Norway the ones to watch again as 2018/19 FIS Cross-Country World Cup begins

The country are bidding for a 23rd straight Nations Cup, and Norwegians have won the last three men's and five women's overall titles.

Norway have dominated the FIS Cross-Country World Cup since its inception, winning 30 Nations Cups (of a possible 37) including the most recent 22 in a row.

That appears unlikely to change as the new season begins on Saturday in Ruka, Finland, with a Sprint Classical race for both genders.

Olympic sprint champion Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo is the defending men's Crystal Globe champion, while Heidi Weng is aiming for a third consecutive overall title.

Klaebo seeks rare achievement

Klaebo is looking to join a very exclusive club by winning his second overall World Cup title alongside defending the Sprint World Cup.

Just three men have won both the Sprint and Overall titles in the same year, including Klaebo. But cross-country legend Bjorn Daehlie stands alone as the only one to have done it twice, achieving the feats in 1996/97 and 1998/99.

His biggest challenges will come from compatriot Martin Johnsrud Sundby, who won two golds alongside Klaebo at PyeongChang 2018, and defending Tour de Ski champion Dario Cologna of Switzerland.

The Tour de Ski is a series of consecutive events held at the end of December and start of January, modelled on the Tour de France cycling race.

Four-time Olympic champion Cologna has won a joint-record four Tours, and is aiming to become the sole holder of that mark by claiming his fifth this year, which would move him past Justyna Kowalczyk.

Johaug's back

In the women's competition, there is a new start for Therese Johaug of Norway, the 2015/16 Crystal Globe champion who is back after an 18-month suspension for an anti-doping rule violation.

Johaug, who missed the last two seasons as well as PyeongChang 2018, won her comeback race in the Norwegian national series at Beitostølen.

"It's great to be able to stand atop the podium again," she told newspaper Verdens Gang after her victory.

One of the athletes she beat was the two-time defending World Cup overall and Tour de Ski champ Heidi Weng, who was two minutes off the pace.

Can Diggins break the Norwegian stranglehold?

Olympic team sprint champion Jessie Diggins was one of only three non-Norwegians to win a distance race last season. Sweden's Charlotte Kalla and Finnish skier Krista Pärmäkoski were the others.

While Diggins hasn't raced with her PyeongChang partner Kikkan Randall on the World Cup circuit for a few years, this is the first season of competition for the former since Randall's retirement and subsequent cancer diagnosis.

Diggins, who battled mental health issues including the eating disorder bulimia to become an elite athlete, is aiming to add to her two race wins from last year.

The American also won the Bonus Ranking — awarded to the skier who picks up the most bonus seconds and bonus points for top ten finishes throughout the campaign — last season.

Full 2018/19 FIS Cross-Country World Cup calendar

(Dates are subject to change)

24–25 November: Ruka, Finland

30 November– 2 December: Lillehammer, Norway (Nordic Opening)

8–9 December: Beitostølen, Norway

15–16 December: Davos, Switzerland

Tour de Ski:

29–30 December: Toblach, Italy

1 January: Val Müstair, Switzerland

2–3 January: Oberstdorf, Germany

5–6 January: Val di Fiemme, Italy

12–13 January: Dresden, Germany

19–20 January: Otepää, Estonia

26–27 January: Ulricehamn, Sweden

9–10 Feburary: Lahti, Finland

16–17 February: Cogne, Italy

9–10 March: Oslo, Norway

12 March: Drammen, Norway

16–17 March: Falun, Sweden

22–24 March: Quebec City, Canada (World Cup Final)

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