Anders Aukland And Britta Johansson Norgren win Årefjällsloppet!
The 5th edition of Årefjällsloppet and the 11th race of Visma Ski Classics Season VII had a surprising finish in the men’s race as Anders Aukland of Team Santander won the race in a photo finish. Britta Johansson Norgren of Lager 157 was the strongest woman in the end, fighting in the last uphill with Kateringa Smutna one step behind.
The men’s race got an exciting start as Morten Eide Pedersen of Team BN Bank managed a large breakaway that lasted all the way to the steep climb after Ottsjö. The lead group caught up with about 20 km to go, after which Petter Eliassen of Team LeasePlan made his move and led four men into another breakaway. Besides Eliassen, this group had Oskar Kardin of Team Serneke, Anders Aukland and Anders Malmen Høst of Team LeasePlan, and about three kilometers before the finish the yellow bib holder Tord Asle Gjerdalen of Team Santander managed to join the four.
There was a very tight battle between the Santander team mates in the final steep hill leading to the finish line in Edsåsdalen. Aukland and Gjerdalen crossed that line neck and neck, but the camera deemed the former as the winner of the race. This was the soon-to-be-45-year-old skier’s first victory since La Sgambeda in 2015. Oskar Kardin from Team Serneke was third, making him the second Swedish male skier on the podium this season (Jens Eriksson of Team Santander was second in Vasaloppet China). Eliassen came in fourth about 8 seconds behind Aukland.
“It feels really good to win again,” Aukland said,. “I’ve been in great shape throughout the season and this race suits me well. I knew that I could be strong here and the slow sprint in the end worked for me. Still, I wasn’t sure if I could beat Gjerdalen in that final climb, but I did but only by a hair.”
In the women’s race, the diagonal striders Masako Ishida of Team United Bakeries and Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes of Team Telemark used their kick wax advantage over their opponents in the uphill sections of the course, but strong double-polers Britta Johansson Norgren and Katerina Smutná of Team Santander did not give up and were able to close the gap on downhills and flats. Johansson Norgren was the strongest in the tough finish while Smutna was second and Gjeitnes third. The Birkebeinerrennet winner Justyna Kowalczyk of Team Santander was fourth 33 seconds behind the winner.
“It was a bit up and down for me today,” the smiling Johansson Norgren admitted. “Masako was really strong when we climbed up, and the weather kept changing, making the race extremely difficult. When we reached the final hill towards the finish, I pushed as hard as I could to keep Katerina and Kari behind me. That worked and what a finish this is! This is really a hard course because there are so many steep hills here. I guess I need to work on my herring boning for next year.”
In the sprint competition, Andreas Nygaard of Team Santander keeps the green bib even though he did not score any points today. Morten Eide Pedersen was the first man over the sprint today, collecting the 30 points. Johansson Norgren increased her lead, also taking home the full 30 points. The women’s youth competition got a new leader as Evelina Bångman of Team Ski Pro Am managed to overhaul Svenja Hoelzle of Team Synnfjell who has been in the lead all season long. Team Santander continues to hold the top position in the team competition.
The Visma Nordic Trophy competition is really shaping up to be an interesting series on its own as Aukland and Gjerdalen are sharing the lead with 390 points each, but Nygaard and Eliassen are very close, 40 and 50 points behind respectively. Johansson Norgren has an extensive lead in the women’s competition, but Astrid Øyre Slind of Team United Bakeries, Kowalczyk and Emilia Lindstedt of Team Ski Pro Am are all within 55 points.
There are two more events left in Visma Ski Classics season VII, both taking place above the Arctic Circle. The next one is Reistadløpet, 50 km, in Norway on April 1st, and the final will be in Finland when Ylläs-Levi, 67 km, takes place on April 8th.
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