All 2012 FIS World Cup Finals coverage is brought to you through the generous support of Fischer Sports USA, proud sponsors of Kikkan Randall, 2012 overall Sprint Cup Champion.
STOCKHOLM, Sweden – The first leg of the 2012 World Cup Finals kick off with the Royal Palace Sprint in downtown Stockholm, Sweden on Wednesday.
The race takes place on the doorstep of the King of Sweden, Carl the 16th Gustav, and is conducted in the classical technique.
Snow was trucked in over the period of two-and-half days, with final grooming to take place Tuesday night.
While temperatures have been warm during the day, there is hope that the course will set-up over night, creating firm fast tracks.
Only the top-50 ranked skiers in the world, plus continental cup leaders, are granted start spots in the four-race competition.
The US brings Kikkan Randall, Andy Newell, Liz Stephen, Jessie Diggins and Sylvan Ellefson while Canada will start Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey, Chandra Crawford, Lenny Valjas, Dasha Gaiazova, Alysson Marshall, and Kevin Sandau.
Randall has already locked up the Sprint Cup title, but is looking to hold off Charlotte Kalla (SWE) for fourth in the overall.
Kershaw and Harvey have their own overall rankings to think about. The former is just 15 points ahead of Petter Northug, but with the Norwegian star reportedly withdrawing due to a continuing stomach ailment, there may not be much of a fight.
Harvey is aiming to hold in the top-6 and is facing stiff competition from Russian Maxim Vylegzhanin.
Both Newell and Randall are looking forward to a festive day.
“It’s always a great atmosphere being so close to the downtown of a major city, especially down by the waterfront,” Randall told FasterSkier. “Pretty sweet too that the terrain features of the course are literally the steps of the Royal Palace.”
Newell concurred, adding that any urban sprint is a good time, and that racing in a country that holds an event on the King’s front porch is a special experience.
Last year Newell used classic skis in the qualifier, but opted to double pole the heats on skate gear, a strategy he may repeat this time—if the track gets firm enough.
The track must be firm enough to support vigorous double poling for the strategy to be appropriate, Newell explained.
Last season the tactic worked well; he qualified ninth and advanced to the final, ultimately placing fifth.
With the major climb coming right at the end, Randall expects fast starts in the heats, and Newell said that being in good position around the final corner into the big hill is key.
Randall raced the 30k on Sunday in Oslo, with Newell contesting the 50k on Saturday. Both said they are ready to go, if not completely fresh.
“This year is definitely a quicker turnaround than we’ve had to do before,” Randall said of the jump from Holmenkollen to Stockholm. “I’ve had a solid last couple of weeks and I feel like my racing shape is still strong…We’ll just have to see what’s left in the tank.”
Matt Voisin contributed reporting.
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Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.