Phillip Bellingham to race the Tour de Ski

What-Phil-saidIf the first challenge is to get to the start line then Phillip Bellingham has certainly earned his way to the 8th edition of the FIS Tour de Ski, which begins tomorrow in Oberhof, Germany. The 22-year-old World Cup Team athlete from Mt Beauty will become the second Australia ever to start the Tour de Ski, the biggest event on the cross country skiing World Cup circuit which this year will feature seven events in three countries over a nine day period. However the event wasn’t always on Phillip’s schedule this winter, and finishing the event is still not one of his goals.

To gain  a start in the TDS Phillip had to achieve a performance standard at the World Cup in Davos earlier this month, which he did by finishing 68th in the Freestyle Sprint, 3.1 seconds outside of qualifying for the top 30. Stage 3 of the Tour in Lenzerheide in Switzerland is also a Freestyle Sprint, and this event was Phillip’s main goal – until yesterday. Now, due to limited snow conditions in Oberhof, Stage 2 is also a Freestyle Sprint, giving Phillip two more chances of achieving one of his season goals – making the finals of a World Cup Sprint.

Though Phillip’s distance racing has greatly improved this winter, he doesn’t intend to continue past Stage 3 in the Tour. He won’t be alone in this, as a number of nations are also entering sprint specialists who will withdraw after this stage. The remaining four stages for the men consist of a 15km Classic, a 35km Freestyle, a 10km Classic, and the 9km Freestyle Hill Climb finale in Italy. With three more World Cup Sprints and the World U23 Championships on the schedule in January before the Winter Olympics in Sochi, there will be enough racing on Phil’s plate without these remaining tour events – each of which has a time cut-off to continue to the next stage.

The other hurdle Phillip had to overcome to get to the Tour start-line was the transit to Oberhof from the Australian Institute of Sport European Training Centre in Italy. What should have been a long enough journey to begin with was hampered by a massive snow fall in southern Switzerland. Over a metre of snow in 24 hours and closed passes and roads meant that Phillip missed his ride with the Swiss coach of Russian skiers based in Davos. After hours fruitlessly waiting for roads to open Phillip clambered onto a train headed to Germany. Missed connections meant that after 16 hours of travel he was stranded in Mannheim in the middle of the night, still nearly 5 hours by train short of Oberhof.

Possibly this post is a bit premature. This morning Phillip was confirmed to be on the train heading to Oberhof with all his skis. There’s still more than 24 hours until the start of the 4.5km Tour Prologue tomorrow. Tune in to FIS Live Timing at 15:15 Central European Time (1:15am on December 29 Australian Eastern Standard Time) to see if he made it.

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