This weekend marks the 10th edition of the Düsseldorf sprints on the Rhine. It’s one of the more exciting weekends on the World Cup schedule with the sprint with numerous thrill and spills in the individual freestyle sprint and the team sprint. There are some big names taking the week off including the current World Cup leaders Marit Bjørgen and Petter Northug. Norway will also be resting Skofterud, Johaug and Jacobsen this weekend. Sweden has also opted to not send Charlotte Kalla and Kowalczyk will also take a break, last year it was the only race she didn’t take part.
Last year, the now retired Arianna Follis and Emil Jönsson were crowned the king and queen of Düsseldorf with the Italian women and Norwegian men winning the team relays. There are no new adjustments to the course from last year and the women will be skiing the 830 meter loop once while the men will go around twice.
On Saturday, it’s the individual freestyle sprint and on the women’s side it’s a rather weak field as Bjørgen, Skofterud, Johaug, Jacobsen, Kalla and Kowalczyk are all out. Bjørgen, Kalla and Skofterud were the three athletes that were on the podium in last weekend’s sprint. For this weekend, Randall is the odds-on favourite to take the victory. Last year she was runner-up in this race and it’s a course suits her to a tee as the American is a much better freestyle skier than classic. In addition, the course rather flat which means she’ll be able to showcase her impressive power. I really have a hard time seeing anyone beating Randall with the current form she’s been in this year.
Other athletes that should be in the mix are Fabjan who finished third last year as well as Falla who was the victim of bad luck last weekend and crashed out of her heat. I’ll be interested to see how well Matveeva does and Crawford should have an outside chance at a top six finish tomorrow. Like Randall, this course suits her as she is powerful and prefers skating.
The Swede’s are expecting to have at least one athlete on the podium this weekend with Brodin, Ingemarsdotter and Falk all racing this weekend. Last year Falk and Brodin finished 5th and 6th respectively and the year before Falk burst onto the scene and won her first every sprint.
For the men, Northug will be the main name not racing this weekend and will be continuing his preparations for the Tour de Ski.
Emil Jönsson will be making his season debut and will look to repeat last year’s result. Norway will be bringing Hattestad, Pettersen, Brandsdal, Kjølstad, Gløersen and youngster Tomas Northug and Pål Golberg, all who have a very realistic chance of making the finals. Russia has also brought their A-team led by Petukhov who prefers freestyle sprints and has won in Düsseldorf in the past.
UPDATE: Jönsson announced he will not be racing this weekend on his Twitter account.
I’ll be interested in Newell who traditionally qualifies very strong in Düsseldorf; 3rd, 3rd and 1st in the previous three years, but he fail to do much in the heats. Continuing with the North Americans, Valjas should also have a very strong weekend and will be looking to continue his good run of form after his 5th place last weekend.
On Sunday is the sprint relay and on the women’s side, it should be a tight race between the Finns, Norwegians and Swede’s. The Slovenians will have a good chance too if they have the Fabjan/Visnar working at full speed. Last year, it looked like Slovenia were on their way to the win until Fabjan put her pole between her legs and crashed inside the final 100 meters and finished in 8th place.
For the men, Norway, Sweden and Russia will probably be putting in two world-class teams each which will make the field one of the most competitive all season long. I have a good feeling for Canada in the team relay and the Canadians have the option of Valjas, Harvey and Kershaw to choose from which bodes very well for a chance on the podium.
That’s it for me, talk to you on Saturday. Stayed tuned to the Twitter machine for updates as news pours in as the weekend nears.