Who can challenge Petter Northug in pursue for the Big Crystal Globe?
World Championships in Oslo is the biggest for most athletes, but to win the Overall World Cup slams nearly as high. Can anyone take the throne from Petter Northug or is the Norwegian too focused on the World Champs on home soil? Can Marcus Hellner challenge Northug for overall victory?
World Cup kicks off and ends in Sweden. This fact could be an advantage for Swedish athletes. Hellner has the biggest chance, he is all-rounder. Good at skating, a bit worse at classic, but still good enough to be Olympic champion in the double-pursuit.
Here are 15 of the hottest names before winter's World Cup on the men's side:
1) Petter Northug Jr., Norway
Defending champion who lives from his huge spurt. He is the best in the world, moreover, he can beat sprint specialists in the sprint races. He was third in the Olympic sprint. He mostly depends on mass start races, but also won last year 15 km classic with individual start in Kuusamo. The only danger is if Northug focuses too much on home World Championships on Holmenkollen, and not as much on defending Overall World Cup victory.
2) Lukas Bauer, Czech Republic
If he wants to steal the Overall World Cup victory he almost has to win the Tour de Ski again, and Bauer can make it. he has trained hard to improve sprint skills, but the way is long and the Czech star will not probably collect many points there. Lack of sprint ability is likely to trap Lukas Bauer in the race for overall victory, in the distance races, he can beat anyone - at any time.
3) Dario Cologna, Switzerland
Has won both World Cup and Tour de Ski earlier, he became also Olympic champion in the 15 km Free. A very dangerous man when it comes to the Overall World Cup. Gossips from the test results from the Swiss say that they have run training well during the summer months.
4) Marcus Hellner, Sweden
Two-time Olympic gold medalist has been an almost complete skater. The only thing missing is perhaps the same routine. Marcus is hungry and also has sprint speed. He finished second after Jönsson in Prague in the Tour last year. He will have to collect many points at the Tour de Ski. Sweden will probably not send athletes to Rybinsk when it collides with national championships.
5) Jean Marc Gaillard, France
The skier you may remember from Whistler having problems in the ski exchange. But Gaillard is much more than that. He is also a talented sprinter. In a mass start race or a pursuit he hangs in the leading group in both classical and free technique. The only weakness is probably individual race in classic. He is hard to beat too.
6) Maurice Manificat, France
Won his first World Cup race in Lahti last winter and there will surely not be the last. "Mommo" is perhaps not good enough in the sprint and maybe not in the classic to fight for overall victory yet, but be sure he we will find him high on the ladder after Falun.
7) Emil Jonsson, Sweden
The sprinter who probably has the best chance to fight with the best total in the Overall World Cup, but Emil will have to complete the Tour de Ski, which is now doubtful. In addition, he will also have to pick several points in a few distance races - and most important of all: He must as many as possible of sprint races.
8) Johan Olsson, Sweden
When everything comes together Johan is among top three in classic in the World. He is also good in free technique, but he never beat either Northug or Hellner in a sprint. In addition, he skips the Tour de Ski and does not collect sprint points. Therefore, Olsson's best chance in winter is the World Championships gold on Holmenkollen. He can go for it, but not for the overall World Cup victory. Sorry.
9) Maxim Vylegzhanin, Russia
Little bit unprized skater, who is likely to be Russia's best along with Alexander Legkov. He is very strong in longer distances. He clinched silver medal at the World Championships in Liberec over 50 km. He is not bas sprinter either but he is worse than sprint specialists. He can be top 10 overall, but he should finish Tour de Ski, unlike last season.
10) Pietro Piller Cottrer, Italy
He certainly has the momentum, il grande Pietro. Moreover, he belongs to the fastest in skating. He can keep up in a classic part of a double pursuit but lost in the sprint races and a finish spurts. He is not as fast as Northug, Hellner and Teichmann.
11) Axel Teichmann, Germany
You never know where you have Axel Teichmann. He can suddenly beat anyone, but since 2-3 years he has had kind of a "Northug-complex", as he repeatedly would lose with the man from the north end. However he is a skater with the best qualities.
12) Alexander Legkov, Russia
Has has stagnated a bit the past two years, but has been runner-up overall at the Tour de Ski, and is a hard skier to beat. Legkov is not a sprinter and therefore he probably has more chances in winning single races than simply keeping up with the battle for the Big Crystal Globe.
13) Anders Södergren, Sweden
Possibly the best of all at 50 km with individual start. There will not be this race format this season, so Anders will be struggling with getting good position in mass starts. And it will not be easy. In addition, Anders has been unlucky in terms of injuries and illnesses.
14) Tobias Angerer, Germany
Has also won the Big Crystal Globe earlier, but the question is how hungry "Tobi" is nowadays. He has a family and became a father. It may have taken away the absolute hunger, which you have to have if you want to make it to the top. But Angerer is one of the few who can match the best in a mass finish.
15) Sami Jauhojärvi, Finland
"Musti" bet on World Champs medal on Holmenkollen and the chance for that is probably higher than a total victory in the World Cup. He is strongest in the classical technique, but not bad in skating, either. Jauhojärvi is just one of Finns who want to improve reputation after poor performance at the Olympics. Another one is Matti Heikkinen, who surprisingly won in Davos last year.
Contributed by Kjell-Erik Kristiansen, langd.se