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Tour de Ski: Russia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Sweden, Slovakia, Ukraine

Sat, Dec  29, 2007 - By Tour de Ski

Russia

Women
Iljina, Natalja
Ivanova, Julia
Korosteleva, Natalia
Kurkina, Larisa
Medvedeva, Evgenia
Ovchinnikova, Svetlana
Rotcheva, Olga
Sapronova, Diana
Tchekaleva, Ioulia

Men
Chernousov, Ilia
Dementiev, Eugeni
Legkov, Alexaner
Morilov, Nikolay
Parfenov, Andrey
Pankratov, Nikolay
Volzhentsev, Stanislav
Vylegzhanin, Maxim

Russia has the largest team on the Tour, and always seems to come up with relatively unknown skiers who do extremely well. The women's team is lacking the 2007 Pursuit World Championship Olga Savialova, but has a good back up in Korosteleva, Medvedeva, and Rotcheva. Korosteleva was only 22nd in the Tour last time around, but is currently 6th overall on World Cup with two podium finishes in Rybinsk. Medvedeva was 10th in the 15km in Rybinsk, and recorded the 4th fastest time up Alpes Cermis last year. Rotcheva has been consistently top 20 on World Cup most of the this season. Tchekaleva is also handy, the winner of the Pursuit at the 2007 U23 World Championship and 11th in the 15km in Rybinsk, and Kurkina was 9th in the 10km Classic in Davos.

The rest of the Russian women, Iljina, Ivanova, Ovchinnikova, and Sapronova have this in common. They are all between the age of 20 and 22, and have been in the top 30 on World Cup this season. Ovchinnikova is better in the Sprint.

The Russian men are a little more seasoned. Legkov was their star in the 2006-2007 Tour, rocketing up the Final Climb to take 2nd place overall. Dementiev was 8th overall, and is notorious for fast finishes in the pack on big occasion mass start events. Legkov has had reasonable form leading into the Tour, sitting in 12th on the World Cup ranking list after a photo finish 6th place in the 30km in Rybinsk. Pankratov, Vylegzhanin and Chernousov are all strong distance skiers, with Pankratov showing the best form of these three so far this season. Volhentsev is an up and comer, finishing equal second behind Cologna from Switzerland in the Pursuit at the 2007 U23 World Championship. This leaves the Russian sprinters Morillov and Parfenov. Morillov was in the Freestyle Sprint A-final in Dusseldorf back in October, though didn't perform especially well in Rybinsk. Parfenov only just turned 20, and will be seeking to gain his first World Cup sprint final experience.

Slovenia

Women
Benedicic, Maja
Fabjan, Vesna
Jezersek, Barbara
Majdic, Petra
Soklic, Mirjam
Visnar, Katja

Men
Brodar, Nejc

Slovenia has a large women's team in the Tour de Ski, with Petra Majdic as one of the main favourites for the overall classification. Majdic was 6th overall in the inaugural Tour de Ski, but has already claimed a World Cup win this season and is currently in 4th place on the World Cup rankings despite skipping the races in Rybinsk in preparation for the Tour. The tall Slovenian is capable of winning individual stages in Sprint and Distance, and we will wait to see if she has the consistency throughout the eight stages to take out the overall victory.

Amongst the rest of the team Vesna Fabjan and Katja Visnar are the Sprint specialists, and are coming into the Tour fresh from their best ever World Cup results. In the Sprint Freestyle in Rybinsnk Fabjan was 5th in the A-final and Visnar 16th in the qualifying time trial. Jezersek completed the Tour last season in 46th place, never making it into the top 40 on any Stage. Benedicic and Soklic have been on the OPA Continental Cup circuit this winter so far, with Benedicic recording the best result of 8th in the 5km Classic in Formazza,

The sole male competitor for Slovenia, Nejc Brodar has the distinction of making his best
ever World Cup result in the 2006-2007 Tour de Ski. He finished 22nd in the opening Sprint in Munich, the only time he has ever made a World Cup Sprint final. Brodar's form this season has not been sensational however he will be looking to repeat his performance from last year and get some Sprint final action.

Switzerland

Women
Mischol, Seraina
Rochat, Laurence

Men
Bundi, Gion-Andrea
Cologna, Dario
Fischer, Remo
Livers, Toni (withdrawn)
Perl, Curdin (withdrawn)

Switzerland have a fairly compact team with two women and four men. Mischol has traditionally scored her best World Cup results in Sprint events, however an 8th place in the 10km Classic in Kuusamo at the start of December shows that she can mix it over the longer distances as well. The 26-year-old can certainly pick up some bonus seconds in the Sprints and could be a top 10 overall contender is she manages to hold her position during the Freestyle Pursuit stages.

Rochat has improved as the season has gone on, taking 24th place in the 10km Classic in Davos. Her preparation for the Tour has gone well and she will be aiming mostly for individual results in the Classic and Sprint events rather than the overall classification.
Both Swiss women started the 2006-2007 Tour de Ski but withdrew after the Sprint event in Asiago.

With only days remaining to the start of the Tour Switzerland's highest ranked man Toni Livers has withdrawn due to illness following the World Cup in Rybinsk. Though he is healthy again now it was decided that he wouldn't be fit enough to contest the Tour. Curdin Perl, the runner-up to Cologna in the Pursuit at the 2007 U23 World Championship, has also withdrawn due to illness.

Swiss head coach Markus Cramer has reported that the remaining men will try for individual stage results, rather than go for the overall classification. Fischer and Cologna had already put their hands up to show that there is more to the Swiss men's team than Livers, producing top 10 results in Rybinsk World Cup. The reigning U23 World Champion and still only 21 years old, Cologna has perhaps the biggest potential for the future. He also won the 2007 Engadin Ski Marathon, which is probably the maddest pack freestyle race in the world. Bundi's form this year hasn't been his best, but at 31 years old he is the most experienced of the Swiss athletes, and finished last years' Tour in 28th place. The best chance for the Swiss men should be in the Freestyle Pursuit events on Stage 2 and 4. Cologna may also be able to hold his own in the Stage 3 and 5 Sprint events.

Sweden

Women
Hansson, Anna
Kalla, Charlotte
Rydqvist, Maria
Simberg, Anna

Men
Ahrlin, Jerry
Fredriksson, Mathias
Hellner, Marcus
Joensson, Emil
Larsson, Mats
Olsson, Johan
Soedergren, Anders

Sweden has its most exciting women's team in years, led by the 20 year old Kalla. Kalla made her first World Cup podium back in November and has been in the top 15 in every event she's contested. Hansson, 21, has been more of a surprise packet, coming from seemingly nowhere to take 5th place in the 10km Classic in Davos. This young Swedish duo may be relatively inexperienced, but they have let their performances do their talking so far this season and just need to keep doing what they are doing. Rydqvist is capable in both techniques, but hasn't been into the top 30 on World Cup this year. Making that step could be a reasonable goal for her in the Tour. Simberg was a late selection to the Swedish team from off the Scandinavian Cup, where she recently recorded two top 5 finishes. Making her World Cup debut in the Tour is a big ask, however Simberg has good role models to follow in Kalla and Hansson and we will see how she handles it.

Fredriksson and Soedergren are the biggest names on the Swedish Team, and both fell a bit short of expectations in the 2006-2007 Tour finishing 14th and 16th overall. Fredriksson made a slow start on World Cup this year after some illness, though showed with a 14th place in the World Cup in Davos that he is on his way back into form. On the other hand Soedergren opened with World Cup account with a podium finish in Beitostolen in November, and then hasn't gone on with it since. Both skiers tend to do better in individual start events rather than mass start, and neither picked up any sprint points last Tour.

Olsson has been more consistent on World Cup, with a 10th in the 15km Freestyle in Beitostolen and an 11th in the 15km Classic to his name, and could be a shot at top 15 in the overall classification. Hellner at 22 is the up and comer amongst the Swedish men, though perhaps doesn't have the base yet to be a strong contender overall. He is also a very good sprinter, and could switch his focus to the Sprint events depending on how he is travelling in the early stages. Joensson however is definitely a specialist sprinter, one of the best here in the Tour. He was on the World Cup podium in the Classic Sprint in Kuusamo, and in the A-final in the Freestyle Sprint in Rybinsk. Mats Larsson is strong in both distance and sprint but much better in Classic technique, and could be a chance to take out the Tour Prologue.

The dark horse of the Swedish team is definitely Jerry Ahrlin. Ahrlin won the overall FIS Marathon Cup in 2006-2007 and opened this season's marathon series with a win in the La Sgambeda in Italy. He is also a handy sprinter, and it will be extremely interesting to see how he shapes up against the regular World Cup skiers.

Slovakia

Women
Prochazkova, Alena

Men
Bajcicak, Martin
Batory, Ivan
Malak, Michal

Prochazkova is a relative newcomer to the World Cup scene but definitely one to watch out for. She was the first Slovakian woman to win a World Cup medal in the Classic Sprint in Kuusamo at the start of December, and followed up with solid performances in the Classic 15km races in Kuusamo the next day and in Davos the following week. At the World University Championships back in January Prochazkova was on fire, winning the Freestyle Sprint and making the top 5 in the 10km and the Pursuit. Top 10 in the overall classification might be a bit our of her reach in the Tour this season, however Prochazkova could be up there on a couple of the stages.

Bajcicak and Batory have been the top Slovakian skiers on World Cup for nearly a decade, popping up into the top 10 every now and then, with the major highlight being Bajcicak's 15km Freestyle World Cup victory in Reit im Winkl in 2005. Neither has shown great form on World Cup this season, finishing around the 30s, but that doesn't mean that the next top 10 foray isn't far away. Bajcicak pulled out a 5th place on the 15km Classic Stage 3 of the Tour last year then ended up 34th overall after recording the 6th fastest climb up Alpes Cermis. Batory is usually stronger in classic. Malak may be a little out his depth but has the distinction of displaying the best sculptured sideburns on the World Cup circuit.

Ukraine

Women
Nesterenko, Lada
Shevchenko, Valentina

Men
Leybyuk, Roman

This tiny team from Ukraine contains one of the top female contenders for the overall classification, Shevchenko. She was only 3 seconds from 2nd place in the Tour last season, climbing well up Alpes Cermis but unable to beat Bjoergen over the line. Though only 21st in the World Cup standings this season, while skipping the Rybinsk World Cup Shevchenko blew apart the field on OPA Continental Cup in Austria. The 32 year old Ukrainian wont pick up many Sprint bonuses in the Tour, but watch out for her on the Final Climb.

Nesterenko pulled out one big race last season – 7th place in the 30km Classic at the World Championships in Sapporo. However this season she hasn't shown any great form, and may struggle to make it into the top half of the field on individual stages.

Leybyuk has been very erratic throughout his career, occasionally pulling out a big performance but then often mid-field on World Cup. His 2006-2007 Tour de Ski was no different – he finished 12th in the 15km Classic in Oberstdorf, and spent the rest of the time back in the middle of pack to finish 40th overall.