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Graves: On to Dusseldorf

Sat, Dec  20, 2008 - By US Ski Team

Noted cross country broadcaster and journalist Peter Graves will be calling the action for UniversalSports.com and Universal Sports TV this weekend with FIS Cross Country World Cup action from Dusseldorf, Germany and Nordic Combined World Cup from Ramsau, Austria. The former cross country coach takes a minute to preview the action.

Nordic fans it's a big weekend on the FIS calendar coming at you. The holiday season is always a blockbuster of competition and we can look forward to it with great anticipation. This weekend we will see nordic combined action from Ramsau, Austria, along with insane crowds on the banks of the Rhein for the annual Dusseldorf Sprints.

First up is Dusseldorf, where the snowmakers have been working overtime making over 3,000 cubic meters of snow for the track. It is a huge undertaking and pays off with great racing and great crowds. It was a little easier this year moving to December from the traditional late October date. This free event attracts huge throngs of nordic fans and is shown live on the German TV network, ZDF. American fans can watch same-day coverage on UniversalSports.com. Expect fantastic head to head racing amongst the world's best.

The big story on the minds of U.S. fans is how Andy Newell and Kikkan Randall (making her first Dusseldorf start) will come back from tough crashes in Davos. Newell qualified third and crashed while leading his quarterfinal heat. Randall, meanwhile, had qualified 11th and crashed when she tangled with another racer in what was the first freestyle sprint of the season.

I caught up with Head Coach Pete Vordenberg and he was optimistic going into Dusseldorf. "Kikkan is training very hard through this first period, and she, like many athletes are looking forward to the Worlds [in February]. She is skiing fast and well and she qualified fast last weekend and just got tangled up with another racer. She is a very strong skater and a wily racer. So, Dusseldorf, which is a street sprint, should go well for her."

Vordy told me that the bottom line was that Kikkan needs to be fresh to podium. His point about the street sprint was also important. Davos presented some incredibly challenging terrain on a course that was at the new maximum of 1.7K. In my opinion, that's stretching the concept of a sprint.

On the streets of Dusseldorf, it will be more of a sprint. The course hasn't changed much at all the last few years. The women run only 800 meters – the shortest of the year. The men do a couple laps for about 1,500 meters – long, but really flat except for the little bump they call Mt. Dusseldorf.

On the men's side, I would watch for Andy Newell to have some fire this weekend. I asked Pete about Andy's fall last weekend in Davos. "Well, the corner was fast and icy and Andy has the skills and the confidence to push himself on terrain like that, that others might take that more conservatively. He is fit, fast and right about now he is hungry to show it."

Vordy, who oversees the fortunes of the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team program, was optimistic about all his charges currently in Europe saying "Torin [Koos] and Chris [Cook] have a lot more to show. These guys are fit, ahead of last year, and they should be players."

So far there have not been any real breakthrough moments for the Team, but the season is still young. Vordy feels the team is off to a modest start but still has high expectations and goals. One of the things I could sense was his confidence in the Team's preparation.

Sprint coach Chris Grover (who I had the pleasure of coaching on his first European trip, to Swiss Week, many years ago) was also optimistic and felt the athletes had some unfinished business to complete after Davos.

Grover was also happy that the new Bj Sport uniforms, especially the rain gear, had been delivered. Look for temps in the 40s with rain forecast for both Saturday and Sunday.

Watch it all on UniversalSports.com and Universal Sports TV this weekend.