As a few star athletes opt for a slower start to the new year, a window of opportunity has opened up for the skiers and biathletes who are on a lookout for ranking points at the upcoming Para Nordic Skiing World Cup.
This is especially the case for the women’s visually impaired where the current ranking leaders are not expected to appear at the starting gates.
The second World Cup of the 2019-20 season will be co-hosted by Germany’s Altenberg and Dresden from 11-19 January, and will consist of three cross-country and three biathlon races.
Competition kicks off with Para cross-country sprint races in Dresden on Saturday, marking the first time Para Nordic skiers and able-bodied athletes compete in the same FIS & World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup.
The events will be contested on the original FIS Cross-Country Sprint World Cup track, right in front of Dresden’s skyline. On Tuesday, action resumes in Altenberg for standing and VI cross-country events and Para biathlon competition.
Oksana Masters and Kendall Gretsch were unstoppable at the World Cup opener in Lillehammer, Norway. Now both US skiers can extend their lead on the second of the four World Cup stages.
Norway’s Birgit Skarstein is in third place, 135 points behind the leader, but with three upcoming races in Germany, it is possible for her to soar on the rankings by the end of the week.
In biathlon, where Gretsch is the leader with Masters as the runner-up, it is Russia’s Marta Zainullina who will be looking for a comeback. The Paralympic bronze medallist is only 80 points behind Gretsch and can flip their standings with solid races.
The field is also looking a lot more open in the women’s VI class since the cross-country and biathlon leader Anna Panferova is expected to sit out the competition in Germany. The Russian skier’s nearest rival is her equally versatile teammate Vera Khlyzova who is sure to use the competition to try and surpass Panferova in the rankings.
German athletes could also fare well with Vivian Hoesch and Clara Klug making a bid for top places in women’s VI biathlon, while Anja Wicker will try to do the host nation proud in the women’s sitting events.
All the usual suspects
Unlike the women’s sitting and VI classes, the races in the men’s sitting and VI will see the return of the toughest rivalries from Lillehammer.
Canada’s Brian McKeever and Sweden’s Zebastian Modin will be fighting for the top spot in men’s VI cross-country again, while Yury Holub will try to retain his top rank in VI biathlon.
In the men’s sitting, the nearly flawless Ivan Golubkov will aim to stretch his 104-point lead even further as he takes on three more cross-country races with Ukraine’s Taras Rad pushing to close the gap.
Rad, meanwhile, will be trying to jump up from his current third place in the biathlon rankings. He was the Crystal Globe winner in biathlon last season, but fell in the shadows of Golubkov and Germany’s Martin Fleig in Lillehammer.
East vs West
Canada’s triple force in the women’s standing class - Brittany Hudak, Natalie Wilkie and Emily Young - will be looking to bring down their Ukrainian counterparts - Oleksandra Kononova, Yuliia Batenkova-Bauman and Bohdana Konashuk - who currently lead the biathlon rankings.
Their compatriot, Mark Arendz, is in a similar situation. The Canadian skier is trying to catch up to his Eastern rivals in the men’s standing class, most notably Russia’s Vladislav Lekomtsev and Rushan Minnegulov.
The men’s standing class will also feature the double Paralympic champion from France, Benjamin Daviet, who has had a lacklustre season debut in Lillehammer and will be eager to improve on his results in Germany.