenced Johann Muehlegg disaster (who wasn’t really Spanish, let’s be honest) Spain has never really made a splash on the World Cup.
And last season was no different – Spain had the dubious honor of being the last team on the Nations Cup ranking.
Spain’s two points were courtesy of one woman – Laura Orgue.
At 25, Orgue has been trying to break through on the World Cup for the last few seasons, and has been making small gains each season. She collected a second place in an Alpen Cup 15 k pursuit last season, and finished third in the 10 k at German Nationals. On top of that, she had a host of top 10 results on the second-tier circuit.
Last season her whopping two World Cup points came from a 15 k freestyle in La Clusaz, France, where she crossed the line 29th. She was also the Spanish National Champion for the second year in a row.
While Orgue was picking up points, the Spanish men were struggling, scoring a grand total of zero. This may not come as a huge surprise, but they have had a solid if not flashy group of skiers grinding out a few points (last year, 33) year in, year out. Between Diego Ruiz, Vincenc Vilarrubla, and up-and-comer Javier Gutierrez, they are usually able to notch one or two finishes in the points, however last season they were shut out.
What You Need To Know for This Season
The American women don’t have a monopoly on mountain running; Orgue was named to the Santiavieri Saloman Outdoor Team this summer (links may require translation), and then became Spanish National Champion in mountain running.
The men’s team, which has long been anchored by Ruiz, Vilarrubla and Javier Gutierrez is in a bit of a decline.
Ruiz has been a regular on the Spanish National Team since 1998, when he started his first World Cup. However, at 35 years old, he seems to be targeting marathon ski racing events over the World Cup. He’s still active on the National Team, and also became the Spanish National Rollerski Champion this past fall.
Vilarrubla, at 31, had a sub-par World Cup season, never finishing in the top 40. His younger teammate Gutierrez, who is just 26, has significantly more potential, however he lacked of World Cup and Alpen Cup success last season, which does not bode well.
The other new blood in the system is 24 year old Ioseba Rojo and his 22 year old brother Imanol Rojo. After back to back trips to World Under 23 Championships, the elder Rojo made some noise at Spanish Nationals, mixing it up with his older countrymen. However, seeing as his best placing at U23’s was 45th, it’s unlikely he will be mixing it up at the top level on the World Cup this season.
The younger Rojo is in a similar boat – his best chance for success will come at U23’s, rather than on the World Cup circuit.
Who You Should Watch
Once again, it’s Orgue or bust. The young woman still has potential – at U-23 World Championships in 2009 she won the bronze medal in the 10 k freestyle, ahead of Liz Stephen and Morgan Arritola, among others.
She just doesn’t have a lot of domestic competition, as she won the 5 k at Spanish Nationals by nearly two minutes, and the 10 k by over four minutes. In four starts on the World Cup last year, she finished 29th once and finished in the top 50 two other times. If she manages to squeeze into the top 30 in a few more distance World Cups, which is not an unreasonable expectation, it will be a success for her and Spain.