The Tour de Ski begins with a mass start bonanza on Saturday. In this non-championship year, the TDS takes on marquee status as one the season’s premier prizes. Seven stages with a variety of disciplines, this 14th edition promises a loaded field of skiers.
For the women, Therese Johaug of Norway is the easy favorite. Johaug appears programmed for dominance — the TdS features five distance stages.
Norway has been well suited for the TdS. They’ve captured the women’s overall in six straight editions. Johaug claimed the wins in 2013-2014 and 2015-2016. She has also won every distance event this season setting her up as the run away favorite. But Johaug is beatable. In Québec last season, the site of the World Cup final, Stina Nilsson of Sweden foiled Johaug in a 10 k mass start classic and 10 k skate pursuit. We also saw Nilsson go head-to-head and take Johaug in the 2019 World Championship 4 x 5 k anchor leg.
Johuag can have her off days.
In an event like the TdS with so many variables, its semi-tough to fathom all the overall contenders. A single bad day, some mixed wax, and a TdS leader can lose valuable time. Jessie Diggins of the U.S. Ski Team should be counted in the top-tier mix. She placed third overall in 2017-2018. Last year Diggins wore the TdS leader’s bib for a stage before losing time on a tough-to-hit kick wax day.
There’s Norway’s Heidi Weng in there too. It’s been a resurgent year for the two-time TdS winner. And the true unknown is Norwegian Ingvild Flugstad Østberg. Due to undisclosed health concerns, Østberg was withheld from competition by team doctors for Period I on the World Cup. Saturday’s mass start skate will be Østberg’s first World Cup start of the season. She is the defending TdS champion.
For Russia, Natalia Nepryaeva and Finland’s Krista Pärmäkoski, who finished second and third respectively last year, add depth to the field of challengers. Last season’s Swedish phenom, Frida Karlsson, remains out of competition and is not expected at this TdS. However, teammate Ebba Andersson, who has yet to compete this season on the World Cup, is slated to race as is Charlotte Kalla, a former TdS winner, and Nilsson.
The men’s field has at its pre-race favorite apex, Johannes Høsflot Klæbo of Norway. Last year’s TdS winner, Klæbo, presents a double-edge sword with the ability to win both sprint and distance events. Unlike Johaug on the women’s side, Klæbo will almost certainly score big bonus time in the two TdS sprints. Whether he builds a big buffer of time over his pure distance rivals in the sprints remains to be seen. But, the sprints are not a wild card for Klæbo, they are his ace that complements his distance chops.
Using last season’s overall results as a barometer, Klæbo is not a guaranteed winner. Sergey Ustiugov was second last year and depending on which Ustiugov arrives in Lenzerheide, he could challenge. Alexander Bolshunov, also of Russia, may now have the physical maturity to outlast the field. He’s currently ranked first on the World Cup distance list.
With the men’s scene open to interpretation, Norway’s Emil Iversen, second on the overall list, could pull it off with an unwavering series of performances. Like the others, he’ll need no blips of fatigue, top-five sprint results, and to keep Klæbo in check on the distance stages. Other names could be penciled in on the short list. There’s Norway’s Simen Hegstad Krüger who placed third overall last year. Iivo Niskanen of Finland has found a no-nonsense skate gear this year.
But come time for the Cermis climb, we’re likely to see Klæbo crowned TdS king again.
The U.S. Ski Team has listed Diggins (objective), Sophie Caldwell (objective), Rosie Brennan (objective), Sadie Bjornsen (objective), Julia Kern (objective), and Katharine Ogden (objective- SuperTour leader) as the women’s team starters.
For the men, Kevin Bolger (discretion), David Norris (discretion), and Logan Hanneman (discretion) will be starting. Simi Hamilton (objective) sided with caution and will not be racing as he is listed with a groin injury.
Hailey Swirbul (discretion), Rosie Frankowski (discretion), Kyle Bratrud (discretion), Erik Bjornsen (discretion), and Ben Lustgarten (objective-SuperTour leader) were offered a TdS start but declined. The skiers declining their starts at the TdS will be in Houghton, MI. for U.S. Senior Nationals.