The long stage from Cortina to Toblach in the men’s class is the Queen stage of Tour de Ski – with more than 30 kilometers of skating on an A-to-B course, this stage can shake up the overall standings considerably like it did the last years. This will be like Christmas Eve for Cross Country skiing fans!
The women will “only” race 15 km on a 5 km course which is skied 3 times. Less drama is expected here, although it will be interesting to see if the pack can gain some time on the “impossible” Kowalczyk racing alone at the front. Skating is not the strongest discipline of the Polish Tour leader – and the followers will surely cooperate well with two Norwegians among them.
The Russians versus Cologna and Northug
As we have seen in previous editions of Tour de Ski, if there is no cooperation at the front of the field, more and more skiers can come up from behind
Cologna has decided the Tour at the Cortina-Toblach stage the two last years by arriving alone in Toblach more than a minute ahead of the closest follower – but this is not a likely scenario this year. Instead, the main question ahead of this year’s Queen stage is: How big will the leading group become – and will the group manage to cooperate? Five skiers start within 30 seconds, and nobody will be surprised if they get together at an early stage in the race. It looks like the main fight this year will be between the Russian duo Vylegzhanin (starting first)/Legkov (+28 seconds), the Swiss Tour de Ski specialist Dario Cologna (+ 2 seconds) and the Norwegian Petter Northug (+ 9 seconds). Canadian Devon Kershaw Harvey (+27 seconds) also has a perfect starting position and will be up there fighting for a top result.
However, as we have seen in previous editions of Tour de Ski, if there is no cooperation at the front of the field, more and more skiers can come up from behind. Northug has stated several times ahead of the Tour that he will not help keeping up the speed on the Cortina-Toblach stage. If he follows this plan, the others might not just want to give him a free ride. With Russian Ilia Chernousov starting only 24 seconds behind Legkov, a Russian trio in the leading group is a possibility depending on how the tactics are played up at the front.
Going another 33 seconds down on the start list, we come to the “big pack” – with last year’s fastest skier on this stage Marcus Hellner and the strong Czech Lukas Bauer at the head of the field. Too little cooperation at the front, and anything is possible. Big groups who cooperate well can go very fast on this type of stages – but how will the groups form? Here is the complete startlist / tour standings.
Dario Cologna – Photo WorldofXC.com
2011/2012: Awesome Cologna – three big groups
Petter Northug started the day 13.5 seconds behind Dario Cologna. Northug started out fast and caught Cologna after a few kilometers. The Norwegian was however punished for his tough start, and lost more than a minute to Cologna while waiting out Legkov (RUS). Behind Northug and Legkov the strongest group of the day was formed – the trio Hellner (SWE), Manificat (FRA) and Kershaw (CAN) – all three starting more than 2 minutes behind Cologna. They steadily gained time on Cologna until they caught Northug and Legkov around 20 km – having caught up with more than a minute at that time. Then they slowed down to the speed of Northug/Legkov, and the group finished down 1:16 from Cologna. If the group had not stopped cooperating when catching Northug/Legkov, they would probably have managed to gain even more time on Cologna. Marcus Hellner and Maurice Manificat – the two fastest skiers of the day – both gained around 1:30 on Cologna in the end.
Interesting fact: No single skiers except for Cologna survived on their own their own throughout the race. The rest of the skiers fighting in the top packed themselves into only three big groups.
Illustration Tour de Ski 2011/2012: Splitsbrowser where comparison is done to Dario Cologna. A line which is flat means the same time as Cologna. A line which goes down represents slower speed – a line which goes up represents faster speed. You can see where the grouping occured by observing where the lines get together.
2010/2011: Large group – no cooperation in the end
Looking back to the 2010/2011 edition of Tour de Ski, all skiers in the Top 30 except for Dario Cologna (SUI) and Marcus Hellner (SWE) in the lead got sucked up by three big groups (see article including graphical illustration here). The biggest group which Petter Northug (NOR) was part of gained time on Cologna throughout most of the race – gaining nearly 45 seconds from 7 km up to 27 km. However, the group had problems cooperating in the last part of the downhill down to Toblach, loosing more than half of what they had worked hard on gaining in the first part of the race. When the group got too big, the skiers did not manage to cooperate anymore.
Illustration Tour de Ski 2010/2011: Splitsbrowser where comparison is again done against Dario Cologna. Note that the starting split not correct due to the way the time keeping is reported.
2009/2010: Group of six from the start
In the 2009/2010 edition, there was just over 16 seconds separating the top five Hellner (SWE), Østensen (NOR), Northug, Cologna and Teichmann (GER) at the start. Østensen was dropped early, and Heikkinen (FIN) and Gaillard (FRA) caught up with the remaining four after 15km. The leading six became five as they approached the town of Toblach where Teichmann fell off the pace. In the end Northug won the finish sprint ahead of Cologna and Hellner.
Women: Strong field chasing Kowalczyk
Kowalczyk has, however, shown some weakness in skating recently, and this might very well make this race a lot more interesting than it looks at first sight
In the women’s race the fight is clear: Kowalczyk against the rest. If this race would have been races in classic style, the followers would have had a nearly impossible job. Kowalczyk has, however, shown some weakness in skating recently, and this might very well make this race a lot more interesting than it looks at first sight.
Behind Kowalczyk the two Norwegians Therese Johaug (at +50 seconds) and Kristin Størmer Steira (at + 1:00) will probably try to cooperate closely to gain time on Kowalczyk . Last year Johaug started in a vacuum and had to race all of the 15 km alone whereas the duo Kowalczyk/Bjørgen fought together at the front. This resulted in Johaug loosing 50 seconds to the top duo – and with that any chance to win the overall Tour 2011/2012. Can Johaug exploit her advantage this year?
It is not only about the Norwegians and Kowalczyk, though. Denise Herrmann (Germany) starts only 5 seconds behind Størmer Steira and will try to join in on the chase. Kikkan Randall (at +1:18, USA), Anne Kyllönen (at 1:29, Finland) and Charlotte Kalla (at 1:32, Sweden) are probably too far behind in order to catch the two Norwegians. However, in a 9-day Tour one skier might suddenly have a super day while another has a bad day, so anything can happen… Here is the complete startlist / tour standings.
Set up your predictions
Set up your predictions and see results here:
- #1: Results Tour de Ski Prologue, 3/4 km Free, Oberhof
- #2: Results Tour de Ski Stage 2, 9/15 km Pursuit Classic, Oberhof
- #3:Results Tour de Ski Stage 3, Sprint Free, Val Mustair, Tschierv
- #4: Tour de Ski Stage 4, 35/15 km Pursuit Free, Toblach/Cortina
- #5: Tour de Ski Stage 5, 3/5 km Classic, Toblach/Cortina
- #6: Tour de Ski Stage 6, 10/15 km Classic, Val di Fiemme
- #7: Tour de Ski Stage 7, Final climb (Individual times)
- Overall XC-Prediction results – Tour de Ski 2012/2013 – updated after each stage
Justyna Kowalczyk – Photo WorldofXC.com