Nations Cup: 6106pts (4th)
Men: 2571pts (5th)
Women: 3535 (5th)
The Italians had much of their success last year from unexpected sources. Fulvio Scola came out of nowhere to finish 5th in the Sprint Cup while Roland Clara led the men in the distance and finished 14th ahead of his decorated teammates Piller-Cottrer and di Centa. On the women’s side, it was all-rounders Arianna Follis and Magda Genuin who finished 3rd and 7th in the overall standings.
The Italians were dealt a huge blow this off-season with the retirement of their female star Arianna Follis and more recently Magda Genuin. Between the two of them, they accounted for 1598 of the 3535 points (45%) for the Italian women. There’s absolutely no way that hole will be filled any time soon.
If anyone was to tell me that 29-year old Fulvio Scola; a career Alpen Cup racer would finish 5th in the Sprint Cup ahead of athletes like Northug, Newell and Cologna, I would’ve told you that you’re a crazy person and should get your head checked. Well, that’s exactely what Scola was able to do. He was this year’s extremely late bloomer; just like Rickardsson (29-years old) over the past two years. Honestly, I can’t see Scola finishing the season as high in the standings as last year, but should still be in the mix for a top 10 in the Sprint Cup standings.
In my opinion, Renato Pasini (9th ranked) is one of the most underrated sprinters on the circuit. He earned 190 points last season including a 4th in Liberec.
The most exciting prospect out of Italy for a few years is 21-year old Federico Pellegrino (13th ranked) who has already earned his first World Cup podium with a 2nd place in Liberec and still has yet to enter 10 World Cup sprints. He did great in qualifying last year, but with his lack of experience wasn’t able to make the most of his strong qualifying positions (see: Andy Newell syndrome). After off-season surgery that made him miss two months of training and a few health problems, expect him to have a sluggish start to the season. He will be on the World Cup full-time this year and with last years’ experience under his belt, I expect him to remain in the top 15 of the World Cup sprint standings, he just has to get to full strength first after his rocky off-season.
The supporting cast of Hofer (25th) and Frasnelli (31st) should have a couple of top 15 finishes this year but I can’t see them have any surprising results.
Losing both Follis (2nd) and Genuin (11th) would be a massive blow to any country, and Italy is no exception. Thankfully, Longa (13th) is back for another year so not all is lost for Italy, just a large portion. With the depletion of talent in the women’s field due to retirement, Longa should be able to make it into the finals a few more times than last season and challenge for more medals.
Unfortunately, that’s the only bright spot for Italy this year. They also have Brochard (54th) and Vuerich (78th) but don’t expect them to do anything of note this year. Gaia Vuerich is a very decent junior, but is a couple seasons away from making a real impact on the World Cup.
The men’s squad has a lot of aging athletes with Clara (15th), di Centa (19th), Moriggl (32nd), Checchi (38th), Frasnelli (44th), Piller-Cottrer (51st), and Hofer (79th) who are all at least 28-years old. By all account, everyone listed except for Clara had sub-par season. Clara was the one bright spot and surprised many people with him amazing 5th place at the Tour de Ski. He increase his World Cup point total from the year before by a whopping 274!
The most disappointing Italian last year was Piller-Cottrer who earned a measly 41 points and only made the top 30 twice. That’s a stark contrast from the 2008-2009 season where he won the Distance Cup with 560pts and the year before where he was runner-up with 516 points. This guy is too good of a skier not to being in the medal mix particularly during the longer freestyle races. He did have to take a month off after injuring his shoulder and quad in a bike accident this summer; so like Pellegrino, he might be off to a slow start.
A similar story to the sprint team, they will miss Follis (5th ranked) dearly. Longa (4th) was actually the better distance skier last year and should expect to finish in the top five of the Distance Cup again this year.
Virginia de Martin Topranin (47th) and Antonella Confortola-Wyatt (62nd) will be the only other Italian females that have a realistic chance of being in the top 30 on a regular basis this year, but they will be on the outside looking in more often than not.
Unlike the countries around Italy in the Nations Cup standings, the Italians currently have a pretty weak talent pool to draw from. I mentioned Vuerich in the women’s sprint section and there is Debora Agreiter too who finished 15th in the 10km pursuit at World Juniors, but these athletes are a few years away from World Cup readiness. For the men, Pellegrino has already arrived, but other than him it’s slim pickings.
The loss of Follis and Genuin is a sign of things to come. While the men still have a couple solid years left in them with the like of Clara and Scola being late bloomers, don’t be surprised to see Italy tumble-down the Nations Cup standings in the next few years. All the stars of the team are getting older and approaching retirement and is no talent readily available to take their places other than Pellegrino. If I was an Italian ski fan, I wouldn’t hold my breath because the country is a few years away from seeing the next generation of skiers come through the system, that is if they ever make it to the top flight at all.