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.
FALUN, Sweden – Spring has come early to central Sweden, and while Falun is nowhere near the sea, it will be a salty day on the courses.
With temperatures never falling below +2C overnight, the snow was wet and soft early this morning at the Lugnet Riksskidstadion.
According to Race Jury member Marco Lustrek of Slovenia, this made the decision to salt an easy one.
“As soon as we saw the track [this morning], we made the decision,” Lustrek told FasterSkier.
According to Lustrek the Jury was prepared with three options—salt before both races, salt after the women’s race, or not salt at all.
With three-and-a-half hours between the start of the women’s and men’s freestyle prologue, there would have been time to make adjustments in between.
At this point that will not be necessary as course workers will begin spreading salt at 11:30.
The goal, Lustrek said, is to create as good a course as possible—one that is fair to all competitors.
He noted that speed was not a factor, but soft conditions usually are a disadvantage to later starters in individual start races, and the Jury also wants the skiing to begood—solid pole plants, and less of a slog on the steep climbs.
The Jury will evaluate the course the morning before each race and will decide an appropriate course of action at that point.
Norwegian grip waxer Rory Petersen believes that the course will be salted on both Saturday and Sunday as well, and is preparing accordingly.
As salt firms up the track, harder klister is required, so Petersen was hard at work applying colder klister to test skis for the morning.
Glide, on the other hand, is not impacted much by the salt according to another member of the Norwegian wax staff, Espen Toellefsen.
Toellefsen said that he did not expect to modify glide wax based on the salt and that the harder, faster track meant there would be less difference in glide.
The salting has necessitated a change in the schedule for the day.
The training/warm-up loop, and a portion of the 5k course was scheduled to open at 9:00, but that was altered to 10:30.
Athletes were originally were to have access to today’s race course at 11:30, but with salting at that time, the track will no open at 12:00, an hour and a half before the women’s start.
Women will race 2.2 kilometers and men 3.3.
Both races start the same way, heading out of the stadium and immediately to the famed Mördarbacken, the massive climb at that base of the Falun ski jumps.
The hill starts at a reasonable grade, though long, before pitching into a wall at the top.
Adding to the challenge is the gradual incline over the top into an extended flat.
There will be no collapsing over the top to rest immediately.
After a fast descent there is a short, yet steep climb and then the drop down to the stadium
At that point, the men split off and ski the bottom portion of the Mördarbacken a second time, cutting off and dropping back toward the finish before the worst of the “killer hill.”
The finish loops around the stadium into a final 200 meters featuring a sustained gradual climb to the finish.
Some of the sprint specialists have withdrawn from the competition, including Russians Nikolay Morilov and Alxei Petukhov.
Fan-favorite Emil Joennson (SWE) is also out after aggravating a groin injury in the Stockholm sprint.
Racers will start in reverse order of the current overall World Cup Final mini-tour standings, which almost identically mirror the results of the Royal Palace Sprint.
One exception is Lenny Valjas (CAN) who placed third in Stockholm.
Valjas qualified back in 30th, and the gap up to Ola Vigen Hattestad was so big that even though Valjas defeated the Norwegian in the final, Hattestad sits in third and Valjas fourth overall.
In mini-tour sprints, bonus seconds are subtracted off the qualification times of the athletes and on a day where times are spread out, standings can be impacted.
Ultimately this has no meaningful impact on the mini-tour as the differences are so small.
While Marit Bjørgen (NOR) has been slowly pulling away in the overall World Cup standings, there is still an outside possibility for a comeback by Justyna Kowalczyk (POL).
There are a number of other tighter battles just a bit further back in the rankings on both the men’s and women’s lists.
American Kikkan Randall is just 17 points ahead of Charlotte Kalla (SWE) in fourth.
“The overall standing is a big priority,” Randall said in a teleconference with media on Thursday. “Just three races left and we’ve been going back and forth all season so I’m really excited to battle it all the way out to the end.”
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Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.