How to Improve XC Ski Racing
[BUMP from 3/7/06] The Olympic 50k mass-start XC marathon ended with a big bunch pretty much, like most mass-start World Cup races do. Everyone is too good for anyone to break away. So the top skiers all end up marking each other and giving a bit of a boring display.
We don't need to get rid of the mass start---we need to start giving skiers the kinds of courses that show their ability in its best light.
Let's start playing to the strengths of the mass start format!
XC is almost as fast as bike racing these days. Big packs form. Then nothing happens. Why? Because the events aren't long or hard enough. Sure, they're stunningly hard, but this doesn't stand out well enough for the fans. Pro bike races aren't 2 hours, they're 4-6 hours. And they come in great varieties.
I suggest more bike-like formats for XC. Right now WC XC courses must have 1/3 uphills, 1/3 flats, 1/3 descents (some ratio like that).
Let's start out by including outright mellow courses to suit the big brute power skiers---like the Spring classics in bike racing---but longer so the brutes can break things up more and not just tow everyone to the finish. OK, the courses wouldn't be actually mellow but would be conducive to speed and power.
Then have courses that are like road bike mountain stages. Send the skiers from a valley town on one side of a mountain range over a pass and to a town on the other side then back again in 4 hours, say. It would be a course for the featherweight climbers.
Such formats would surely break up any mooching packs and provide drama and variety. The mass start format wouldn't then be any cause for boredom. Sure, some small packs would still stay together as skiers formed alliances---but that ADDS to drama, which is what fans like.
Let's not stop there. Let's offer skills-oriented courses with mostly singletrack and twisty, narrow trails that go up, down and all around---hang onto your hat. That could be just an hour or two long and no one is going to do any mooching and the crowds would love it.
Last of all: let's include all three kinds of racing in one week.
Right now the race formats are too similar---mostly quite short, using the same hills-ratio---or too boring because they don't exploit the beauty of the mass start.
None of my 3 suggestions seem to be offered or played up anywhere. Not that I've heard, anyway. There might be courses like these on the regional or World Loppet level, but I'm not sure that their effects on the racing style are played up enough. If they were, word would get out. And word is good.