Welcome to FasterSkier’s World Cup Preview, where we check in with the top-10 teams from last year’s FIS Cross Country World Cup tour before the season starts. The World Cup begins with a classic sprint in Ruka, Finland on Nov. 24th
Overall in Nations Cup Last Year: 1
Women’s Ranking 2017/2018: 1
Men’s Ranking 2017/2018: 1
Norwegians to Watch:
Norway won last year’s Nation’s Cup by more than twice as many points as second place Sweden. The question remains, in the aftermath of Marit Bjørgen’s retirement can that accomplishment be repeated?
Chances are, yes.
The Norwegian women’s team boast names such as Heidi Weng, winner of the World Cup the two previous seasons, Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, 3rd place overall in the World Cup in the two previous seasons and gold medal winner in the 4×5 kilometer relay in the PyeongChang Olympics , Maiken Caspersen Falla, winner of the sprint World Cup the three previous seasons and silver medalist in the Olympic classic sprint, and Ragnhild Haga, gold medalist in the Olympic 10 k skate and 4×5 k relay.
There appears to be no dynastic decline on the immediate horizon. All of these athletes are on track to perform at a similar level this coming season.
In addition to these four podium-capable skiers, Therese Johaug will return to the Word Cup after having finished her 18-month ban for testing positive for the banned substance clostebol. (Johaug tested positive after applying the ointment Trofodermin to her sunburned lips.)
Johaug won the Lysebotn opp rollerski race in August 1:47.5 minutes in front of Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla in second, and out performed all the male skiers on the national team but Didrik Tønseth during an Oslo hill run this Spring. She is reported to be in better shape physically than in the past. Yet, it remains to be seen if she can transfer that into competitive cross-country skiing against a full World Cup field.
In the days before the Norwegian season opener in Beitostølen, Johaug asked during a press conference that people lower their expectations because of her experience in the last two years. Expectations aside, Johaug won the two races she competed in during the season opener in Beitostølen. In the 10 k classic, as described by FasterSkier, Johaug never let off the throttle. In the 10 k skate, she distanced second place Østberg by 26 seconds and U.S. skier Sadie Bjornsen by 1:45.9 minutes in third. With those two wins in Beito, this much is true: she’s in early season Johaug-form.
The Norwegian men
2018 Olympic individual gold, silver and bronze medal winners, team sprint and 4 x 10 k relay winners return to the Norwegian men’s team this season. Tønseth, Martin Johnsrud Sundby, Simen Hegstad Krüger and Johannes Høsflot Klæbo are all returning. No athlete reported any major challenges this pre-season.
After his dominant season last year, Klæbo has tempered expectations. He stated in an interview with Bergens Tidene in October, “realistically, a lot of things need to happen for me to copy what I did last year.”
We’ll know in days, the World Cup begins this Saturday, if this was all a Klæbo bluff.
The overall winner of the World Cup, and sprint cup winner the past two seasons, Klæbo explained that last season many things worked well right away but there are several fast skiers competing. Just within Norway’s domestic ranks, Tønseth, Emil Iversen, Sjur Røthe, Sundby, and Hans Christer Holund all outperformed Klæbo recently in Beitostølen’s 15 k classic.
One athlete who fans should see on the World Cup again this season for Norway is thirty-two-year-old Petter Northug.
After separating from the Norwegian national team in 2013, the man who needs no further introduction if you have followed xc skiing over the past 10 years, returns to the Norwegian sprint team. His last performances are not what they used to be and therefore Northug returns to national team with confined expectations. Northug noted he probably won’t ski World Cup races until 2019 and that he might not make the cut for the World Championship in Seefeld.
His results recently in Beitostølen were lackluster, he was disqualified from the 15 k and didn’t qualify for the sprint heats.
He raced a single World Cup last season, placing 32nd in Lillehammer, Norway’s classic sprint. Northug did not qualify for the 2018 Olympics.
Northug claims the reason for lowering expectations are his difficulty in adapting to training. Last season was hindered by illness and this pre-season has shown similar signs — Northug has twice dropped out of a training camp due to illness. Headlines across Norwegian tabloids read, in essence, “Northug may retire”, a reference to him saying in a press conference before the season opener in Beitostølen that the odds of him being on the starting line there next year is 100-1. Before being disqualified for skating during the 15 k classic in Beitostølen, Northug did show signs of improvement, finishing the race in 38:26.2 minutes (+2:17.6 behind winner Tønseth).
Aleks is a freelance journalist based in Gjøvik, Norway, covering ski-related sports and track & field. He also works part time as a model and reads a new book almost every week.