For North American ski fans, here’s a look at who to watch for this weekend in Davos, Switzerland. Saturday’s 15/30 k—long awaited as it is one of only two such distances on the entire World Cup schedule—begins at 6:15 am EST with the women’s 15 k. The men’s start follows at 8:00 am EST.
It says quite a bit about U.S. skiing these days that Kikkan Randall also featured prominently in our international Davos preview—as the one for Marit Bjoergen (NOR) to watch out for, no less. The Alaskan is currently the overall sprint leader, and ranks fifth in the season-long competition for the Crystal Globe. Her focus in Davos this weekend is on Sunday’s skate sprint, which is her strongest event, but keep your eyes on Randall during Saturday’s individual-start distance skate.
The real highlight—racing Bjoergen in the sprint—has Randall pretty excited.
“I was in the final with her here last year, and I’m looking forward to going up against her again,” she said.
The distance event isn’t a race for her to simply to get through until Sunday, however. Randall is now officially a serious contender for the overall World Cup title.
“It’s going to be a challenge, for sure,” she said on Friday afternoon of the women’s two-lap 15 k course. “Lot of climbing, lot of descending.”
“It’s a mixture of being patient with the two laps, and then saving a bit for the finish,” Randall continued. “At the same time, you want to keep a good, aggressive pace the whole time; you can’t really sit and wait out there.”
Randall’s teammate on the podium last weekend in Dusseldorf, Sadie Bjornsen, is more excited about sprinting on the second day this weekend. On Tuesday, upon hearing that the 15 k was getting shortened to 10 k, she did a little dance. With subsequent snowfall enabling the longer distance to be reinstated, she’s now taking a wait-and-see attitude.
“Tomorrow is just a day to play around and see what I can do,” she said. “The 15 k skate has never really been my strong point.”
Though her preferred discipline falls on the second day of racing in Davos, Bjornsen is confident that her energy will carry through to the sprint.
“I think APU sets us up to do two good, hard days, so it should be okay,” she said. “Hopefully, I’m going to make some heats!”
Bjornsen is also still riding on a confidence-boost from her team sprint podium in Dusseldorf. Sunday marks her last World Cup race until the city sprints in Milan, Italy after the New Year.
Liz Stephen, who sat out Dusseldorf and won the 5 k skate FIS race in Seefeld, Austria, should feel right at home on the 15 k course on Saturday.
“I am very excited for a 15 k skate!” she said last weekend. “They are some of my favorite races.”
Holly Brooks, who recently got word that a start in the Tour de Ski could be a possibility, has had outstanding results this season in both sprints and distance races. The pressure is on for her to turn in a few more and stay healthy through this weekend and next in Rogla, at which point teams have to submit their Tour rosters.
Ida Sargent is looking to move past her frustrating start to the season with a good showing in both the distance and sprint days, fuelled by raw Swiss beef.
The Canadian women are skipping the 15 k to be able to leave the gate in full force for Sunday’s sprint. Chandra Crawford, who was disappointed with getting bumped off the podium in Dusseldorf, could definitely be a contender in the heats.
Perianne Jones matched up with Crawford for a 7th place showing in the team sprint last weekend, and will be looking to redeem missing out on the heats there by .7 seconds with a solid qualifier this Sunday. Dasha Gaiazova, who was stronger in Kuusamo than in Dusseldorf, should not be overlooked either. She’s a solid skate sprinter, and has considerable experience under her belt.
The American men’s distance squad will be led by Kris Freeman, who has had a slow start to the season so far. While he would have been more confident in his ability to dial everything in for a 15 k on Saturday, Freeman is glad for the sport that the 30 k is back on the schedule.
“I don’t really know how to race it anymore, but I feel good,” he said on Friday. “So, it should be a good race tomorrow.
“I don’t really know what to expect from a 30 k freestyle—I haven’t done one since 2004,” Freeman continued. “I think a top-15 would be a solid effort tomorrow, but I’m not going to count myself out for something better.”
After Kuusamo, he wrote on his blog about some issues trusting the advice of his ski technician, but said that those problems are now behind him.
“I made the classic amateur mistake of picking a ski that was good last time, rather than picking the ski that was good on the day,” he explained. “I’ve got great skis, I just need to be confident to pick the best one on the day… Even though I’m 31 I still need to be reminded of that from time to time.”
As for the course itself, it’s a bit of an intimidating one for the men. Four laps around the 7.5 k loop that includes twice as much climbing as the women’s race.
“This is an incredibly hard course,” said Freeman. “There is just really no letup. You get to the top of the course and it’s just gradual downhill all the way down. There’s just not much recovery. The key to having a good race is just not to blow up.”
Freeman’s frequent training partner, Noah Hoffman, is also looking for a top-15 on Saturday. His top World Cup results in the past have been at 30 k and over—as one of his coaches, Zach Caldwell, pointed out this week, he’s got high-altitude Colorado living on his side for the long climbs in Davos. Each 7.5 k lap features 984 vertical feet of ascending, with the course itself reaching as high as 5,400 feet above sea level.
Fellow Coloradoan Tad Elliott also thinks the 30 k distance is a better race for him. “I’m happy they switched it back,” he said. “For sure, that’s more in my wheelhouse.”
On Saturday, Elliott said he’s hoping “not to blow up! Hopefully the result will happen,” he concluded.
Like Bjornsen, Elliott is also done with World Cup racing for a little while after Davos, and will skip the sprint and fly home on Sunday.
Continental Cup starter Lars Flora also has reason to look forward to the distance skate, as he placed in the top-40 twice in the longer events at World Championships last season.
For Sunday’s sprint, Andy Newell and Simi Hamilton are definitely the ones to watch for. Both American sprinters are sitting out the 30 k to save up for their favored event. Newell was knocked out of the quarterfinals in Dusseldorf after qualifying in 14th, while Hamilton sat the weekend out due to illness.
In Davos, Newell said he’s learned how to race the two-lap course in his experience on the World Cup circuit.
“I’ve had difficulty getting through some of these rounds, but I think I’ve learned a lot racing here over the years,” he said. “I’m just really going to try and…ski relaxed on the first lap, and then work my way past some people on the second lap and have a strong finish. I think that’s going to be key.”
Newell noted that the sprint course wasn’t particularly challenging in terms of terrain—not a lot of V1 hills. Though he tends to be stronger on the vertical, transitions also work to Newell’s advantage, which he’ll try to play up on Sunday.
On the Canadian side, the biggest news is the fact that Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey are sitting out the entire weekend to save up for the Tour de Ski. On Saturday, that leaves Graham Nishikawa and Ivan Babikov representing the maple leaf.
“Its been a long time since we’ve done a 30 k – individual start especially,” he said. Babikov does well on courses featuring climbing, and though the ascents in Davos are more long than steep, he’s expecting a good effort.
Kieran Jones contributed reporting.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.