Continuing on with some notes about the World Cup opener in Gällivare last weekend.
It’s always the case in a season opener that much will be made of a handful of people who had unexpectedly good or bad races. Usually, this is an overreaction. But let’s play that game anyway and look at two skiers chosen more or less at random: Andrew Musgrave and Justyna Kowalczyk.
This is a graph of each of their major international results over different points in the season, with the Gällivare race highlighted in red. As you can see, Kowalczyk seems to have a bit of a tendency to start off fairly slow (I believe she said as much herself after this weekend’s race). Still, her Gällivare race was somewhat worse than usual for her, even this early in the season.
On the other hand, Andrew Musgrave tends to display the opposite trend, skiing considerably faster early in the season than late. And, like Kowalczyk, his race in Gällivare was unusually good for him, even granting his overall trend throughout the course of a season.
US Women’s Depth
The relay aside, the US women displayed a level of team depth in Saturday’s individual race that we really haven’t seen in a distance race in a long time. The US (men or women) have only placed two skiers in the top ten in a distance race twice since 1992: the Gällivare 10k freestyle, and the 2.5k prologue at the World Cup Finals last season (Kikkan Randall was 7th, Jessie Diggins was 8th). And the prologue probably doesn’t even really count as a “real” distance race for many people…
The Canadians, of course, have managed to place two skiers in the top ten much more frequently. The Canadian men (mostly Harvey and Kershaw, of course) have done this 16 times, and the women two times (Beckie Scott and Sara Renner). Only two of those races (both men’s events) were short, prologue style events, and there is a healthy mix of classic, freestyle and pursuits in the mix. Not terribly surprising, given Harvey and Kershaw’s ability to contend for the WC overall title recently.
Finally, just as a reminder that when it comes to the World Cup women’s field, it’s Norway’s world and we just live in it. The individual race on Saturday saw 10 Norwegians in the top 30. Then Sweden with 6 in the points, followed by Finland with 5. The rest was rounded out by the US (3), Russia (3), Germany (2) and Poland (1).
And of course who couldn’t notice that the times on Saturday was extraordinarily fast? How extraordinarily fast? Well, I’ll tell you:
Those are the top 15 times for (almost) all men’s 15k freestyle races and (almost) all women’s 10k freestyle races. I’ve omitted the handful of men’s 15k handicap start events, since the times from those are always a little wacky. Also, there’s a single women’s 10k from 1995 that happens to be one of my “problem races”. The FIS website says that it was a 10k, but the times are all well over 40 minutes. The men did a 15k that same weekend, with reasonable looking times (mid-30s), so I’m not sure what’s up.
In any case, the Gällivare races were clearly some of the fastest on record, ever.
As always, thanks to Jan at worldofxc.com for the heat time data…
I’m beginning to get a feel for the relationship between heat times and sprint courses. It’s hard, cause I’m not actually there skiing on the courses, so I do the best I can reading about them. But it seems this course was pretty fast and mostly flat until the very end. That led me to guess that we’d see fast qualifying times, and then the heats would get progressively slower as folks get more tactical. Sure enough, the men’s finals:
What a weekend for North America!
It has to be said, so I”ll get it out of the way right at the top: the turn the World Cup takes through Russia is generally not fully attended and this year was the same, although perhaps not as dramatically as before. But there were plenty of notable absences, particularly on the men’s side.
Of course, I don’t think any of that makes 100 World Cup point any less sweet for Devon Kershaw. Not one bit.
But let’s focus on the Moscow sprints today. First the men’s finalists:
Notice that Dahl isn’t shown, since he was relegated in the final to 6th, so he wasn’t given a time in that heat. In what will perhaps become a theme for these races, it might not have been ideal for Kershaw to have won the qualification round by 1.5 seconds or so. Petersen skied considerably slower in qualification and the benefited from a rather slow quarterfinal.
Much of the pacing between round a racer doesn’t have much control over, of course. Backing off a bit in qualification has significant risks, and once you’re in the heats, you can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to control the pace; the other 5 skiers have some say in that. So there ends up being a certain amount of luck involved in these sprints, which is one of the reasons I’m not as passionate about them as I am the distance events.
However, the semifinals are a good counter-example to this kind of luck: Read more
I think I’ve been remiss in mentioning this, but as always thanks go to Jan at worldofxc.com for helping to provide the heat times for these sprint races. Let’s see how the men’s finalists fared first:
There were apparently some crashes in this race, as evidenced by the outlying slow times. But in general I’m noticing that each round was progressively faster until the finals, when things backed off, but only slightly. And Cologna really was just skiing faster than everyone. It’s interesting that he outpaced everyone by so much in qualification. I wonder if that was intentional, or if he could do it over again he’d back off a bit. Here’s a look at the difference between the two semifinals:
Not too much of a difference there, may be a second or so (not counting the crashes). As for the women: Read more
The weekend after the Tour finishes will have smaller fields, and this was no different. Still, The Americans will take the results regardless of who else shows up. Here’s how the women’s finalists progressed during the day:
Flat courses will tend to produce times like this, where the qualification round is quite fast, and then things slow down in the heats as tactics become more important. Still, the final turned out to be relatively fast. I didn’t watch the race (as usual) but I wonder if that was also tactics, with Kikkan (and maybe Ida) deciding to try to avoid dealing with navigating around people by simply pushing the pace. Semifinal 2 was slightly faster this time: Read more
I didn’t do nearly as much writing about the Tour as I would have liked, but here are some graphs summarizing the way things shook out.
Here’s a bird’s eye view of the men’s Tour, measured using seconds behind the median skier:
These sorts of bump charts are nice, as they can allow you to see at a glance some overall trends regarding how much movement there was in different stages. So clearly stages 4, 7 and 8 saw some of the biggest movement. Most of the movement in the final stage, a long grueling hill climb, happened at the back of the field, which sort of makes sense.
Here’s a look at how the Tour played out for the eventual top ten men: Read more