That is probably what Vegard Ulvang must have imagined it to be, even before he was named as the chairman of the executive board of the FIS (Federation International de Ski) in May 2006. He had already represented Norway in cross-country skiing for thirteen years long spectacular career with the main boost during 1991-93, where he secured three gold medals at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville (one team relay) following up with two gold medals at the world championships, as well as a bunch of silver and bronze medals. Once Ulvang took his place in the FIS board, he proposed an event idea to the board members and managed to gain their enthusiastic votes right away. Soon enough a new race was born and inspired by the idea of the Tour de France, was titled “Tour de Ski”.
Not only in terminology but the race actually relates to the grand cycling event in terms of some formats, however, obviously in the ‘Ski’ genre. Also instead of sticking to one location, the initial stages are held at various regions, however, the race always concludes with a climb up to Mount Cermis (Eastern Trentino, Italy). I assume that was enough of the background and introduction so let’s move on to the participants, hot choices, expectations and the layout of the grand “Tour de Ski 2018-2019".
Ones to Watch (Main Contestants):
This year's Tour de Ski promises to be a great cracker as the program being released a couple of days ago contains exciting entries. Heidi Weng and Dario Cologna are the defending champions and are expected to be the main contenders for this season despite not securing a rank as the best performing athletes this year. In addition, the popularity of Norwegian skiers has always been on the higher end so, in the men's competition, we can expect Sjur Roethe, Emil Iversen and Didrik Tonseth demonstrating their skills. In my point of view, the main contender at the moment, however, is Russian Alexander Bolshunov, who is leading the overall World Cup rankings and is famous for his unmatchable sprints.
The great names to remember from the women section is Therese Johaug who has made it back to the top after a (well, oops) doping suspension of 18 months. She was banned from the sport, including the 2018 Winter Olympics and was accused of being energized through a chemical substance in her sunburn lip balm, which probably shouldn’t have been recommended by her doctor Fredrik Bendiksen. So far Johaug has been dominating the cross-country season with four wins in the total of six races that were held, including the 15km race in Beitostolen (8 December). Any other possibility of threatening participation might include Charlotte Kalla and Ebba Andersson (both from Sweden), fellow Norwegian Ingvild Flugstad Ostberg or Krista Parmakoski from Finland. Yulia Belorukova and Jonna Sundling are the strong entries who won the two races where Johaug failed, but their main strength is the sprints so probably the longer distances races might not provide them a comfort zone.
Tour De Ski Season's Program:
29 December: Freestyle Sprint Race in Toblach, Italy
In this category, each skier begins in a similar fashion as the prologue in the Tour de France consisting of a small solo time-trial with the finishing time following up to the next round. The top 30 skiers, however, will have the opportunity to win bonus seconds and qualify for the quarter-finals among whom 12 would make their way to semi-finals. The remaining 18 who would not qualify for the semi-finals will be ranked by time and would receive bonus seconds accordingly (10 seconds for position 13-15, 8 seconds for position 16-20, 6 seconds for position 21-25 and 4 seconds for position 26-30). A total of six skiers would finally reach the final, where they would compete for one last time to divide the ultimate set of bonus points (positions 1-6, 60-54-48-46-44 and 42 seconds).
30 December: Freestyle Interval Race in Toblach, Italy
In this stage, the women would have to cover about 10 km, whereas the men would do 15, in a time track manner same as the sprint format. The top three skiers to cross the finish line would receive 15, 10 and 5 bonus seconds. The times and the bonus seconds of the first two stages will be calculated to announce the Tour de Ski leaderboard and would be followed by the upcoming stages.
01 January: Freestyle Sprint Race in Val Müstair, Switzerland
Yeah, now you would probably pay gratitude to your jobs as 1st of January is not a day-off for these participants and hope they won't party too hard on the new year’s eve. The sprint race goes in the same format as mentioned above. In the end, the bonus points and total time will be calculated and summed-up.
02 January: Classic Mass Start in Oberstdorf, Germany
Now, this would be a bit of a different format among all, where the contestants would start at the same time. The race has to be performed in the classic style, meaning that one needs to keep their ski's mainly to the ground-level while dragging themselves forward, whereas in freestyle skiers have much more freedom as to how they will choose to reach the end-point. Whoever makes it to the finish line first would be the stage winner and 15 seconds bonus would be added to his/her account. Also, the number two (10) and number three (5) will win bonus seconds. During this race, there will be two intermediate sprints in which the first ten skiers win bonus points (15-12-10-8-6-4-3-2 and 1 seconds).
03 January: Freestyle Chase Race in Oberstdorf, Germany
This is more or less like a Formula-One race, in which the number one in the rankings starts first from the pole position and other contestants would begin their race depending on the difference between the leads. Whoever crosses the finish line whether the one starting earlier or later would again receive bonus points based on their performance. Often, big gaps are closed or expanded in this section of the race so we can expect many alterations in positions and movements on the leaderboard.
05 January: Classic Mass Start in Val di Fiemme, Italy
Same format as that of January 2.
06 January: Freestyle Chase Race to the top of Mount Cermis in Val di Fiemme, Italy
This would mark as the final day of the competition. Whether men or women, all would have to cover the same distance, the race would begin from the same location in Val di Fiemme and will finish at the top of Mount Cermis. According to the chase race formula, the leaders of the overall standings will start first but anyone reaching the top of the mountain before others would be the overall winner of the event.
Only one skier has managed to complete a total of ten Tour de Ski events and that being a Norwegian athlete “Petter Northug” who won the 2014-15 race and retired afterward. Among all, Justyna Kowalczyk from Poland and Dario Cologna from Switzerland have been the two most committed winners so far, both winning the competition four times. In addition, Sergey Ustiugov owns the record for most stage wins in a row as in 2016-17 season, he won five consecutive stages.
That is all for today, however, there is more in the store for winter-sports lovers. You can either pick a destination from this list of 'must-attend festivals', stay inside yet grab the action through this marvelous skiing/snowboarding game (reviewed by @jodcarey) or team-up with Sinterklaas (by @fraste) for some light activities.