Personal sprint, classic style
At the World Championships in Oberstdorf, personal sprints will be run in a classic style.
For men, this discipline can be safely called the fiefdom of Johannes Hösflot Klebo.
Over the past three years, he won seven starts out of nine at the World Cup stages in which he participated, and if he did not come to the finish line first, then he was sure to be content with silver.
Only Alexander Bolshunov and another skier from Norway, Eric Valnes, managed to push the Norwegian into second place.
This happened in the first races of the 2018/19 and 2020/21 seasons, after which Klebo could no longer be stopped.
Bolshunov is always ready to prove himself in the sprint, but recently he began to prefer to run free style.
This season in the classic races, he won only one bronze in the Tour de Ski stage, which Klebo missed.
Faster than the leader of the World Cup were several other Norwegians, and the Swede Oskar Svensson, and Gleb Retivykh.
The last race in Falun stands apart, when Bolshunov fell in qualifying and finished the fight early.
Instead, Sergey Ustyugov tried to prove himself, who has enough strength to reach the final, but there is no finishing acceleration to get into the prizes.
Among women, Julia Stupak and Natalya Nepryaeva were considered favorites of the classic sprint until recently.
Both of them, after the Olympics in Pyeongchang, won medals at the World Cup stages and even won victories.
But this season, the best result of the Russians was the fourth place of Nepryaeva in the Tour de Ski, which will be very difficult for her to take after a broken arm.
Now the Swedes dominate the women's sprint - in three classic races, they took the entire podium twice, and Lynn Swann won all the finals.
Even if the Russian women manage to get into the medal race, it will still be extremely difficult to resist the Swedish skiers.
In the men's skiathlon, Bolshunov is already a real contender for gold.
Last season, he won both 30-kilometer races with changing skis, and at the last world championship he became a silver medalist - a couple of centimeters were not enough to get around Norwegian Shura Röthe.
This year, only one skiathlon took place at the World Cup stages, and Bolshunov was prevented from winning it only by a fall a few meters before the finish.
Emil Iversen, Röthe, Paul Golberg and Simen Kruger took full advantage of the Russian's failure and then took the first four places.
Bolshunov fought back at the next stage, when he won the 15-kilometer race with a skate and a classic, albeit with a difference of one day.
If we take into account the results of Falun, then Ivan Yakimushkin, Denis Spitsov and Sergei Ustyugov are best suited for the role of the team leader.
True, they still fall short of the status of contenders for medals.
Such a chance will appear only if they can hold on to Bolshunov and run with him to the finish line, but so far only the Norwegians have been able to resist such tactics.
In all women's distance races, medals of the highest standard can be given immediately to Norwegian Teresa Johaug.
Two years ago, she already made a golden hat-trick at the World Championships and is ready to repeat this achievement again.
At least in skiathlon, she did not suffer a single defeat after the end of her disqualification.
Stupak can be considered a contender for the two remaining medals - she feels confident in contact races and runs especially well in classics.
Nepryaeva remains the current bronze medalist of the world championship in skiathlon, but it is possible to talk about her prospects only after possible participation or non-participation in the sprint.
For the rest of the Russians, skiathlon will most likely be a test of strength before the relay.
Team sprint, free style
In the men's team sprint, several countries will compete for gold at once.
This is always strong Norway, and loudly declared itself Italy, and even France, and promising Sweden.
Russia is also included in this list, but if the composition of most of the teams is already visible, then the coaching staff of the Russian national team has not yet decided on the choice of skiers.
There are three applicants for participation at once - these are Bolshunov, Ustyugov and Retivykh.
The latter's candidacy is the least controversial, since Gleb is a pure sprinter and was a finisher in both races this season.
With a partner who will have to create a gap and help avoid a showdown with Klebo and Federico Pellegrino, while there is no clarity.
The team sprint will take place the day after the skiathlon, and Bolshunov and Ustyugov will, in fact, have to run the second distance race in a row.
In any case, both of them are able to keep the Zealous in the leadership group, and he will already reach at least bronze.
For women, everything again rests on the form of Nepryaeva.
Without the injury, she, along with Stupak, would have been a contender for medals, even considering how much Slovenia and Switzerland have added, joining the traditionally powerful teams of Norway, Sweden and the United States.
In an extreme case, Tatyana Sorina or one of the young skiers will be able to replace Nepryaeva, since Stupak's sprint qualities will still determine the final result.
Trial start, free style
For Bolshunov, 15-kilometer freestyle cuts are a profiling distance - five victories at the World Cup stages speak for themselves.
The last of them he won this year in Falun, when the Russian was opposed by the whole world of the Norwegian national team.
True, Bolshunov won less than two seconds from Kruger, which leads to slightly disturbing thoughts.
For Norwegians, like any other strong skier, it is easiest to train a time trial, in which there will be no tactical struggle or annoying falls, as in contact races, so Bolshunov will have to continue to experience serious competition.
Other Russians in Falun could not impose a fight on the Norwegians, but it is not worth writing them off.
Based on the results of the current season, Yakimushkin and Spitsov ensured that they got into the squad.
The candidacy of the fourth skier will be discussed during the World Championship.
All of them will have to fight not so much for medals as for the opportunity to run the skating stage of the relay, and this will be quite a decent motivation.
For the women's team, ten-kilometer cuts are not the most promising type.
It will be almost impossible to impose a fight on American Jessica Diggins, Norwegian Teresa Johaug and Swede Ebbe Andersson.
The three of them did not let anyone in Falun.
The best Russian woman - Stupak - took 12th place.
She has a silver medal of this season in Davos, but then the Scandinavian skiers did not participate in the race, who now do not intend to miss the fight for gold in the World Championship.
In the male form of the program, the next duel between Norway and Russia is expected.
Other countries simply do not have an optimal squad of two "classics" and two "skaters", and the Finnish national team, which scandalously won silver at the World Cup in Lahti, is rather an exception.
The fight between the Norwegians and the Russians will begin when the squad is selected.
Each team has several different options for how to place skiers in stages.
Suffice it to say that Bolshunov is not at all regarded as an unambiguous finisher, but he can try himself at the classical stage, where he will need to respond to the attack of the Norwegians - they will certainly strive to create a gap for Klebo.
Besides him, the candidates for the first two stages are Evgeny Belov and Alexey Chervotkin.
Yakimushkin and Spitsov are suitable for free style - they both showed at the Tour de Ski that they are not afraid of a rich program of the World Championship and can keep fit, but in the fight against Klebo at the last stage they will be powerless.
In any case, for the Russian team, any place below the second will be considered a failure.
Russian girls will fight for bronze for happiness, and this is a very real option if Stupak and Nepryaeva are in good shape.
They will really need the help of Tatiana Sorina, who at the beginning of the season seemed to be the main discovery in women's cross-country skiing.
And the recent stage of the World Cup in Falun made it possible to close the issue with the participant of the first stage - Yana Kirpichenko entered the top five of the classic mass start, which was a real surprise.
If, before the fourth stage, the Russian national team even breaks away from Sweden, then it is possible to talk about the struggle for silver.
Gold after a successful attack by Johaug is unlikely to go to anyone other than the Norwegians.
Marathon, classic style
The 50 km race is another sport in which Bolshunov will be the undisputed favorite.
Suffice it to say that at the largest starts, he has not yet dropped below second place in the marathon.
His only defeats were at the Olympics in Pyeongchang and the World Championships in Seefeld, where it was possible to run in skating style.
After that, two classic races were held in the World Cup, and Bolshunov won both.
The leader of the Russian national team will be accompanied by Chervotkin and Ilya Semikov - one is a pronounced "classic", the other is specially preparing for this race.
Yakimushkin can become the fourth participant, if he retains the fuse after the relay.
With a successful combination of circumstances, all of them can reach the finish line on a par with the Norwegians over a long distance and then start fighting for medals.
In the women's 30 km marathon, one can speak with confidence only about the victory of Johaug.
There are many applicants for the rest of the medals, and under certain circumstances Russian girls can also rise to the podium.
They are favored by the classic style of running the distance, in which Stupak and Nepryaeva have already won contact races at the Tour de Ski.
Certain hopes can be associated with Alisa Zhambalova and Kirpichenko, also largely due to the profiling style.
But if they all miss the attacks from foreign skiers, then the endurance will hardly be enough to close the gap.