It usually only happens in early August, but right now, I am suffering from a bad case of Post Tour Depression(PDT). I am not talking about that bike tour around France in July, I am 'jonesing' for the Tour de Ski. Most one-day cross country ski races are pretty darn exciting, throw in a gun or two and they get even more so. But, the Federation International de Ski(FIS) has really hit it big with the Tour de Ski.
As I described in my blog last week, the Tour de Ski is a 9-day, 7-race cross country ski racing event based loosely on the Tour de France. The event has a prologue time trial, time bonus sprints, a time cut, flat stages, and mountain stages, the final day featuring a climb that can rightly claim to be the Alpe d'Huez of cross country skiing. And to top it all off, the Tour de Ski includes both men's and women's races.
The 2008-2009 edition was a real nail-biter a combination of the depth of the fields, format of the races and the huge prize list($100,000 in total prizes with cars going to both the men's and women's winners). These skiers came to lay it all on the line and it that they did.
The final stage featured the gruelling climb of Alpe Cermis, a 3.5-mile(6km), 1400-foot(425 meter) test that is unique in both it's length and gain in world-class cross country ski racing. What piqued the drama was the format of the final stage with the skiers heading out in order of their overall standing and with a time advantage equal to their standing on the other skiers.
In cross country skiing they call it a 'pursuit' race. If Gunnar is leading Thor in second place by 32 seconds going into the final stage then Gunnar starts 32 seconds ahead of Thor and so on and so forth all the way down the individual standings. So, unlike the Tor de France, the racer who crosses the finish line first on top of Alpe Cermis is the overall winner.
The women's race provided the most exciting moments as the second place Finnish skier, Aino-Kaisa Saarinen, made up a 40+ second deficit on her first place teammate, Virpi Kuitunen. about a mile before the top, but blew up and was passed by Kuitunen just before the finish. Both racers collapsed in the snow, but rolled over to give each other a congratulatory hug.
The men's race was a runaway win by Switzerland's Dario Cologna, but the best ski of the day was Italy's Giorgi di Centa who moved up from 14th to 4th overall on the brutal ascent of Alpe Cermis.
Thank heavens the Tour de France is only seven months away. I am not sure I can go much longer without a Tour. Hey, but don't forget about the Giro. That could be the best grand tour in 2009 and it starts in just five months.
ps- you have to check out the TV channel NBC Universal Sports. They totally rock.
While we all wait for Lance's first pedal strokes in a ProTour race, there is another tour going on and it's providing the same sort of excitement that we all see in France in July. The Tour de Ski is a 9-day, 7-race cross country ski series that is raced along a similar format of the Tour de France.
The Tour de Ski is the brainchild of Norwegian Vegard Ulvang the three-time Olympic gold medalist. You might remember, on the eve of the 1994 Olympics in his home country of Norway, Vegard's older brother, Ketil, disappeared on his way home during a blizzard (the family lives 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle). When news reached Vegard, he left the Norwegian Olympic Team's training camp and went home to conduct a search. Unable to find his brother, he decided to compete in Lilihammer and won three Olympic gold medals. They found Ketil's body the following spring when the snow melted.
If you have never seen a pack of 50+ cross country skiers racing flat out, time to tune to NBC Universal Sports and check out the Tour de Ski. Frankly, it's awesome. If you are suffering from either PTD (pre-Tour depression) or PTD(post-Tour depression) the Tour de Ski offers the true sports junkie the fix necessary to carry you through thsoe long cold days and even colder nights until the boyz on two wheels take center stage.
The first race was a 3km prologue in Oberhof Germany, the 7-minute event very reminiscent of the opening day of the Tour. After a distance event, 10km for the women, 15km for the men, the race heads to Prague for a 1km sprint. Next stop is Novo Mesto also in the Czech Republic for two races before finishing off with two final races in the Italian Dolomites at Val di Fiemme. Cool stuff and well worth checking out!