The Long Distance Ski Championship


Have you heard the news? On Saturday Bruno Debertolis presented the Trentino Robinson Trainer Team for the upcoming Visma Ski Classics Season VIII. It's an Italian team with Mauro Brigadoi, Loris Frasnelli, Bormolini twins, young Francesco Ferrari, Lorenzo Cerutti and Matteo Tanel on the men's side. It's truly an international team with Heli Heiskanen (Finland), Veronica Broll (Italy) and polish star Justyna Kowalczyk on the women's side.

Written by: Denis Kabanen

We talked with the director of the new team to find out the Italian view on classic long-distance skiing.

Italy has a big role in the Visma Ski Classics series, we have three races held here - more than anywhere else: Sgambeda, Marcialonga and Toblach-Cortina. What's the reason for that?

" Yes, we have 3 out of 11 races in Visma Ski Classics calendar, and for us it's really good. I think there is only one reason for that - Italy is the most beautiful place in the world since we have sun, really good food, big passion in all things we make and three amazing races.

" On the other side, we had just two Italian teams last season Team Xcalibur Lill Sport and Team Robinson Petshop Trainer. The year before there were even more and now there might be just yours.

Does the interest of sponsors and pro athletes decrease to classic long-distance races or does the teams become more and more professional that requires consolidation of all "national resources"?

" Big passion is unfortunately not enough. Italy is a small country and there are not so many places where it's possible to do cross country skiing, small villages are mainly so far away from the big cities and sometimes it's difficult to be followed by the media. Because of that skiers are not so attractive for sponsors.

Another thing for Italy is the lack of professional athletes in cross-country skiing. The strongest compete is from the military groups, that allow them to do pro sport. But for the last 10 years the number of this vacancies is decreasing so fewer athletes can get a high level of support.

Your new team came together from two squads, Team Xcalibur Lill Sport and Team Robinson Petshop Trainer. How do you explain that it was possible to make one team out of two? Are cross-country skiers so friendly between teams?

" Indeed, the athletes and the service team are the same, everyone are together now except past team managers. For the rest, I prefer not to answer...

Do you manage off-season training together with teammates now? Do you live close or do you meet each other on training camps?

" Almost all guys live in Val di Fiemme and sometimes you can meet them on training sessions together. Unfortunately, we don't have a budget big enough to organize a lot of training camps. Mostly I stay in touch with the athletes by the phone.

What does it mean to have a ski resort (Trentino) as a sponsor of the team? What are the benefits for you?

" Trentino Marketing is the most important association in the region for marketing. Tourism and sport are both very important in our small villages and this kind of collaboration is extreme helpful. For example, the name of Trentino opens up for some good contacts with companies operating in the area.

Is there a problem for your team, like Lucas Bauer explained, when sponsors wanted to see a strong team but in the end it's more important for them to see native athletes in the team?

" There can be a balance with strong foreign skiers in a team and native ones. Especially when we have young skiers that can improve a lot - leaders give them inspiration and bring big sponsors.

How did you managed to get Justyna in your team? Did you have all you budget payed to her?

" Justyna is an incredible person and a super strong athlete. I don't think it's so important when, how and who...

What stages do you plan to race? Will Justyna race them also?

" We will be present in all the stages; Justyna is planning her Olympic season and between World Cup races she will try to find a good condition in the Visma Ski Classics.

How's your training going? Are you a "playing manager" now like Lucas Bauer? How many stages do you want to race?

" Training is not bad. It is not the same as last years but I'll try to do my best, like every year and every race. Probably I'll compete in all stages too. But we'll see during the season. Yes, Lucas is a really good friend of mine and I should say thanks to him for the way he inspired me to embark in this new adventure.

Is Ilaria Debertolis (Italian national skier) your relative? Does she plan to race in Visma Ski Classics?

" Yes, Ilaria is my cousin and I've seen her grow. I think she's one of the most determinate athletes that I know: she's strong and this winter she can show good results in the World Cup and I hope also in Olympics. After that she might join the team.

Does Italian World Cup skiers work a lot on double poling? Are they interested in participation in Marcialonga and other Visma Ski Classics stages after World Cup season?

" For sure, if you want to show competitive results in the World Cup you must be very strong in double poling. That's what they all are working on. And for sure every Italian skier love Marcialonga but it's in the middle of the ski season and It's not easy to combine the programs. This year we will have Lahti silver medalist Dietmar Nockler in the team and together with Ilaria he will compete in some Visma Ski Classics stages after the Olympics.

Are there a lot of people watching Marcialonga on TV in Italy?

" Yes, Marcialonga is a really big event and TV follows the race live. Probably that Sunday during Fiemme Roller Ski Cup marathon we won't have the same share because of a football game...

It's sad not to find Italian skiers in Marcialonga top 10 results for the past 5 years. Can your team change that?

" Our project, at least we hope, has this intention and I think skiers like Mauro Brigadoi, Loris Fresnelli, and other young boys in the future, have a high potential to finish in top 10... we cross our fingers...

In what direction can Visma Ski Classics adapt to interest more Italian skiers and TV audience (skate races, TV time, more stars)?

" In my opinion, the Visma Ski Classics is one of the best event organizations among all sports. You can't have something like this, for example, in cycling or running when thousands of amateurs start together with pro skiers. It's incredible, but for a "football nation" it's not enough although we have really famous skiers like Pellegrino and others.

Probably some races, for example, Toblach-Cortina and Sgambeda with skating there would be place for Pellegrino to win, that would definitely increase the interest in Italy.

Yourself, you've been in elite long-distance skiing for many years, I remember 2014's Årefjällsloppet when you were fighting for podium positions almost till the end. Was that your best race? What changed after that?

" Many people asked me in the past about the reason why I would do Visma Ski Classics against so many strong people and not be skating... my answer has always been very simple... as long as I enjoy fighting with the best classic skiers in the world why would I have to do something else?

Actually 2015's season was my best with the 8th place in La Diagonela. But unfortunately, I had a lot of problems with the wax materials almost every race. The weather changed almost at the last moment every race and for a small team, that often only has one service man, it was not easy to understand what's the best choice. On the other hand, a lot of other strong skiers arrived in the circuit, but I think that if I would have had better skies I would have had better results... at least I hope so...

What do you think of the new points counting rule? New bibs?

" New rules are very interesting and I hope that there will be more chances for different athletes to dress up in a leader's bib.

How did your life change since the last season?

" Since I started to participate in Visma Ski Classics races I worked 36 hours a week all year long as a military cook. I also trained 800 hours a year. From this year I have to spend a lot of hours in discussions with sponsors, managing athletes and organizing team's life to give 100% of our possibilities. But it will be a great challenge.

I also hope not to find my bags out of the doorstep someday... but my wife knows that cross country skiing is my life... in fact I will take this opportunity to thank her and give a big kiss to my two little ones, Heidi and Anais, and apologize to them for all the time that dad's not at home.