This weekend will mark the second edition of the Kuusamo mini-tour, or the Ruka Triple as it has been named. Last year it was Bjørgen who skied to victory while Legkov took the men’s title in brilliant fashion. This year the workers putting on the weekend have been hard at work making sure there is enough snow produced for the races and enough was made for a 5km the athletes will be skiing on this weekend.

The races get started on Friday with a 1.2km classic sprint for the women and Bjørgen is the overwhelming favourite. The course is the same one that has been run in Kuusamo for many years where all the action will be on the uphill coming back into the stadium. With the first sprint of the season, we’ll get to see some familiar faces we have yet to see this year such as the young Swede’s Falk and Brodin as well as the young Norwegian Falla and Slovakian Prochazkova. Kowalczyk, Kalla, Saarinen and Jacobsen should also be in the mix. I’ll be interested to see how Randall gets on as she is a much stronger freestyler than classic skier, but has had a very stong start to the season thus far so I wouldn’t be surprised to see her in the final come Friday afternoon.

UPDATE: The women’s start-list is out and there is 90 athletes starting tomorrow.

The men will be skiing a slightly longer 1.4km loop for the sprint. The big news is that Emil Jonsson will not be taking part this weekend as he is still recovering from a thigh injury which opens up the field a bit. Other than that all the big names will be in the field. We will get to see the big names like Petukhov, Morilov, Modin, Hattestad, and the rest of the Sprint Gutta. All-rounders like Northug, Harvey, Cologna, Hellner and Jauhojaervi will be making a bid for a podium spot in the very deep and talented field.

UPDATE: The men’s start-list is out and the field is massive with 126 athletes expected to start tomorrow!

On Saturday, it will be very short 5km freestyle (course profile) for the women and time for distance skiers to come to the fore. Johaug will be the big mover on the day as her sprinting abilities are on par with paint drying when compared to the likes of Bjørgen. I expect to see Kalla have a very strong race as skating is her bread and butter. We will be able to get a better idea of who will be on the podium for the Ruka Triple by the time the day is over.

For the men, it will be 2x5km (same 5km loop as the women) for them and distance specialists such as Bauer, Olsson, Legkov, Vylegzhanin, and Manificat will looking to climb the ladder. It will be difficult as Harvey, Northug, Cologna and Hellner look to be in great shape and this type of  race weekend plays right into the all-rounders favour.

Sunday it the final day and the women will be 10km classic pursuit. I expect Bjørgen to have the mini-tour wrapped up by now and the real race will be for second place as it will be a hunter-style pursuit. The race between Johaug, Kalla, Kowalczyk, Jacobsen and Saarinen will be a very enticing affair and will come down to mental toughness.

The men will be going 15km in the stride-n-glide and numerous scenarios could play out. 1). Northug will be in the lead group and wait until the final hill to make his move to gain the lead and dictate the pace until the home stretch and out sprint the others. 2). Harvey, Legkov, Hellner or another athlete see the writing on the wall if they don’t make a big move in the race and attempt to break the field open. Regardless of if they do, it will make for a much more interesting race for the viewers and will thin the field out so very few are left if a sprint finish is in the cards.

A minor note is that Tim Tscharnke was not added to the German team for the weekend. I’m not sure if it’s due to injury or poor performance, but definitely perked my interest when he was absent from the names of German athletes racing this weekend.

And last but not least, remember to enter your picks for WhoWins. Last weekend there was an amazing 234 people. I had a pretty poor opening weekend and finished just inside the top 100 in 95th. Like Sedov and Chernousov, I will be looking to redeem myself and put in a more solid effort. You can see how you stack up against this blogger as I’m under the NordicXplained username this year.

That’s all I got for now. Talk to you on Twitter and back here after the sprint races!