World of XC Predictions: Final stage up Alpe Cermis
The Final Climb up Alpe Cermis is the toughest race in the Cross Country Skiing World Cup – a highlight for Cross Country skiing fans! Norwegian skier Therese Johaug is the Queen of the Alpe Cermis with four stage wins – undefeated since 2009. In the men’s class not all of the best climbers are at the start – but of the ones starting Alexander Legkov (RUS), Ivan Babikov (CAN), Johannes Duerr (AUT) and Thomas Moriggl have shown the most impressive results earlier.
The Alpe Cermis has a height difference of 425 meters – and the total climb on the stage is 495 meters. The women and men race the same course (9 km skating). The final Tour de Ski stage is not all about the climb though. Before the climb starts, there is a 5.5 km “warm-up” down the valley (see profile below) which is also very important for the stage time and for the overall result. With the tough race profile of Alpe Cermis, motivation and position in the field relative to other skiers is often just as important as pure strength.
In the women’s class Therese Johaug is the big favourite for the overall victory – starting only 24 seconds behind leading Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen with the Finnish trio Kolloenen, Niskanen and Lahteenmaki chasing at 1:31, 1:52 and 2:03 respectively. Behind these five is the last real challenge for the Top 3 overall – Norwegian Heidi Weng.
- Therese Johaug is undefeated on the final Tour de Ski stage since 2009 – winning with four times (2013, 2012, 2011 and 2009) and not competing in 2010. The last three years Johaug has won with between 40 and 60 seconds – the competition coming 10 seconds closer each year.
- Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen proved last year that she can be a strong climber with her 6th place – but still with more than 1:30 up to Johaug. The Finnish trio should not be a real challenge for Jacobsen – but Jacobsen needs a small miracle to beat Johaug.
- Lahteeenmaki is the strongest climber in the Finnish trio – finishing 4th (at +1:34) last year and regularly performing well on this stage. Kylloenen and Niskanen have struggled more – finishing between 2:30 and 4 minutes behind on the stage the last two years.
- Heidi Weng is a very strong climber when in good shape – finishing 3rd on the stage last year. With a good race setup – catching the Finns – she could even go for the stage win if everything fits.
- The next strong climber on the start list is Elizabeth Stephen (14th at 3:27) – who finished 2nd last year. A very strong climber who fill fight for the stage win.
In the men’s class Martin Johnsrud Sundby is the big favourite for the overall victory with his 48 seconds lead to Petter Northug in second and 1:27 down to Chris Jespersen in third.
- Sundby has only raced the Final Climb in 2010 and 2009 – finishing respectively 1:50 (26th place) and 1:30 (27th place) behind the winner. However, Sundby is a very strong climber as he for example showed in the roller ski race “Lysefjorden Opp” last August (Norwegian text article here) where he finished 3rd – only 4 seconds behind expert climber Roland Clara in 2nd and ahead of good climbers like Manificat and Heikinen.
- Northug has typically lost a minute or more on the final tour stage – his best year being 2011 when he lost only 39 seconds to the stage winner Bauer and only a few seconds to climbing specialist Clara who was the second best on the stage. Northug has just become better and better during this edition of the Tour – winning the classic interval start race in Val di Fiemme on the second last day of the Tour. Generally he has not had his strength in the climb, but according to Northug he can race the hill better than he has earlier as he now is at his “match weight” (Norwegian text article here). Still it will be tough catching Sundby – but good chances for the overall Top 3 are definitely there.
- Jespersen is more of an unknown in the final climb – not having raced the stage earlier – but the Norwegian who is third in the overall is not one of those small mountain-goats. Still he should be able to give Northug a fight for the Top 3.
- The biggest challenge for the three Norwegians at the front of the field is Austrian Johannes Duerr – a climbing specialist starting 2 minutes behind Sundby in 5th (Canadian Harvey is in 4th overall – but not as strong a climber). Duerr did an impressive race on the Cortina-Toblach stage – winning the stage clearly. Duerr did also impress on the Final Climb last year – finishing the stage with the fourth best stage time and with the 2nd best time up the climb part of the stage.
- The next strong climbers on the start list are Alexander Legkov at 2:21 (8th place), Sjur Røthe at 2:40 (9th place), Didrik Tønseth at 2:56 (11th place), Jean Marc Gaillard at 3:37 (17th), Ivan Babikov (21st at 4:38), Matti Heikkinen (42nd at 6:57), Martin Bajcicak at 9:34 (50th), Thomas Moriggl at 9:56 (51st). Of these Legkov has the most impressive results with his stage win in 2012 and his impressive performance last year when he decided the tour in the climb (but took it easy in part of the stage, only finishing 10th). Also look out for Babibov who had second best stage time last year, climbing specialist Moriggl with 5th best time the two last years and Sjur Røthe who is very strong in the hills when he is in good shape. Tønseth is also a dark horse in the climb – being a very strong climber.