Tag Archive | "Dario Cologna"

Hellner and Cologna to Sit Out Classic Sprint in Val di Fiemme

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February 20, 2013 (Val di Fiemme, Italy) – Cross-Country stars Dario Cologna (SUI) and Marcus Hellner (SWE) will not contest the Sprint on Thursday, the opening round of competition at the Nordic Ski World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, according to the German news site Handelsblatt.com.

Cologna, Olympic champion in the 15km distance, and Sweden’s Hellner, who won gold in the 30km event at the Vancouver 2010 Games, want to conserve their strength for the distance races, which begin on Saturday with the 30km Skiathlon. In the sprint competition, both had only an outside chance.

Read the original article HERE (German).

The Sasseville Report – Gällivare and the Start of the Racing Season

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November 29, 2012 – So here we are – at the start of another World Cup racing season with the first races in the north of Sweden in Gällivare. Last season, when there were no Olympics or World Championships races on the schedule, the races on the World Cup were the most important contests of the season and no one was really peaking for any big event, other than the Tour de Ski.

But this season, many racers are taking a different approach to their training with the Nordic World Championships in Val di Fiemme in February. By focusing on peaking for these championships, many skiers plan to train hard right through the first races of the season before Christmas. As a result, you will see that some of the top skiers do not have very good results during November and December. The other side effect is that many of the top skiers will not travel to Canada for the World Cups before the holidays, preferring to stay at home where they can train more and have less fatigue from travelling.

This could be seen in the individual race in Gällivare in the results of some of the top racers – most notably Dario Cologna (Sui), Justyna Kowalczyk (Pol) and even, I think, in the results of Canada’s Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey. Cologna was 19th, Kowalczyk was 27th, Harvey was 36th and Kershaw was 44th in the freestyle races.

But it doesn’t matter what the racing program is, or whether you are peaking or not if you are as strong as Marit Bjoergen (Nor). She and her Norwegian country woman, Therese Johaug, finished 1st and 2nd, followed by American Kikkan Randall in 3rd. Bjoergen won the first race last year, too.

Randall was on the podium for the first time in a distance race – a sign that she is continuing to improve over her stunning season last year where she won the Sprint Cup and was 5th overall in the World Cup. Randall, who has been walking around in an air cast most of this summer and fall due to a stress reaction in the bones of her foot, must be relieved that this injury has not affected her results.

Her teammate, Holly Brooks, has also kicked it up a notch or two, finishing 5th. Brooks, who is on the US B Team and is primarily self-funded, started well last year too, but a wrist injury slowed her down at the end of the year.

The American women were the talk of the XC skiing world on Sunday when they finished on the podium for the first time ever in a World Cup relay, taking 3rd. As well as Randall and Brooks, Jessie Diggins and Liz Stephen skied great relay legs to nip the 2nd Norwegian team finishing behind Norway 1 and Sweden 1.

The Canadian women’s team results were disappointing for everyone on the weekend with a best in the individual race of 61st by Dasha Gaiazova and a relay finish of 14th out of 18 teams. Three of the four women – Gaiazova, Chandra Crawford, and Perianne Jones, are primarily sprinters, so the hope is that their results will be better in the sprint that is scheduled in Kuusamo, Finland this coming weekend.

In the men’s individual race, the surprise winner was 28-year-old Martin Sundby of Norway. This was his first World Cup win, but he did win all three races at the Norwegian Championships last winter and was on the podium at two World Cups last winter at the end of the year.

Sundby finished ahead of another surprising skier, Alexei Poltoranen of Kazakhstan, and Marcus Hellner of Sweden. Perennial favourite, Petter Northug was 7th. Poltoranen has a history of doing well in the early season races and I think that Northug likely falls into the group of skiers who are training very hard right now for big races later.

It was nice to see Canada’s Ivan Babikov finishing 14th in this race. Babikov has had a couple of slow years since Vancouver, but he has re-dedicated himself to training hard and it is showing. Kris Freemen had the best US team result at 33rd and I am sure that he is looking forward to going to Kuusamo this week where he has had great results in the past.

In the men’s relay the Canadian men finished a terrific 5th just 3 seconds from 2nd place. Norway, anchored by Northug won the race followed by Sweden and Russia who out-sprinted the Swiss and Canada for the podium.

There has been a change in the format of the men’s relay races on the World Cup level now as they have gone from 4x10km races to 4×7.5 km to make it more exciting for the fans and shorter for TV. This shorter distance will not change the results but it will get the races to the finishing sprint sooner.

Len Valjas made his World Cup debut this season in the first leg of the relay and met his goal of finishing within 20 seconds of the top skiers. Valjas skied with a cast on his hand after breaking a knuckle and should be very happy with his result.

The American men were a disappointing 15th out of 22 teams. There is a strange parallel between the US men and the Canadian women and the US women and the Canadian men. It will be interesting to watch if this changes over the winter.

So now it is off to Kuusamo in Finland for the next leg of the World Cup. There will be a 3-race mini-tour for the men and women including a sprint race, an individual start race and a pursuit race.

From there the World Cup comes to Canada for races in Quebec City on December 7 and 8 and in Canmore on December 13, 15 and 16. I am fortunate to be involved again in the broadcast of all of these races on CBC and Bold. All of the races will be telecast so check your local listings for viewing times.

Dario Cologna Crowned Nordic Ski King of 2011/12.

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October 19, 2012 – Dario Cologna (SUI) was recently named Nordic Ski King of 2011/12 and awarded with the corresponding trophy in Val Müstair, Switzerland.

New FIS Tour de Ski Venue – Val Müstair

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October 10, 2012 (Val Müstair, Switzerland) – On January 1, 2013, the FIS Tour de Ski will make its first stop ever in Switzerland. Val Müstair, the home valley of the triple FIS Cross-Country World Cup and FIS Tour de Ski winner Dario Cologna, will host the third stage of the Tour, a free technique sprint. Val Müstair lies close to the Italian border, approximately two hours by car from Innsbruck. It is situated between two passes, the Ofenpass from the Swiss side and the Reschenpass from Italy.

Picturesque Val Müstair
The Müstair valley is one of the most beautiful mountain valleys in Switzerland. It is acclaimed for two things. The world-famous Convent of St. John, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the Swiss National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. A cultural highlight and chief attraction, the Benedictine Convent of St. John is an idyllic alpine monastery which was founded by Charlemagne to whom it owes its distinction. Built in the 8th Century the convent church houses the world’s richest and best preserved series of figurative Romanesque murals, with impressive Carolingian frescos. The new “Planta Tower” museum gives insights into the cloister life.

Sporty Val Müstair
In the summer, Val Müstair offers a wide range of holiday experiences. Hikers can explore the valley, the Swiss National Park and the nearby Ortler mountain region. Trails are well marked, and for both beginners and experienced cyclists there is an extensive network of paths and mountain bike trails.

Skiing, snowboarding, cross-country – for those who want a classic winter sports holiday, Val Müstair is the perfect place. The Minschuns ski area is family friendly and the cross-country trails are everything you could wish for. There is also the opportunity for ski touring and snowshoeing.

FIS Tour de Ski in Val Müstair
Cross-Country Skiing has a long tradition and histors in the valley. Most importantly, Dario Cologna was born in St. Maria, which lies only 8 km from Tschierv, the competition venue. Dario Cologna’a successes and growing repuation has increased the popularity of Cross-Country Skiing in the region. “Firstly we want to take advantage of the growing popularity of Cross-Country Skiing and the personal appeal of Dario Cologna to create something magnificent. Secondly, we want to promote our position as a tourist destination in connection with Cross-Country Skiing,” Claudio Daguati, Secretary of the Organizing Committee, says.

Find out more about Val Müstair

Cologna Training at Altitude

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August 16, 2012 (Davos, Switzerland) – The defending FIS Tour de Ski Champion and FIS Cross-Country World Cup winner is getting ready for the coming season at home, in Switzerland. After a few days at his home place Davos, Cologna started a high altitude training block in Engadin and Flüelapass. “I spent a great week with Curdin in Engadin. We trained together very well and he showed me some great tours in his home area,” Dario Cologna wrote on his website.

After the week in Engadin Cologna returned back to Davos “I am sleeping at Flüelapass in 2382 m but mainly do the training down in the valley in Davos. Together with Toni Livers we will carry out running tours at the Flüellapass,” Cologna adds.

Cologna’s training program is full packed for the rest of the month. “On Friday we are having an Odlo bike tour. On Sunday I am taking part in the roller skiing competition in San Bernardino. At the end of the month we are travelling to Oberhof where we will be training again on snow,” Dario Cologna revealed plans for August.

Find out more about Dario Cologna:
Website: www.dariocologna.ch
Twitter: twitter.com/dariocologna
Facebook: www.facebook.com/

Kershaw Scores Bronze as Cologna Takes Men’s WCup 15km CL in Otepaa

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January 22, 2012 (Otepaa, Estonia) – It was a great day for Canada’s Devon Kershaw in Otepaa with a bronze medal performance in the men’s 15km classic and yet another podium for the Canadian team in as many days. In fact it was Kershaw’s best-ever distance result in a non-Tour de Ski World Cup commented Justin Wadsworth, Canadian Head Coach.

The Sudbury skier was in the zone and lead at both intermediate splits on the Otepaa course, arguably one of the toughest cross-country ski courses on the circuit. But in the last portion of the race he was overtaken by Lukas Bauer (CZE) who surged near the end, and eventual winner Dario Cologna (SUI).

“I went out really hard today. I went for the win and I don’t regret it,” said Kershaw in a team release. “It has been a hard couple of weeks for me personally and I didn’t know what to expect coming off the Tour. Today I was able to mentally switch off the brain and focus on skiing which felt amazing.”

“The climbs out here are are relentless and punishing. They are so long which we don’t normally ski,” added Kershaw. “The Estonians know how to set up a course to ensure the strongest man wins.”

This was his first weekend of racing since his remarkable fourth overall at the grueling nine-stage Tour de Ski that ended Jan. 8. The team jetted to the Canary Islands for a break after the Tour which may become more popular with WCup skiers given Kershaw’s medal performance today and his teammate, Alex Harvey’s 4th place in the CL sprints yesterday.

Harvey finished 19th for a solid effort and was followed by the USA’s Kris Freeman (USA), the top American in 22nd place – his best distance result so far this season. Noah Hoffman (USA) also had a strong day scoring points and a personal best World Cup classic distance result, with a 26th-place finish (he was 25th in the pursuit in Whistler at the pre-Olympics).

“The race today felt really good. I went out focused on starting under control. The course was incredibly difficult, possibly the hardest I’ve ever raced on, but more than that I didn’t want to repeat my mistakes from the 15km at US Nationals,” Hoffman explained to SkiTrax post-race. “I executed that part of my plan pretty well. I also had great skis and good energy. I was happy with the way things went. I’m looking forward to building on this result for the rest of the season.”

Canada’s Len Valjas crossed the line in 31st just out of the points coming close to his best-ever World Cup finish in a distance event which was 29th in Kuusamo.

With today’s result Kershaw is now 5th overall in the World Cup ranking while Harvey sits eighth overall. Harvey was impressed with his teammate’s skiing saying, “Just so everybody knows Devon Kershaw is the man. Third place in Otepaa but special mention for gutsiest skiing!”

For Kershaw his stellar day didn’t quite erase his disappointment at placing fourth at the Tour de Ski but he’s stoked with the Canadian team’s overall performance season

“Finishing fourth has been tough to take and it was at the Tour. It is heartbreaking, but that is the thing about cross-country skiing – there is always more,” said Kershaw. “The biggest factor for me is that I’m now feeling much stronger and more comfortable every race because of the people I’m surrounded by on our team.

“We have had an athlete in the top-five at every World Cup stop this year, which I think is a credit to the athletes we have on this team, and the support from our wax techs and coaches. Mentally it is so good for me.”

Results HERE.
Results detail HERE.
World Cup Overall HERE.


Cologna Breaks Northug on TdS Queen Stage 7 – Strong Kershaw Still 4th Overall

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January 05, 2012 (Cortina, Italy) – Switzerland’s Dario Cologna pulled away from Petter Northug of Norway on Stage 7, the Tour de Ski’s Queen Stage, a 32km point-to-point freestyle race, breaking his Norwegian rival with a convincing win.

Cologna, who was in a league of his own today, turned what had been a meagre 13.5-second lead into a much more significant gap of one minute and 28 seconds. Skiing alone out front for all but a few minutes of the the race, Cologna stopped the clock at 1:09:25.2.

Canada’s Devon Kershaw, had a strong race as well posting the third fastest time finishing 4th on the day, to retain his 4th place overall position. Kershaw looked smooth and skied much of the day at the front of the chase group of five skiers that formed behind Cologna in the latter half of the gruelling race.

“This is a race I have been thinking about all year for 365 days. I was so nervous last night and this morning it was unreal,” said the 29-year-old Kershaw. “This is probably the best skate-ski race I have ever had.  I couldn’t have imagined to have skied this strong.”

His teammate Alex Harvey, who was skiing with a second chase group, also had a good day, managing to hold onto 9th overall, although he lost a few seconds and is currently at 3:07.8 behind Cologna.

While Northug managed to hold on for second in today’s stage, he struggled early on and is now in a dogfight to stay on the podium at this year’s Tour. Cologna led out today’s handicap-start race with a 13.5-second lead over the Norwegian but Northug charged after him and quickly closed the gap. His push cost him tho’ as his Swiss rival accelerated soon after Northug caught him but the Norwegian could not match Cologna’s pace and quickly faded.

Northug was soon caught by Russia’s Alexander Legkov and the two skied together over the top of the long initial climb at 11.5km. The duo was eventually caught at about the 22km mark by a chase group of three that included Kershaw, Marcus Hellner (SWE), and Maurice Magnificat (FRA).

Entering the stadium just over a minute after Cologna crossed the line, the chase group of five was left to battle for the final two spots on today’s podium and the bonus seconds that came with them. Northug, who had been lurking at the back most of the time, showed off his classic finishing speed and out-sprinted the small pack to the line, followed by Legkov and Kershaw.

Cologna retains his overall lead in the Tour, but gave up time to all of his nearest rivals except Northug. There are now five skiers within a minute and half of Cologna, with two hard and decisive stages to go.

Also having a good day today was the USA’s Kris Freeman, who finished 42nd to moved up to 29th overall at 6:48.3 behind Cologna. Canada’s Ivan Babikov also skied well to move up from 43rd to 35th today and sits 6:56.1 behind the race leader.

Men’s 35km results HERE.
Men’s 35km results detail HERE.
Men’s TdS Overall HERE.

Legkov Victorious at TdS Stage 5 as Cologna Now Leads – Kershaw Top North American in 18th

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January 03, 2012 (Toblach, Italy) – Russia’s Alexander Legkov finally broke through for his first podium of the season, a victory in today’s 5th stage of the Tour de Ski, an individual start 5km classic race in Toblach, Italy. Legkov finished today’s race in 13:49.5. Norway’s Eldar Roenning came in 2nd at 1.7 seconds followed by Dario Cologna (SUI) in third at 2.0 seconds back as he takes over the race lead from Norway’s Petter Northug was a little off the pace today, finishing in 12th.

The Russians were out in force in today’s race and surely nailed the wax or made the best of their zero skis, after placing six men in the top 11. Canada’s Devon Kershaw lead the North American men placing 18th as he finished 24.6 seconds behind Legkov. His teammate Alex Harvey had a bit of an off day, placing 29th at 37.5 seconds back of the leader. Ivan Babikov, who is nursing an injured arm after crashing in the Skiathon on Jan. 1, finished in 72nd place.

It was another tough day for the US team as well, with Simi Hamilton pulling out the Tour prior to today’s race, the victim of a stomach virus, according to Head Coach Chris Grover. The sole remaining US man in the Tour, Kris Freeman, finished 52nd on the day.

Cologna moves into the overall Tour lead after today, while Northug drops to 2nd, followed by Legkov in 3rd. Legkov’s victory today, including a 15-second time bonus for the win, has closed the gap to Northug  to less than 30 seconds, so the Tour is beginning to look more like a three-man race.  Kershaw holds onto 5th place, while Harvey has dropped to 15th overall after today’s disappointing result.

5km CL results HERE.
Tour de Ski Overall HERE.

Kowalczyk and Northug Claim Prologue Victories at Tour de Ski – Harvey 6th and Randall 10th

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December 29, 2011 (Oberhof, Germany) – Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland staked her claim to the women’s Tour de Ski overall crown with a win in today’s opening 3.1km Prologue stage in Oberhof, Germany. Kowalczyk bested World Cup overall leader, Marit Bjoergen (NOR) by 0.4 seconds over the 2.5km course. Sweden’s Hannah Brodin was third.

Among the American women, Kikkan Randall finished a solid 10th, with teammates Liz Stephen and Holly Brooks (who is suffering with an injured wrist – read more HERE) coming in 37th and 53rd respectively.

Meanwhile, Norway’s Petter Northug backed up his intentions to win the Tour this year with a win in the men’s 4.0km Prologue, beating Tour arch rival Dario Cologna of Switzerland by .7 seconds. France’s Maurice Magnificat finished third.

The Canadian men had an excellent day, with Alex Harvey finishing 6th and Devon Kershaw 12th. Ivan Babikov was further back in 38th position while Andy Newell had the top result for the US squad in 29th place, followed by Simi Hamilton and Kris Freeman in 63rd and 64th respectively.

Full women’s results HERE.
Full men’s results HERE.

Swedish Cross-Country Team Trains in Davos

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September 20, 2011 (Davos, Switzerland) – Already last winter discussed Swedish and Swiss national teams they could do something together. “We talked with Guri Hetland, sports manager of the Swiss Cross-Country team, and all the pieces fell into right place. I think both teams will have the pleasure of training with each other in Davos and its fantastic environment,” says Swedish coach Joakim Abrahamsson.

The Swiss team is well known and is led by reigning World Cup champion Dario Cologna. He, Remo Fischer, Curdin Perl and Toni Livers romped to first ever Swiss World Cup victory in the relay in La Clusaz last winter.

Swedish team left Livigno, Italy on Sunday after a wonderful week with various dry-land workouts in perfect weather. “The sun was shining all the time, we had optimal conditions there and we could carry out the whole training plan we had prepared,” Joakim Abrahamsson says.

Davos has been Swedish favorite resort for a long time. The town lies in a valley with Flüelaschwarzhorn as the highest point, 3146 meters above the sea level. The town itself lies in 1260 meters above sea level.
“We are confident that in Davos we will perform great workouts. Anna Haag and Emil Jönsson have been here, and Guri Hetland lives in Davos and the surrounding area is great,” Joakim Abrahamsson says. Anna Haag and Emil Joensson bought an apartment in Davos.

Unfortunately, neither Johan Olsson nor Marcus Hellner will team up with the Swedish squad in Davos. The two Olympic relay heroes have not fully recovered from their injuries.

“Johan needs more time to heal his shoulder bu he can do alternative training. The same applies for Marcus. At first he was slightly cold, and then he stretched his knee,” Joakim Abrahamsson revealed.

Swiss Team Concludes Second Off-Season Camp

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June 14, 2011 – The Swiss Cross-Country Ski Team carried out its second training camp last week. After the first get-together in Magglingen, Switzerland, the team went to Passo Stelvio, Italy for some training on the snow.

“The camp in Magglingen was a good one. It is a nice place to train and the conditions for rollerskiing are excellent. The month of May represents the start of a new season and it was nice to have the team together again and really start the training for 2011/12 season. We also made our test program in Magglingen and had meetings with coach team, service team and medical team,” explained head coach of the Swiss team Guri Hetland to fiscrosscounry.com.

After the dry land training and testing the Swiss team went to Italy to carry out trainings on snow. The Swiss team spent the whole week in Passo Stelvio and returned home on Sunday, June 12. “Snow conditions were good and we could ski outside the hotel door. We used the 4,5 km long course, where we had perfect possibilities for endurance and technical training. In the afternoons we mostly went down in the valley for rollerski or running workouts and some intensive trainings,” revealed Hetland who starts her second season with the Swiss team.

“This season the distance athletes and the sprinters will train more together. We now have one World Cup team with 10 athletes; Sprint and Distance, men and women. That means the distance athletes will train more with the sprinters to improve their top-speed and the sprinters will train more with the distance athletes to improve endurance,” claimed Hetland.

Service staff of the Swiss Cross-Country team got a strong reinforcement with the former service man of Petra Majdic. “Gianluca Marcolini will be a good supplement in our team. He is really experienced and he has much knowledge. He will be working close to Dario, but contribute to all the athletes as well,” explained Hetland.

There are more than five months before the FIS Cross-Country World Cup 2011/12 kicks off but all the thoughts and preparations aim at next season. “We are happy about the World Cup calendar for the next season. There are free technique races in the beginning of the season and that is good for our “skate-experts”. We also like 30 km individual start in Davos. It will be great to welcome the Cross-Country family at the traditional race in Davos! Tour de Ski looks good as well. One more competition makes it even tougher, but we like the concept,” said Hetland. Tour de Ski 2012 will be the season highlight and a chance for Dario Cologna to defend the title from last year.

Aukand Declines Team Norway Head Coach Job

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May 11, 2011 – Professional cross country ski coach Fredrik Auklund, who trains Olympic and World Cup medalist Dario Cologna (SUI), declined the dream job offer of Norwegian XC Team Head Coach, formerly held by Coach Morten Aa Djupvik, who retired unexpectedly at the end of last season. Aukland, a husband and father of two, was not able to commit to the over 200 days of travel that the position required, according to an NRK article. Read the full story HERE.

2011 FIS XC WCup Falun Finale – More Photos

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March 21, 2011 (Falun, Sweden) – If you missed the action at this past weekend’s 2011 FIS Viessmann WCup finale in Falun, Sweden check out this great photo gallery of some of the sport’s top skiers as the season’s final champions were crowned following the 10/15km Handicap start pursuit race. Norway’s Marit Bjoergen and Petter Northug won the final mini tour while Dario Cologna (SUI) and Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) were crowned the overall season champions – read more here and here.

Stockholm WCup Sprint Photos

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March 17, 2011 (Stockholm, Sweden) – Here are some great photos from yesterday’s Royal Palace Sprint in Stockholm won by Petra Majdic (SLO) and Emil Joensson (NOR). With their victories, Joensson and Majdic sewed up the respective men’s and women’s 2011 World Cup Sprint titles, as the series now heads into the final weekend in Falun, Sweden. The USA’s Kikkan Randall claimed third overall in the women’s Sprint Series – read more here on the women’s race and here for the men’s race.


OSLO 2011 Nordic Worlds – Set to Open

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February 23, 2011 (Oslo, Norway) – The excitement is expected to build to a crescendo this evening, not far from the Royal Palace in downtown Oslo, as the 2011 FIS World Nordic Championships are set to kick off. Members of the Canadian and U.S. Cross -Country ski team made their final preparations on Tuesday on the perfect ski tracks at Oslo’s famed Holmenkollen venue.

With the trees laden with snow and with light snow falling, it made for the ideal scene set for these much anticipated championships to begin.

Kikkan Randall took her final tune up on the tracks and said she was ready. “I feel great and very energized following the Drammen races and I am set to go. The sprint course is really one I like very much, it has all the right elements,” said Randall who goes into the FIS Championships poised and confident following her second World Cup win this season in Drammen.

U.S. Head Coach Chris Grover also said his charges are ready, “We are all healthy and everyone is happy and ready”.

While we tested announcing systems today for the qualifying events, the top ten of each race of men and women will be able to ski in these championships. Among them was Dartmouth’s former star, Ben Koons, who is skiing for New Zealand here, along with brother Nils. Well-known Kenyan skier Philip Boit also took part, who is now coached by the legendary Norwegian champion Bjorn Daehlie, who came our booth today for a chat. There were big crowds on hand for these races today, as there was no charge to attend.

At mid-day SkiTrax attended a Fischer Press Event and the room was full of among the best-known Fischer athletes in the sport also among the favorites here in Oslo – here are some notes from the press Conference…

Petra Majdic started things off on a lighthearted note with a line about her fall at Whistler. “The organizers have told me all the “holes” on the course are all protected. In some ways it is still in my mind. But I am very happy with my win in Oberstdorf with my first victory. I am happy to be here in Oslo, I will do my best.”

She made her final preparations in Doblach for three weeks at high-altitude it was a little risky. “I was not fresh in Drammen, but I feel better now here. I like the tracks in Oslo because they are not the easiest and will give everyone a very fair fight. Some of the girls are more aggressive than I am; the three uphills aren’t too steep (on the sprint course). So the course should be good for me.”

Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla coming off a second place last weekend in the sprints told members of the press today, “I will start in every race except the team sprint, and my favourite race will be the last one… the 30km in skating.

“I also look forward to the relay. The World Championships are something I have looked forward to for a long time. Our team has had a great summer and fall, and there’s a lot of strong young girls coming up and this helps me to improve as well.”

Yet, current world cup points leader Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk will also figure in the mix, as will Arianna Follis of Italy. The Norwegians have a strong women’s squad and relative newcomer Maiken Caspersen Falla is primed and ready for action.

Among the women’s elite count Norway’s ski queen Marit Bjorgen as a huge favourite and likely to take several medals at these events.

And it goes without saying that Norway’s Petter Northug will be strong in all events, as will Swiss skier Dario Cologna along with Swedes Marcus Hellner and Emil Joensson. The Russians looked good today in practice as well.

Then it was time for Hellner. “We have the same great spirit like the women’s team in Sweden. I will compete Wednesday – I have been waiting for this championships to start and I am like a child before Christmas,” he said.

Lucas Bauer (CZE) said he was happy to be in Oslo adding, “it is much more easy for me to compete here than under the eye of the press. I like tough tracks, so it should be good for me here.” Bauer is a powerful, tough skier who seems to be always near the top for the Czech Republic.

Nordic Combined athlete Felix Gottwald of Austria spoke of the new hills in Oslo. “I didn’t jump so well today in training and that’s okay – but I do want to jump well on Saturday. ”

For the record, several USST combiners had a fine day of jump training with Todd Lodwick having one of the longest jumps of the day with a ride at 105.0 meters. Bill Demong and Bryan Fletcher all jumped beyond 100 meters in training as well.

Other combined picks must go to the highly regarded French skier, Jason Lamy Chappuis, born in Montana. Also watch for the pair of Norwegians Mikko Kokslien and Magnus Moan.

In ski jumping both Simon Amman of Switzerland and Andreas Kofler of Austria took part in the press function and appeared up beat and ready. They will face the likes of Tom Hilde of Norway and other top Austrians.

Team USA appears strong with a big women’s team here led by the current world champion Lindsey Van from Park City. But the local crowds will be behind another great skiing pioneer, Anette Sagen, who took the bronze medal at the last championships in Liberec.

It looks to many that both the US and Canadian squads are heading into Oslo with strong skiers, and we expect to see some improved performances over the Liberec Worlds.

Record crowds are expected to attend these championships, while many rabid fans have already been camping out in the nearby forests near the racing trails to cheering for their favourites.

Yes, it’s all good – xc skiing here is so much more than a sport, but truly “a way of life”.

Sweden’s Rickardsson Takes 15K CL Win in Drammen – Kershaw 26th UPDATED

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February 19, 2011 (Drammen, Norway) – Sweden’s tough Daniel Rickardsson had both power and magic in his skiing on Saturday taking his first-ever World Cup win at the Konnerud ski stadium just six kilometers from this well known Nordic community, famed for it’s city centre sprints.

Rickardsson scored the win in the men’s 15km classic with a time of 37:19.1 on the tough trails over Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sunby winning by 29 seconds. Norwegian stud, Petter Northug, took third. More than 15,000 cheering fans came out to watch this final tune up just a week before the World Championships get underway in Oslo.

Fourth place went to Davos’ Switzerland’s Dario Cologna, who continues to lead the overall world cup standings with 1,247 points followed by Northug in second with 834 points.

While Rickkkardsson has been on the podium three times today was his first taste of the world cup nectar. He was thrilled following the race. “I had a good feeling the whole race, and I hoped to be on the podium. I will not start in Sunday’s sprint, as I will go home to Sweden and take it easy. I want to relax and will probably do all of the distance races at the World Champs.”

While the Canadian women struggled in their classic race earlier in the day, the men put in a reasonable showing. Devon Kershaw was 26th in 39:00.1, while Alex Harvey was 30th in 39:04.0, and prompted Head Coach and former Olympian Justin Wadsworth to tell SkiTrax following the race.

“For Devon it’s been since Jan. 9th without a race and he said he had a hard time getting into a rhythm. Alex has not raced a lot since the Tour de Ski as well and didn’t feel amazing, so it was a good tune up for both of them. I have 100% confidence they’re in good shape and it will show at the Worlds.”

Harvey weighed in with skitrax.com following the competition and said that his race went pretty much as he expected. “It was a good course for me, long uphills where you can stride it out and glide a lot. The course was really hard – the first 2km are basically all uphill – then you get 1km of downhill, and more uphill. Conditions were nice, a little on the cold side, especially on the last lap when it was close to -10.”

Ivan Babikov was 44th while George Grey was 68th for the Canadian National team.

The top American men was Kris Freeman who placed 57th with a time of 40:03.7. Freeman was quick to praise his skis but called it a frustrating day.

“My body just wasn’t there. I am not freaking out, but it’s not a confidence builder leading into Oslo.” The New Hampshire native said his blood sugar was ok, but just felt flat on the skis for no apparent reason but suggested that he may have over trained in the week prior to Drammen.

Freeman also said the US squad was very pleased by the strong Beitostolen results adding that he would skip Sunday’s sprint and would now head to Oslo for his final preparations for the Worlds.

“We had a rough one for sure today,” said US head coach Chris Grover. “I think Kris was a bit rusty from four weeks without racing. He will get going in Oslo for sure.”

Other American finishes included Noah Hoffman in 71st place, followed by teammates Lars Flora in 72nd and Tadd Elliott who was 77th.

All eyes will be now trained on Sunday’s free technique sprints in Drammen, the final world cup event before the start of the VM in Oslo next week.

Full results HERE.

Russia’s Chernousov Victorious on Home Turf

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February 04, 2011 (Rybinsk, Russia) – Ilia Chernousov (RUS) edged out a very tight yet small field in Rybinsk today at the Viessmann FIS World Cup Men’s 20km Pursuit to score victory on home snow. He was tailed very closely by the top men to win by a mere four-tenths of a second over second place, Jean Marc Gaillard (FRA). Fellow Frenchman Mauric Manificat took the bronze medal, finishing only three seconds behind the leader.

As in the women’s race, the field was small and no North Americans were in attendance. Notable no-shows were World Cup top three Dario Cologna (SUI), Petter Northug (NOR), Lukas Bauer (CZE), along with Marcus Hellner (SWE).

Full results HERE.
Overall Rankings HERE.

TdS Stage 8 Final Alpe Cermis Men – More Photos

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January 10, 2011 (Alpe Cermis, Italy) – Check out these great photos from Stage 8 of the 2011 TdS. The final stage of the Tour was a 9km uphill pursuit won by Lucas Bauer (CZE). The overall Tour win went to Dario Cologna (SUI), followed by Petter Northug (NOR) in second and Bauer third. Canadians Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey, who throughout the Tour have posted some of their country’s most impressive World Cup results ever, finished in 7th and 10th respectively overall – read the full story on the final stage HERE.

Cologna Wins TdS Overall as Bauer Powers to 3rd – Kershaw 7th and Harvey 10th

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January 9, 2010 (Alpe Cermis, Italy) – It’s over. The 5th annual FIS Tour de Ski finished atop Italy’s Alpe Cermis today, crowning Swiss super star Dario Cologna as the best all-round ski racer in the world. Cologna had little trouble defending his commanding lead on the 9km uphill climb.

Norway’s Petter Northug claimed 2nd over all, but the real story was Czech Lucas Bauer’s phenomenal display of climbing prowess. Like Therese Johaug (NOR) in the women’s race Bauer hurled himself up the mountain, posting the fastest time of the day and vaulted himself from 10th to 3rd in the over all.

Canadians Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey, who throughout the Tour have posted some of their country’s most impressive World Cup results ever, finished in 7th and 10th respectively overall.

In come-from-behind moves of their own, Canadian Ivan Babikov and US skier Kris Freeman posted impressive results on the final day. Both skiers have struggled during the Tour, but today they left that all behind, skiing together and snagging the 6th and 7th fastest times of the day respectively – Babikov ended up 21st overall and Freeman was 28th.

For Freeman having the 7th best time up Alpe Cermis behind Babikov in 6th was a final coup for him at the Tour and retribution for yesterday’s waxing debacle in the 20km classic.

“For sure today was an attempt to make good on yesterday which was a 19-km sufferfest. I felt good going into the 20km on Stage 7 but knew after the first kilometre I knew that I was in trouble – it was a frustrating day out there and no one felt good about it.”

An interesting twist to Freeman’s day was forgetting his transponders, “a rookie move” as he put it. “I was distracted today because of yesterday and some personal issues and only realized at 1.5km into today’s race that I’d forgotten my transponders – a rookie move. Chris [Grover, Head Coach] appealed to the jury later and I was super lucky that they understood and allowed my day to count.”

For the first few kilometres of the race things stayed relatively calm. At 3.5km Harvey was skiing very well, having moved into 3rd behind Cologna and Northug with Kershaw in 6th. But by the 5.6km mark, Harvey had been overtaken by Italy’s Roland Clara and France’s Jean Marc Gaillard who had passed Kershaw now in 7th… as Bauer lurked behind in 10th.

Nothing much changed by the next interval at 6.5km but soon after everything did. Just as the skiers hit the toughest point on this toughest of courses, Bauer dropped the hammer and suddenly attacked vaulting himself into 3rd by the 7.4km mark. From there, it was all about masochism, and Bauer certainly knows how to punish himself.

So too, does Babikov, who last year took the win in the Tour’s final hill climb. The former Russian skier, and veteran of three tours said he felt strong on today’s stage.

“I always felt pretty confident on this stage,” said Babikov. “I knew I had a chance for a good time on the day, so I went for it hoping to get some points.”

He said this year’s edition of the challenging stage was especially tough.

“Every year it seems longer, or maybe I’m just getting older. Either way, it’s tough. Some places are very narrow and it’s hard to pass. With the 6th fastest time, I’m happy,” commented Babikov.

Devon Kershaw was quick to agree with his teammate.

“Hill climbing is super hard,” said Kershaw. “I moved into 7th, and I’m happy to have stayed in the top 10. Losing time in the overall is a little disappointing, but with four podiums and such solid races, we must have done some good training.”

With one bronze, two silvers and a gold medal from this Tour, Kershaw also takes home some significant prize money. Cologna will take home 150,000 Swiss Francs ($155,000US) for the overall win, with Northug picking up 100,000. Bauer get’s 50,000 thanks entirely to today’s powerful showing…not bad for a day’s work.

All told Kershaw will head back to Canada with 25,000 Swiss Francs. When asked about his plans for the cash, Kershaw joked, saying “The guys have been razzing me about my old ’96 Saab…maybe it’s time I passed it along and might get something newer in the spring.” A new set of wheels is certainly a well-deserved reward for Kershaw’s impressive results of late.

Canadian head coach Justin Wadsworth couldn’t be happier with how this year’s Tour has gone.

“I knew Dev and the guys would ski well,” said Wadsworth. “They’ve been working hard. I thought one podium for sure, but four… I couldn’t have predicted that.”

U.S. coach Chris Grover was also gratified with Freeman’s solid day to end the Tour. “Considering our wax issues yesterday it was really important for Kris to have a good day – it was a great finish for him on good skis.”

Freeman heads to Munich later today and will be home tomorrow where he’ll take a short break and then prepare for the Nordic Worlds in Oslo in Feb.

Alex Harvey echoed his teammates enthusiasm for their accomplishments over 10 days of grueling racing.

“It’s like a circle,” he said. “Dev medals, and we all get pumped, and it pushes us. Then it happens again and it keeps coming around.”

Harvey posted some very strong splits early in today’s race, even taking over 3rd place for a short while.

“It was really good, I’m really happy with how my body felt. The real skiing, in the stadium and early on felt really good…but when I hit that wall, man, with all that off setting…my legs just cramped up. That climb is just so hard.”

Harvey also heaped praise on the coaching and wax staff, pointing out how well taken care of he, Devon and Ivan were.

“Justin’s been really good, pushing us on recovery and stuff like that. Having the bus was a huge advantage. It’s a great lounge for us after the races. We’ll have it again next year.” The Canadians may just be on to something. The tour bus has been such a hit that it’s likely other teams will follow suit.

For now, the Canucks are heading home. Kershaw and Babikov will head back to Canmore, and Harvey home to Quebec for a month of recovery and prep training before returning to Europe for World Championships. But Harvey will first make a quick stop at the U23 World Champs.

“It’s my last year U23,” he said. “And I want to use that. I’d like to go for a U23 World Champs title while I can.”

Men’s 9km Pursuit Results HERE.
Men’s 9km Pursuit finishing order HERE.
Final Overall HERE.
Final Overall detail HERE.

Super Dario Wins as Harvey Takes 5th and Kershaw 10th at TdS 35km Pursuit UPDATED

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January 06, 2011 (Cortina, Italy) – Dario Cologna (SUI) hammered out a lonely 35km from Cortina to Toblach, Italy to maintain his dominant overall lead in today’s 6th stage at the FIS Tour de Ski. As leader of the Tour, Cologna started first in today’s handicap start, and no one could catch him. Swede Marcus Hellner came the closest, finishing second at 1:11.4 behind. Norway’s Petter Northug was the strongest in the chase group to finish third at 1:50.3 behind.

Canada’s Alex Harvey skied a very strong race today, finishing 5th. He helped control a chase pack of about 10 skiers that formed behind Hellner who broke away on his own attempting to bridge to Cologna to no avail. The group was intent on hunting down the leaders and by km 16, Harvey was pulling for Kershaw.

“It feels pretty good sitting in 5th! I’m kind of surprised, I was always coming to the Tour with the ambition of having 2-3 good days, not going for the overall,” said Harvey by email.

With Cologna skiing off the front at 5km, Canada’s Devon Kershaw had initially gained about 5 seconds on the leader and  was followed closely by Hellner but couldn’t maintain the pace.

“Today’s race was frustrating. I felt good again but when Hellner went by me he was on another level,” Kershaw told SkiTrax.  “I was going for it – but alone in the wind with a chase group of 10 breathing down hard on me – I was quickly swallowed up. I know I will celebrate my two 2nd place finishes and my career-first win when I get home, and I know I’ll be thrilled about them, but today I was left frustrated.”

Harvey said Kershaw’s three recent medals were on his mind as he raced. “I was motivated by watching Devon yesterday,” he said in a CCC press release.  “We saw Devon win a race and have three podiums – we know it’s possible. Today I was right there myself and I know I can get on the podium too.”

Along with the Canucks, the 10-skier chase pack included top skiers like Petter Northug (NOR), Lucas Bauer (CZE), Martin Jaks (CZE) and Daniel Rickardsson (SWE). The group skied well together at first, but by km 21 they seemed disorganized. When it became apparent that they weren’t likely to close in on Cologna or Hellner, they began to lose time as they each worried about the approaching finish line.

In the final few kms the pack began to splinter and it was every man for himself.

“The pack was very disorganized out there coming down the hill,” said Kershaw.  “Northug and Alex’s skis were definitely a notch above the rest, but with an opportunity for 3rd place in that pack – no one was willing to sacrifice to get back on Hellner.”

“I was pushing hard on the downhill part with Northug,” said Harvey.   “It seamed like people gave up on chasing Hellner and started racing for 3rd place, which is kind of stupid in a handicap start.  Who cares about the 3rd place really? I’d rather be 9th 30sec down on Hellner than 3rd 55sec down.  I was surprised that Northug was pushing the pace… he’s not known for doing that, but was 3rd in the end.”

Harvey said he felt that Kershaw’s pack could have done more to catch Hellner early on instead of resigning themselves to third, but as for catching Cologna, “No way in hell. He’s just better than anyone else right now, calm, strong and always putting himself in the right spot.”

As the skiers closed in on the finish line, Northug was able to best the few survivors of the chase pack, with Harvey taking a photo-finish over Rickardsson and Curdin Purl (SUI) to finish 5th. Kershaw finished 10th behind Matti Heikkinen (FIN) and Jean Marc Gaillard (FRA).

“It was OK for the guys today,” said Canadian head coach Justin Wadsworth. “Alex was in good company to move up well. I would say it was a good day for him. Devon was OK too – he maintained his spot for the whole way up the hill, but succumbed to the group on the gradual down. It would have cost a lot of energy today for him to really go for it, and it might have been too much of a risk, especially with the 20km classic coming up. Ivan had a good day and moved up which puts him in a spot to improve more in the following days.”

Wadsworth said the team’s “rock-star” bus proved yet again to be a great tool for the athletes. “The bus is really serving it’s purpose with great recovery between stages, and a sanctum for the guys to prepare for battle. It came in really handy this morning in Cortina where there was no good place for the athletes to be.”

Canada’s Ivan Banikov finished 25th and the USA’s Kris Freeman placed 28th after starting in 20th and is 28th overall. Freeman’s teammate Andy Newell decided to call it quits and didn’t start today’s race. He joins 34 others who have abandoned the grueling Tour including Tobias Angerer (GER), Axel Teichmann (GER), Alexander Legkov (RUS) and Emil Joensson (SWE).

“Kris wanted more for sure and was hoping to move forward instead of falling back,” said US coach Chris Grover. “However, I was proud of his effort, especially for his first time seeing and skiing such a specialized course. I think this course requires some experience.”

As for Newell’s decision to withdraw, Grover said, “Andy and I decided it was best for him to stop the Tour. His distance skiing has not been close to his ability or potential this week, so we feel we need to take some days off and re-evaluate his preparation for the second half of the season.”

The Sasseville Report – WOW! Devon Kershaw Twice on the Podium in Two Days!

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January 04, 2011 (Barrie, ON) – Before Christmas I said that it was time for Devon Kershaw to make the next step up the ladder and be on the podium in a distance race noting that after his results from Vancouver last year this is where he should be.

Well, he’s there and then some! Happy New Year! In the first two days of 2011 Devon has been 2nd twice, once in a classic distance race and again in the classic sprints. He also finished 7th in the skating race and after four legs of the Tour de Ski he’s in 2nd place overall behind only Dario Cologna of Switzerland.

Being on the podium in a men’s distance race is the hardest thing to do in cross-country skiing. There is so much depth in the men’s fields – any one of 30 men can win any race. These are fantastic results for Devon and prove that he truly has moved into the top echelon of racing.

Devon has been a “streaky” skier. In the past he tended to ski fast races in bunches and then drop off and ski a number of poorer races in a row. Much of this is tied to confidence and recovery. Devon trains a lot and has been known in the past to push it too much and not be able to recover. Being tired can really affect your confidence which is the key psychological skill that all athletes need in order to perform at their best.

This is a real Catch 22 for most athletes. If they feel good and are in good shape they have good results and this gives them more confidence. When they feel tired they have poor results and that makes them lose confidence in themselves. In our society you’re only as good as your last result so a couple of bad races in a row has most athletes losing their confidence. Even the best in the world like Tiger Woods have a hard time coming back from poor results and lose their confidence.

Interestingly enough, for some athletes confidence is never a problem no matter what their results. They are labeled cocky or arrogant but really they’re thinking the way that they are supposed to be thinking. Many of these confident athletes also tend to never take responsibility for their results. If they can make it because of something other than themselves then how can they lose confidence? They’re still great, it has nothing to do with them – it was the track, or the snow, or their skis, or the weather, or their starting position, or the coaches, or the other skiers, or somethingŠ! It is not a bad thing if you understand what they may be trying to do.

Devon should now have the confidence that he can ski with the best in the world on any day. Classic or skate, sprint or distance he is there. Regardless of his results or how he is feeling he should be able to keep his confidence now that he can battle for the podium in any race.

Alex Harvey and Kris Freeman are getting close to this level too. Alex was on a distance podium a couple of years ago and Kris has finished 4th in a couple of World Cup races in the past. With Alex in 5th place overall after four races and Kris in 22nd after his 11th place in the 4th race they are both showing that they are not very far behind Devon.

This is really amazing if you think about it. Three North American men at the top of the World Cup standings would be unheard of years years ago. It’s been some time since the days of Pierre Harvey, Bill Koch, Tim Caldwell, Dan Simoneau and Jim Galanes in the 1980’s that this has happened. Couple this with the incredible drop-off by the Norwegian men’s team this year. They’re really having a lot of poor results and even their star, Petter Northug cannot win a sprint any more. Harvey came from behind to beat him in their quarterfinal heat on Jan. 2. This knocked him out of the heats and put him way back in the results.

Now if Ivan Babikov could return to his former level this would be even better. Ivan continues to struggle. He sits in 35th place overall in the tour. Two years ago he had the fastest time in the final stage hill climb in the Tour de Ski and last year he was 4th. I can’t say what the problem is right now. I am sure that everyone close to Ivan has a theory or a suggestion. One thing for sure is that he has to work hard to keep up his confidence now when his results are poor. He has to believe that these results do not really reflect what he can truly do. This will be a key for him to get back to where he wants to be as fast as possible.

Andy Newell is another skier who continues show a lack of confidence at skiing in the heats. After qualifying 4th in the classic sprints on Jan. 1st he made it through his quarterfinal round in second. Then his pattern of something going wrong continued in the semi-final where he tripped up coming out of the gate. He had to really hammer to catch up the 20 meters that he was behind but then fell again in the last 200 meters. This is happening too many times and he’s way too good a skier physically and technically for it to be a physical or luck issue. He may not admit it, but it’s got to be in his head now. He needs to take a good look at what he’s thinking about if he is going to fix this issue.

Kikkan Randall is the only North American woman at the Tour and she continues to ski in the middle of the field. She is 24th overall after the first four races. On the surface this does not look so hot, but Kikkan is just starting to try to ski well in distance races and the only sprint so far has been in her weaker classic style. However, the next race on January 5th in Toblach, Austria is a skating sprint and I am sure that she is looking forward to a much better result there.

Kershaw on Fire Takes 2nd at TdS Classic Sprint Nailbiter won by Joensson UPDATED

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January 02, 2011 (Oberstdorf, Germany) – Canada’s Devon Kershaw claimed his second silver in as many days just missing out to winner Emil Joensson (SWE) by a toe nail in the men’s 1.2km classic sprint final as the two lunged across the line in a photo finish that went to Joensson. TdS leader Dario Cologna (SUI) was third.

It was déjà vu for Kershaw, who was nipped by Cologna yesterday in the men’s 15km handicap start pursuit, but the stalwart Canuck stepped it up today taking the lead near the end of the final round looking for the win and it took everything that WCup sprint leader Joensson could muster to catch him at the line.

Kershaw’s performance puts him firmly in second place overall at the Tour at 3.7s behind Cologna with Alexander Legkov (RUS) in third at 23.1s. It also demonstrates that the 28-year-old athlete from Sudbury, Ont. is one of the most talented and well-rounded Nordic skiers in the world with second-place podiums in both distance and sprint races on consecutive days.

“I was going for the win,” Kershaw said in a SkiTrax interview post race. “I felt strong and my classic skiing has been good. I have a lot of respect for the other guys out there – Joensson and Cologna are Olympic champions. I thought I had it – my first World Cup win… that’s always my goal and I was so close.

“Joensson crept up on me at the end – I didn’t even hear him I was so focused on the finish line. We both lunged for it and I’ve got big feet which I thought would be an advantage but not this time.”

Kershaw, who was 7th in the qualifications, used a similar strategy in each heat hanging back a bit and then advancing to position himself strong for the final uphill before sweeping down to the finish for the final sprint. Earlier in his quarterfinal round with the USA’s Andy Newell the American was in control leading for most of heat until the finish when Kershaw overtook him for the win. Newell almost got caught by a Russian skier but held on to advance.

In the final Kershaw’s strategy worked again as he passed Joensson and Cologna on the last uphill and put the hammer down as they all headed for the finish but the Swede reeled him on the final stretch for the win.

“He’s worked hard and our technical crew did a fabulous job on the skis – everything came together and Devon’s got the confidence in himself to go for it at the right time,” commented Canadian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth.

“It was really, really tight in the finish, the tightest finish in my life, I changed the tracks, closed my eyes and went for it all,”  Joensson told FIS XC. “I was really happy when the announcer said I was the winner. My body was really tired, the last race was really though. Tour de Ski is getting harder, I feel tired. When the race is on, all I focus on is winning the race. I was lucky today.”

Kershaw’s team mate Alex Harvey also had a stellar day besting Petter Northug (NOR) in his quarter final round and making it to the semis where he narrowly missed advancing as he placed third in his heat to finish seventh and sits in 4th overall behind Legkov at 36.9s.

“Yeah, another great day for the team,” said Harvey, “I felt good in the qualifiers, posting a fast time (6th) to make it into the finals. In my 1/4 final, I had a good start and was 3rd behind Northug and another Norwegian. I skied easily up the first hill, pushed a bit over the top and went into 2nd place.

“On the second climb I got pushed into a wide lane so at the top I lost a position to Northug. In the finishing stretch I knew I would have to give it all because I had to pass Northug to come in 2nd – but I made it so it was kind of a personal victory – out-sprinting Northug to the line! Definitely good for the confidence!”

Kershaw, Harvey and Newell found themselves against three Swedes in their semi final heat. Marcus Hellner bolted to the front as Newell slipped and fell right at the start but held his composure and rejoined the group by the first climb.

“I felt strong today but had a lot of bad luck in the semi final,” said Newell. “I fell right out of the start gate. Not sure if the wand got stuck, or if I poled my boot or ski, or if I slipped but I went down fast. So I started about 20 meters behind everyone and was able to catch up and even ski all the way back into second going up the final hill.”

As the Swedes lead Kershaw, Harvey and Newell glided behind but over the final hill Joensson took charge with Kershaw just behind. As they rounded the last corner into the final straight-away Newell went down again.

“We all kind of came into the finishing lanes together and as we were setting up to pick our lanes Marcus Hellner’s pole caught my ski and I did a belly flop – twice on the same heat – so hopefully I got a few crashes out of the way for a while,” explained Newell who finished 12th.

Joensson and Kershaw went 1-2 in the semi setting up their match up in the final and more fireworks. The day was a mixed bag for the USA as Newell’s team mate Kris Freeman made the sprint qualifications for the first time in his career (at a WCup) but was fourth in his quarter final to finish 24th overall. Canada’s Ivan Babikov was 65th.

“It was great for Bird [Freeman] to make it in there,” said Head Coach Chris Grover. “For a distance skier like him, it was a great performance.”

Despite his back-to-back stellar days Kershaw is focused on the rest of the Tour. “Anything can happen and you’re done,” he said. “The Tour starts tomorrow with the pursuit race – you can’t lose your perspective. The key is stay relaxed and I don’t plan on trying for any bonus points.”

And what are his thoughts on the team’s magic bus? “Very cool! Great idea by Justin – we love it. It’s a great place to hang out and chill.”

Results HERE.
Overall HERE.
Overall detail HERE.

Kershaw Second on Podium at TdS 15km Classic in Oberhof – Cologna Wins UPDATED

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January 01, 2011 (Oberhof, Germany) – Canada’s Devon Kershaw put on stunning display of classic skiing with the fastest time of the day to take second in the men’s 15km classic handicap start, only 0.5s behind winner Dario Cologna (SUI), in an exciting battle as the snow fell in Oberhof. Kershaw took over the race lead at about 1km to go and looked like he might hold on for the win but Cologna nipped him at the finish line while World Cup leader, Alexander Legkov (RUS), took third.

A hard-charging Petter Northug (NOR) attempted his patent strategy making spectacular gains as the finish approached but fell short moving up from the mid 20s to place 6th. Kershaw’s team mate Alex Harvey had a strong race as well finishing 9th. The USA’s Kris Freeman, another classic specialist, also made strong gains starting in 55th to finished 26th overall. Ivan Babikov (Can) placed 32nd and Andy Newell (USA) was 58th.

The silver is Kershaw’s best ever distance result. “It was an amazing race perhaps my best ever,” said Kershaw in a phone interview with SkiTrax. “Once we got going I knew my legs were good. Our techs did a great job and our skis were great – I was frustrated with my performance in the Prologue so I was charged up to improve.”

Experience told Kershaw how the race would unfold. “As expected the pace was fast until we caught Hellner so I stayed mid-field conserving energy knowing the pack would slow down once we reeled Hellner in which is what happened. Then I started to move up wanting to stay near the front and cover any attacks. I felt comfortable and ended up in the lead by accident – then it was my time to push it and I thought I could win but couldn’t hold off Cologna at the end.”

Kershaw’s best previous distance result was third in the 15km in Oberhof in 2009 at the Tour de Ski and many recall his 5th place in the men’s 50km classic at Vancouver 2010. In 2006 the versatile skier won WCup sprint silver in Munich, Germany and sprint bronze in Borlaenge, Sweden.

He’s now in second place overall at the Tour de Ski coming into the sprints in Obertsdorf on Sunday and hopes Team Canada can continue with more strong performances. “Alex was 9th at the classic sprints in Kuusamo (Fin) so we’re fired up to see what we can do tomorrow,” added Kershaw.

It was huge day for the Canadians with Harvey in 9th and head coach Justin Wadsworth was on cloud nine. “Devon showed what he’s got,” Wadsworth told us by phone. “Conditions were challenging but not super tricky as there was time for testing in the morning and I think many teams had good skis like us. Devon has had good training since La Clusaz but he was as little flat afterwards and we missed some intensity blocks as he took it easier before the Tour knowing things would pick up once the racing unfolded. Alex was right up there as well and dropped back a little near the end but it was a great day for both of them.”

“I was a little tired in the warm up but things felt better soon after the race started,” said Harvey. “It was a tricky day for waxing and no one had perfect skis but our team did a great job for us. I felt good and was able to move up but couldn’t bridge to the lead group with Devon near the end and started to cramp dropping a few spots. Overall my form felt good and I’m really happy for Devon.”

Watch the FIS XC Big Step – Men’s 15km classic Race video HERE.

Early on the Russians looked like they’d be a force with Legkov and Ilia Chernousov leading the chase to reel in Hellner and at once point there were five Russians at the front of the pack. Then defending TdS champ, Lukas Bauer (CZE) flexed his ski muscles and took up the mantle as Hellner was caught but Bauer’s efforts may have cost him later as he faded to end up 13th.

Cologna who was also near the front most of the race paced himself better. As the final kilometres approached he, Kershaw, Legkov and Chernousov were leading with a small chase group just behind as Northug was whipping things up and passing skiers as he moved to the front. But the Norwegian ran out of time as Cologna edged Kershaw for the win and takes over the TdS leader’s jersey.

“Of course I’m satisfied. I had a good feeling and didn’t want to push too much as it’s a long race, but on the last hill I gave it my all,” said the winner to FIS XC. “I won here in 2008 and afterwards I was the winner of the Tour – so that’s a good sign. I was not afraid of loosing contact with the Russians, I was pleased the speed was higher. It is always good to be in front, and to cover first position.

“I am not afraid of Northug, I knew that I was in the first position and that was more important. I thought Northug was coming, but luckily he didn’t. My goal is to take as many bonus points as possible in the Tour. The sprint is important, and I want to be in the semi finals tomorrow.”

The US team was not their best yet Freeman’s move up from 55th to 26th was commendable but Newell who started in 14th fell back to finish in 58th.

“I felt good out there and despite the tricky conditions it was a solid day… I was able to move up steadily but I’m still not where I want to be as I couldn’t find my top gear near the end,” said Freeman from the team bus as they headed to Obertsdorf for tomorrow’s sprints.

It’s Freeman’s first Tour so what are his impressions? “Overall things are good and it feels a bit chilled out. Noone’s over-amped as it’s still early in the Tour so we’ll see how things unfold.” Freeman has raced at Obertsdorf and knows the scene there. “I haven’t qualified for a WCup sprint yet so we’ll see how I do tomorrow.”

Newell who had his best prologue performance yesterday was out of gas today. “I felt decent at the start of the race today, but for sure had a bad bonk. Not sure why… maybe I just pushed too hard up a hill or two. But after I bonked I moved backwards really fast and had a lot of trouble kicking my skis so I lost a ton of time. It was kind of windy and the tracks were a little soft in places so it was tough for some people to get kick. I was pretty worked after the race so hopefully I can recover ok for tomorrow’s sprint.”

US Team head coach Chris Grover referred to today’s efforts as a mixed bag. “Andy blew up which was too bad but Kikkan had a decent day as did Kris. I think Bird and his coach Zach Caldwell are satisfied with his efforts today. He picked off a lot of skiers and was as high as 12th or 13th at one point but couldn’t manage to hold the pace. We had a good transfer to Obertsdorf and we’re looking forward to tomorrow’s sprints.”

Results HERE.
Results detail HERE.

The Sasseville Report – Xmas Mid-Term Report Card

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December 20, 2010 (Barrie, ON) – I don’t know about you, but I like dynasties in sport. I like it when teams and individuals dominate a sport for a number of seasons. I was a big fan of the Boston Celtics of the NBA in the 1960s, of UCLA and John Wooden in college basketball at the same time, and of the Montreal Canadiens in the 1970s and the Edmonton Oilers in the1980s for hockey (sorry I cannot be a fan of the Yankees, though).

There have been dynasties in cross-country skiing as well. In the 1980s it was the Swedish men led by Gunde Swan and Thomas Wassberg and Torgny Mogren. In the 1990s it was the Russian women led by Elena Valbe and the Norwegian men led by Vegard Ulvang and Bjorn Daehlie. This dynasty continued throughout the first decade of the 21st century.

The Norwegian women are the new dynasty for women’s skiing. Led by Marit Bjoergen they are beginning to dominate. On Sunday they showed this domination by annihilating the field in the relay. Bjoergen won her 9th World Cup in a row on Saturday and she has likely locked up the World Cup for 2011 already and it’s not even 2011 yet.

I thought that the Swedish women would give them a run for their money this year, but they have not delivered yet. They started well at home in Gallivare but faded throughout the rest of November and December due to illness. The Italian women have been strong in sprinting, and finished 2nd on Sunday in the women’s relay but they are a long way behind the Norwegians. The German, Slovakian, Slovenian, French and surprisingly the Russian women have been silent during this time.

Justyna Kowalczyk has been consistently 2nd to Bjoergen throughout this first racing period but she is getting closer and closer. On Saturday she lost in a sprint finish and I expect her to win the Tour de Ski after Xmas as Bjoergen will be at home in Norway.

Kikkan Randall has led the American women with two podium finishes in the last couple of weeks in skating sprints. She has solidified her place near the top in this discipline and is getting better in distance racing and classic. Morgan Arritola and Liz Stephen both finished in the top 20 on Saturday in La Clusaz for their best results of the campaign.

Dasha Gaiazova and Chandra Crawford were on the podium in Dusseldorf for the best result for the Canadian women. Canada’s women have been very strong for almost a decade and it looks like Chandra and Dasha are carrying the torch to the future. Chandra also had an 8th in Dusseldorf and Dasha scored points in a number of races. The downside is that there is not much depth in women’s ranks in Canada right now.

I believe that there is a dynasty brewing on the men’s side but it’s not where I thought it would come from at the start of the season. At that time I thought that the Swedish men would begin to dominate the podiums, which they did at the start of the season, but like the women they faded badly in December. The Norwegian men continue to struggle and they seem to be getting worse. The sprinters do not dominate like they used to and with Northug recovering from overtraining for most of the start of the season the distance men are also doing very poorly. Northug did come on strong on Saturday in La Clusaz for a 2nd place in the 30km free mass start race – so watch out for him after Xmas.

No, the new dominant men’s team are the Russians. Alexander Legkov is leading the World Cup standings but he is not alone at the top. Maxim Vylegzhanin won the 30km on Saturday doing something that few people have been able to do before this year – beat Petter Northug in a sprint finish. Lekgov was 3rd in this race and there were also two other Russian men in the top 11 on Saturday – and they finished 2nd on Sunday in the team relay to the suprising Swiss team.

They also have a very strong sprint group – remember that they were 1st and 2nd last year in Vancouver in the men’s individual sprint final. Alexei Pehtoukov and Nicolai Morilov are the best right now, but they have four or five skiers who can be on the podium. They have started again with new coaches and a new system and they are going to be a force in Sochi in four years.

The Swiss men surprised everyone by easily winning the Men’s Relay on Sunday. Dario Cologna has been one of the best skiers in the world for the past couple of years, but this result came out of the blue. The other three skiers – Toni Livers, Remo Fischer and Curdin Perl skied fantastic legs for the victory. Cross-country skiing is the poor second cousin to Alpine in Switzerland and in order to get press they need to win. This was a resounding win.

Emil Joensson of Sweden has shown that he is the best sprinter in the world. He has broken the Norwegian men’s domination – for now – but things can change quickly in sprinting. The Norwegians have a very strong sprinting program so look for them to be strong later on in the year.

Kris Freeman put together some great top 10 results in this period, but he was the only American male to do consistently well.  Simi Hamilton who debuted on the European World Cup scene had a superb sprint race in Davos qualifying 11th and finished 16th which is a good sign of things to come. Veteran Andy Newell continues to disappoint by following the same pattern of qualifying well in the sprints but hasn’t put his game plan together well in the heats. And Euro World Cup newbie, Noah Hoffman, also showed signs of talent starting well for a rookie with a 31st placing in the 15km freestyle at the World Cup opener in Gallivare, Sweden, but struggled as the trip went on.

The Canadian men were all over the map with their results in November and December. Devon Kershaw showed flashes of brilliance, but in other races he was ordinary. The same is true for Alex Harvey. Ivan Babikov and George Grey were nowhere near where they finished in Vancouver. In total they were not as good as I thought that they would be based on their results in Vancouver last year and all of the positive statements coming from them this summer and fall about how good they were training and how things were going. I think that everyone was expecting them to take a step forward as a group and it looks like they have taken a step backward. Is it the post-Olympic blues or something else? We will know better at the Tour de Ski and the World Championships in March in Oslo.

One bright spot were the sprint results from Len Valjas and Phil Widmer in Davos where they both finished in the top 20 and qualified for the World Championships. Len is a rookie on the World Cup as well and this was a great result for him and it was a breakthrough for Phil who in the past had the speed to qualify well but like  Newell he could not finish well in the heats.

Now it’s time to take a deep breath and get ready for the Tour de Ski that starts on December 31. Most skiers are at home while some of the Canadians and Americans have stayed in Europe. Not all of the top skiers will be in the Tour de Ski because it is very hard and difficult to recover from. Lukas Bauer (CZE) and Justina Kowalczyk (POL) were the winners last year and I believe that they will challenge for the top again this year.

Have a great holiday season everyone – ski as much as you can.

Swiss Take Surprise Relay Win as Canucks Crack Top 10 in La Clusaz

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December 19, 2010 (La Clusaz, France) – Swiss skier Curdin Perl anchored his team to a surprising win on Sunday at La Clusaz. Lead by Toni Livers, the Swiss team (Livers, Dario Cologna, Remo Fischer and Perl) skied an impressive race to take the win over the Russian l team (Evgeniy Belov, Alexander Legkov, Petr Sedov and Maxim Vylegzhanin) in 2nd and Norway l (Eldar Roenning, Martin Johnsrud Sundby, Tord Asle Gjerdalen and Petter Northug) in 3rd.

Livers broke away early with Belov, and quickly opened up a gap. The Russians and Swiss worked together throughout much of the race, widening their lead to about a minute. When skaters Fischer (SUI) and Sedov (RUS) took over on leg three, they had over a minute on the three-skier chase pack of Finland, Sweden and Norway. The two leaders skied together well, but were slowly bleeding seconds to the chase group.

Leg four saw Switzerland’s Perl really kick it up, putting over 30 seconds into yesterday’s winner Vylegzhanin from Russia by the finish. Vylegzhanin couldn’t hold on, but managed to mitigate the damage enough to survive in second until the line. Third place came down to a sprint between Sweden’s Marcus Hellner, Finland’s Matti Heikkinen and Norway’s Northug – an unfortunate situation for anyone but Northug to be in.

In a move reminiscent of Lance Armstrong’s ‘The Look’, Northug glanced back over his shoulder as if daring Hellner and Heikkinen to challenge, and then made for the line, slotting his team into 3rd.

The Canadian men finished in 9th spot, winning a photo-finish with Norway II to crack the top ten.

The Canuks were lead by youngster Lenny Valjas, who’s in his first month of World Cup action.

“Lenny hasn’t had much World Cup experience but did a great job leading the way and the rest of the guys were solid – it was a good day,” said Canadian head coach Justin Wadsworth. “Overall the team did a pretty good job today.”

Valjas held his own with the world’s elite until the final lap on the lead-off leg where he was tripped up on a slippery section of course. He tagged off in 14th position to two-time Olympian Devon Kershaw, who more than made up for the slip, setting the third fastest classic time of the day putting Canada in 10th. Following Kershaw was Ivan Babikov who advanced the Canucks into 8th when he handed off to Alex Harvey who anchored the team. Harvey put in a very strong showing, battling with Kazahkstan and Norway ll as he positioning himself for his finish line sprint with Norwegian Petter Eliassen to claim 9th for the red maple leaf.

From here the Canadians will head to Davos, Switzerland where they will train through the holidays in preparation for the Tour de Ski.

“We’re very excited about the Tour,” said Wadsworth yesterday. “That’s our next big focus before World Championships in Oslo.”

Full results HERE.

Kershaw 9th at Davos WCup 15km Classic – Poltaranin Surprise Winner UPDATED

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December 11, 2010 (Davos, Switzerland) – Canada’s Devon Kershaw had another great day on snow leading the North American men with a 9th place finish in the men’s 15km classic individual start as Kazakstan’s Alexey Poltaranin was the surprise winner on Saturday in Davos to claim his first world cup win. It was a tight race as only six seconds separated the top five finishers with Kershaw 21s behind the winning time of 40:03.5.

American Kris Freeman was on pace but blew up in the last 4km to finish 23rd while Canada’s George Grey regained his form and was just out of the points in 32nd. Fellow Canuck Ivan Babikov, a late arrival in Davos, was 38th, followed by Stefan Kuhn in 67th, and Calgary’s Brent McMurtry in 75th. American Noah Hoffman placed 69th also having a tough day on his first crack at the grueling Davos course.

The 23-year-old Poltaranin had the 10th best time at the 1.6 km mark and increased his speed steadily remaining in the top 3 by mid-race holding off challenges by Russia’s Maxim Vylegzahnin who faded on the final leg and world cup leader, Alexander Legkov (RUS), who had the best intermediate time but lost it on the final leg losing to Poltaranin by 0.9s.

“Today I claimed my first World Cup victory and had my best race ever. I felt strong and my skis were very good as well. I did not change my summer training too much. My coach and I focused more on classic technique and also introduced some new elements to my training. On Monday we head to La Clusaz [France] where I would like to have a good result in 30km race,” said Poltaranin.

Lukas Bauer (Cze) surged in the latter part of the classic race to claim third edging out local Swiss star Dario Cologna by a mere 0.2s. Norway’s Petter Northug, at his first World Cup this season, was as high as 5th but faded near the end to finish 13th.

While the snow had stopped for the start of the men’s race, and the course was re-groomed following the women’s event earlier in the day, it was still a challenging day for the wax technicians with temperatures just below zero (-1C) on new snow. Canada’s Kershaw had nothing but praise for the Canadian wax crew.

“It was an interesting day in Davos – as the 50 or so centimeters of snow that fell over the past two + days made for some stressful times,” said Kershaw. “Yet, the course directors here in Davos are used to dealing with huge Swiss Alp dumps, and they did a great job getting the course ready – they even re-groomed directly after the women’s race – which helped things out for sure.”

“Our Canadian technicians did another outstanding job – staying calm and delivered the goods to get the job done,” he continued. “I can’t imagine that today was easy for them. They crank out such big hours working tirelessly for us, it’s really outstanding. Yves [Bilodeau head wax technician] is all heart and believes so much in Canadian skiing. And the tech I work with closely [Micke Book] is just such an outstanding guy as are all the guys – Joel K, Joel J. Jonathan, Peter Thor – none of us would be anywhere without their help.”

Kershaw had moved up to 15th by the 5km mark and made steady advances to sit in 10th by the 11.6km interval and still had something in the tank to take him to the finishline.

“Devon executed as planned and had energy at the end for a final kick,” commented Canadian head coach Justin Wadsworth. “He trained well in Livigno [Italy] and rested up before race day knowing the altitude and tough course. Conditions were crazy for waxing – people were trying zeros and hairies – and it looks like we hit the mark.”

The USA’s Freeman, who was just getting over a cold, was not far behind Kershaw but his tank ran dry after being passed by Vylegzahnin as he tried to stay with him. “It was a tough day for waxing but my skis were good and the course was mostly ok as they groomed it after the women’s race,” said Freeman.

“I was pacing well until Vylegzahnin passed me and I tried to match his speed but that did me in – with 4km to go I blew up and was pushing hard just to stay in the top 30. I caught a cold just after Kuusamo and yesterday was my first intensity training so it was tough to find my top gear today.” Freeman was confident he could have made the top 20 and will race the skate sprints on Sunday.

We caught up with Ivan Babikov who had his best race so far yet still falling short of what he’s capable of. “So far today was the best race  this season for me. Not exactly were I’d like to be but there more races ahead,” explained Babikov. “The conditions were tricky, especially for kick wax, but I think our wax techs did a very good job.”

“Davos is a very hard course with a lot of double polling, and I’m never good at that. Overall I think the team did pretty good. Devon had a very good one, 9th, and George [Gray] was only one second out of the points – we’re looking forward to La Clusaz.”

The USA’s Hoffman is taking his World Cup experience in stride, “It was just a tough day all together. I’m really struggling with my classic skiing right now, and didn’t show any improvement today. I’m a little disappointed – the conditions were tough but our coaches and techs did a great job with our skis. I’m looking forward to next week.”

US head coach Chris Grover knows his crew was disappointed but also knows they’re resilient. “Bird was doing well but lost it near the end still he held his composure and ended up with an average result. Noah had a tough day in difficult conditions with a couple of crashes and struggled to find his rhythm but he’s learning and gaining the experience he needs to move up. Andy [Newell] skipped today’s sufferfest to prepare for Sunday’s sprints which should be good for him and Kikkan.”

The stage is now set for Sunday’s freestyle sprints and the forecast is for colder weather… stay tuned for more coverage.

Full results HERE.