The cross-country skiing World Cup, the sport’s highest level of competition, begins its season on Saturday with races in Gaellivare, Sweden, far above the Arctic Circle.
The XC World Cup is is my favorite sport to follow, for lots of reasons. Foremost among these reasons is that I love to ski, and I have been lucky enough to be able to ski quite a bit here in Northfield, after many years away while living in relatively less snowy and/or skiable places. XC skiing is a great sport – fun, challenging, interesting. On this point, I can’t wait to ski in the City of Lakes Loppet on February 1.
A second reason that I love the WC is that the competition itself is engrossing, thanks to a wide variety of race formats (everything from 1500 meter sprints to 50 kilometer marathons, from individual time trials to 8km hillclimbs), numerous beautiful venues all over Europe (and even in Asia and North America), and the fact that the skiing itself is surpassingly beautiful to watch – the perfect mix of power and grace. This (poorly scored) video of the great German skier Tobias Angerer does a good job showing the sport:
But yadda yadda. One of the two real reasons that the World Cup is fun to follow nowadays is that a fan can actually watch the races online, either live or delay. Universal Sports, an arm of NBC, is “airing” many of the WC races this winter, for free, starting with this weekend’s races in Sweden. My favorite obscure endurance sport, shown free and on-demand over my computer? Sign me up.
The second real reason that the World Cup is fun to follow is that a genius web friend has developed a fantasy league for those of us who – unlike your common-as-dirt baseball and football fans – have heretofore not had a make-believe competition in which to utilize our insanely narrow and deep knowledge of the sport. I’m practically itching to get my (faux) team together and go nerdily head to head against other ski-racing fans. I’ll note in closing that I won the damn league last year, so now I have some credibility and a reputation to defend. Bring on the snow!