For cross country racers and fans, Tour de Ski is “bigger & better;”
Four Hills on for jumpers BY PETER Q. GRAVES
Meetings New Year’s
Eight days of racing in 10 days. Five venues. Three countries. From January 1 to 10, the eyes of the cross country skiing world will be focused on
the towns of Oberhof, Prague, Cortina/Toblach and Val di Fiemme for the
fourth annual FIS Tour de Ski.
Twenty-three nations will be on hand at the start, making this a record
number of nations for the stage race. Organizers expect some 140 athletes
to compete. And from the prologue in Oberhof, Germany, to the final, heart-pounding climb up the Alpe Cermais at the door to the Dolomites in Val di
Fiemme, this is ski race has no peer. There will be sprint points and bonus
points to fight over, making this race not only complex but also utterly fascinating. Keep your calculator close at hand.
Last year’s edition was hard fought for the women, with Virpi Kuitunen
of Finland taking the overall crown with a general classification (GC) time
of 2:06.41.4; right on her heels was countryman Aino-Kaisa Saarinen in
2:06:48.6. The Slovenian sprint queen, Petra Majdic, was third followed by
overall world cup winner Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk, while Italy’s Marianne
Longo was fifth.
The men’s GC last year showed just how well Swiss World Cup overall champion Dario Cologna of Davos was skiing when he took the event with a time
of 2:56:05.4. It may not be so easy this year with his return to competition
hampered by a mid-fall thigh injury. His last race in Davos showed him skiing
up to 31st place — and that was an improvement from the week before.
Second last year was the indestructible Petter Northug of Norway in
2:57.04.4, while Axel Teichmann was third and Giorgio Di Centa was fourth.
Rounding out the top five was Russian skier Vassili Roctchev.
The Tour de Ski might seem to favor a “centerist” type of athlete, one with
fleet feet in both skating and classic, and one with the ability to sprint and
hammer out some grueling distance, too. For as Petra Majdic so wisely put it
last year, “This is not a normal race; it is the Tour.”
Can Finland’s Virpi Kuitunen defend her title at the Tour de Ski?
The Prologue events (three days of racing) will take place in the town of
Oberhof, in the center of the Thuringian forest, just about 800 meters above
sea level. Then it’s off to a sprint stage with the stunning backdrop of Prague
before the Tour de Ski heads to Italy for two days of racing: one day of distance skiing starting at Cortina and running to Toblach followed by a day of
5K and 10K classical races at Toblach. Finally the weary athletes will arrive at
Val di Fiemme for the final two days of racing.
Instead of the yellow jersey of the Tour de France, the Tour de Ski leader
wears a red bib, while the overall sprint points leader wears a black bib. Racers who drop out of one race cannot reenter the Tour de Ski, and bonus seconds can be picked up for intermediate points in the mass start events.
Among the North Americans expected to compete in the Tour de Ski is Andy
Newell of Shaftsbury, Vt., and Canadians Sara Renner (15th overall last year),
Devon Kershaw, George Grey, Ivan Babikov and Alex Harvey.