TOBLACH, Italy – Stage 7 of the Tour de Ski, which took place Thursday, is the event’s crown jewel: a 35-kilometer point-to-point race that sent competitors up an over a mountain pass, with the craggy Dolomites as a stunning backdrop.
Or, to be more precise, it sent male competitors up and over a mountain pass, with the craggy Dolomites as a stunning backdrop. The women, meanwhile, skied three laps of a standard five-kilometer course on the trails in Toblach, never heading up high to the rugged alpine scenery.
We checked in with a number of coaches and athletes to see what they thought of the discrepancy.
Marit Bjoergen (NOR): “For us it is better, because when [there is] a group, and…one in front, it is hard to go in front. But for us, when the track is round, it is easier to go alone. I think it is better to do it like this.”
Rickard Grip (Swedish women’s coach): “Actually, I think it’s a little boring that they go on this normal 5 k track for three laps. I think it would be interesting to see if the ladies started where the men will start. They wouldn’t [have to] go the first three or four k—the men go all the way down here, then they go the 5 k loop, then in the finish. So, I think maybe the women could go on the track to here, and then not make any laps [on the 5 k loop), or maybe do a really short one, or something.”
“I think it would be interesting to see about that, because it’s a little bit boring that they just go [in Toblach].”
Kikkan Randall (USA): “Last year I was kind of up in arms about, ‘Hey, why do the guys get to do a cool point-to-point race, and we don’t?’ But after skiing here, I felt like it was a really good course, and it still accomplishes, you know—people gapping together, people spreading out. And I think for us to do a point-to-point course, it was going to be mostly downhill, so I think it’s a good venue…there’s still plenty of exciting racing.”
Sami Jauhojaervi (FIN): “The [35 k] track is not the best possible for ladies. A lady who is skiing alone will lose from one to three minutes, compared to a group, which can change the leader all the time. It would change too much. The time differences in ladies are already now big—too big.”
“Of course, us men, it’s nice to have some challenge, but of course on the lady’s side, it’s huge gaps. And those would be even more huge. So the number three [lady] would start in the wave, [if] they would do this 35 k.”
On an alternative: “They could, for example, in this stadium—they could do some uphill, and then come down from another track. For five kilometers, flat-uphill, seven kilometers to 10 down, then some loop in the stadium.”
Astrid Jacobsen (NOR): “Of course we could race 35, but I think the day we should race 35, we should also have the same distance for the shorter races. Like, [in the prologue in Toblach], we had three [k], they had five [k]. And I think also—it’s bigger gaps between the women and the men, so if we had a 30 k, it would be really not interesting any more. Because I think it would just be one skier, [then] two minutes, one skier…[That way], we’d get too big differences between the skiers, and then it’s not so much action any more…I think 30 k tomorrow would be maybe not so fun to watch.”
Magnar Dalen (Finnish head coach): “I feel that it should have been much better that the women had the same type of race [as the men]. Because the race they have tomorrow on this hard track [the 5-kilometer loop] just separates the real good engine skiers more. If the ladies had had the same as the men—maybe five kilometers shorter, but still with a slight downhill—it would have been very interesting for the overall. Now, the Tour will be like [settled] tomorrow. Not who is one and two, but all the others behind will have big problems, and impossibilities for the podium.”
“It’s a hard track [the one the women are skiing]. It’s an extremely hard track at high altitude. (Toblach is at roughly 4,000 feet above sea level.) I don’t see any reason—why are the girls skiing a harder track than the boys?”
On the feelings of the Finnish women: “They want to have it the same as we had at the beginning of the Tour de Ski—then they were starting [the same course as the men].”
Charlotte Kalla (SWE): “I don’t know. I’m very focused that it should be 15 kilometers…it’s enough with 15 kilometers.”
“It would be fun to go from one place to another, but I don’t want to go 15 kilometers downhill.”
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.