Much like last week at Skate Canada, this week's men's event at Rostelecom Cup in Moscow will be a showdown between two of the best in the world. Shoma Uno, who won Skate America two weeks ago, will get his second look at reigning World champion Javier Fernandez. Uno won their first battle earlier in the season at Japan Open. But goodness, that bronze medal is wide open!
GOLD Shoma Uno JPN - Undefeated so far this season, Uno comes in having won the Skate America title two weeks ago and with a victory over Fernandez at Japan Open, a free skate only competition. With the quad flip, Uno has a slight technical advantage over Fernandez. And with another off season, Uno has closed the components gap on Fernandez, at least a bit. For me, this competition will come down to where the two are in their trajectories this season. Uno has had more reps this season so far, and that's likely the reason he will be more consistent and continue his win streak in a close call with Fernandez.
SILVER Javier Fernandez ESP - The World champ isn't usually a particularly fast starter, though Japan Open was one of the stronger starts he's had. With Uno, Yuzuru Hanyu, and Patrick Chan upgrading their technical difficulty this season, Fernandez has opted to stick with what he knows from last season. All else equal, if both Uno and Fernandez hit clean programs, it will be Fernandez who takes the title in Moscow. But the more likely scenario is that we will see two very strong but not clean programs from him, which will make it a bit harder for him to get the gold against the red hot Uno.
Oh, but did I mention? Elvis.
BRONZE Max Aaron USA - Two bronzes to start his season on the Challengers, but those two competitions were up and down for the 2013 US champion. He had a strong last season that started with him winning Skate America and ended with him taking the silver at Nationals and eighth at Worlds. But he's going to need to be more consistent than he was in the Challengers in order to land on the podium. His jumps are his strength, and they will be key this week.
4. Mikhail Kolyada RUS - When all eyes were on all the other top guys at Worlds earlier this year, it was Kolyada who quietly snuck in there to take fourth in his debut. He has a lot of potential to stay up there among the best in the world, but he will need to be more consistent than he was at Finlandia Trophy earlier this season, where he finished fourth. But whatever he delivers this week, enjoy the programs he puts out there, because they are fun to watch.
5. Alexei Bychenko ISR - After a phenomenal Europeans last season where he took the silver, Bychenko got close to qualifying two spots for Worlds for Israel but didn't quite get there. So that means that he will be battling teammate Daniel Samohin for that one Worlds spot this year. We just saw Samohin put down his strongest performances of the season last week at Skate Canada to finish fifth. It's Bychenko's turn this week.
6. Elladj Balde CAN - Balde was eighth at US Classic earlier in the season, and he showed off perhaps the best skating we've seen from him in his career. The question for him is always where his consistency is. We've seen brilliance from him before, and he could be a dark horse in this field this week.
7. Deniss Vasiljevs LAT - His 14th-place debut at Worlds last season was a surprise - and the surprise was that he was able to climb out of the funk in practices to get himself a top-15 finish at his first Worlds in a very tough field. He's got a lot to offer as a skater, but so much of where he will end up this week will depend on the condition of his jumps, particularly the triple axel.
8. Chafik Besseghier FRA - The French champion is coming fresh off a win at Cup of Nice, where he had a solid free skate with two quads. He's known for his jumps and his sometimes-unorthodox choreography, which may or may resonate with the audience and the judging panel.
9. Artur Dmitriev RUS - Sixth at Nebelhorn to start his season, Dmitriev has all the technical goods to compete with these guys. He just hasn't been able to keep it together in competition. Rostelecom Cup will mark his GP debut.
10. Keiji Tanaka JPN - Last season was a bit of a breakthrough for Tanaka, who ended up a career-high fourth at Japanese Nationals. But his opener at US Classic - tenth - was less than impressive, and the inconsistency in his jumps may be creeping in again.
11. Gordei Gorshkov RUS - Gorshkov was fourth at Russian Nationals last year and is making his Grand Prix debut this week. He's one of the few guys who have a quad loop in their repertoire this season.
12. Alexander Majorov SWE - Majorov started his season with a ninth-place finish at Finlandia Trophy and will need to be a lot stronger in his return to the Grand Prix since 2013.