FIS management is upset because this year many of the World’s best skiers did not enter Tour de Ski. When a news reporter asked Petter Northug why so many skiers are not participating, the former World and Olympic Champion said “The charm of Tour de Ski is gone. The program has become boring. Tour de Ski used to have events that were unusual and different from the World Cup races. If the FIS don’t change the format, I think Tour de Ski will die.”
After reading Petter’s comment I decided to read Norwegian and Swedish newspapers to see what Scandinavian skiers and expert ski commentators thought about the revised format. All agreed that years ago Tour de ski was more exciting. The biggest gripe was the change to a mass start in the final climb up the Alpine slope. I agree 100% with Petter. Now, except for the last race up the Alpine slope, every race is like a World Cup.
December 31: Sprint Freestyle, Men and Women.
January 1: 10 KM Pursuit Classic, Men and Women.
January 3: 10 KM Classic, Men and Women.
January 4: 20 KM Pursuit Freestyle, Men and Women.
Val di Fiemme
January 6: Sprint Classic, Men and Women.
January 7: 15 KM Mass start Classic, Men and Women.
January 8: 9 KM Mass start on the flat then up the Alpine slope. Men and Women.
As you can see by the schedule above it looks like a World Cup event. The 5.4 kilometers on flatter terrain followed by the 3.6 kilometers steep Alpe Cermis slope is the only race that is truly different from the World Cup.
Changing the final climb to a mass start was simply stupid. It was fantastic watching the skiers that were slower on the flat terrain trying to catch the skiers in front on the steep climb. Will never forget Marcus Hellner passing Petter Northug in the Alpine climb or twenty-year old Charlotte Kalla catching Virpi Kuitinen in 2008. I was cheering for Kalla, but felt like a traitor, because at the time Finland’s Kuitinen trained on V2 roller skis.
For many years the skier that reached the top of the Alpine climb first was the winner of Tour de Ski. But not now. Frida Karlsson of Sweden won the women’s group, but she was only 15th in the climb. Johannes Klaebo of Norway won the men’s group, but he was only 6th in the climb.
When I saw that Frida was 15th in the climb, I knew something was wrong. Klaebo being 6th was not a surprise, but Frida is one of the best climbers in the world. I discovered that Tomas Pettersson, a very knowledgeable XC ski journalist, was covering Tour de Ski for the newspaper Expressen and wanted to see what he knew about Frida. Just a few minutes after the finish of the race this is what he wrote.
“The leading group was only half- way up the hill when I realized something was very wrong. Frida is one of the world’s best climbers and should have no problem staying with the lead pack. In fact, I expected her to be leading the pack. But not today. Frida bonked going up the hill, something that’s never happened to her before. She told us she can’t remember anything from the last 100 meters when she collapsed at the finish line unconscious. She was moved to the Medical Tent and when she woke, she asked if she won.”
Very, very scary. The Team Doctor was not too worried but said she would have to reduce her physical activity to recover for the World Championships that start the 20th of February.
From what I have read, the reporters who covered Tour de Ski for major magazines were almost unanimous that the format for Tour de Ski should be changed. The mass start climb has confused a lot of TV viewers who are not XC experts. A friend of mine who had seen videos of older Tour de Ski races did not understand how somebody could win Tour de Ski while coming in 15th or 6th in the final race. To keep Tour de Ski alive the race format should include some whacky different races that you don’t see on the World Cup. Make Tour de Ski exciting and different with races that you would never see anywhere else. I think ski racers would like to participate in something that is truly different.