For Continental Cup, expect a fast, tight race with several decisive hills | SteamboatToday.com

For Continental Cup, expect a fast, tight race with several decisive hills

Ben Loomis, left, and Jasper Good cool down Wednesday after a skiing workout at Howelsen Hill.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It always all comes down to the race with Nordic combined.

That's inherent in the way the sport is run these days, a ski jump deciding the order of the start for a cross-country ski race. The better the jump, the bigger time advantage a skier gets in the race.

"It all comes down to the race" will prove even truer this weekend, however, at least if things unfold how many competitors expect.

The jumping hill that will be used for the three weekend Continental Cup Nordic combined competitions is small by international standards, an HS75 — "hill size" 75. Most hills in international competitions are HS90 or above, and the biggest hills on the circuit will stretch above HS140.

That will matter.

"It will definitely really tighten up the cross-country race," U.S. team skier Ben Loomis said. "Being a small hill, guys won't be able to jump way ahead of the field like they would on a bigger hill, so it will make it a lot more important to race well."

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That race, 10-kilometers, will consist of five short laps, giving fans in Romick Rodeo Arena, which will play host to the start and the finish, plenty of opportunity to see the action. Rarely, in fact, will skiers be far from the grandstands.

The course heads west out of the arena, around a short spur and toward Howelsen Hill Lodge. There's one tough uphill section on that end of the course, then skiers will hit another as they return. They'll work their way up Middle Road, behind the rodeo arena. A false summit of that climb could cause some issues.

"This whole last climb up Middle Road, that's the last chance to do anything," U.S. skier Ben Berend said. "It's all going to be downhill to the finish after that, so it will happen there."

The course cuts back from the top of that climb along a lower road, very much in view for those in the stands. Skiers will cut one final corner, downhill basically the whole way, to finish back in the stadium.

"You hang on the flats, maintain your speed and then you'll hit the climbs where you basically try to sprint up them,"U.S. skier Jasper Good said. "There will probably be lots of big packs and not as big of time gaps. … It's hard to say who's favored because this is such a different competition."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.