The Long Distance Ski Championship

Freezing conditions did not stop Nygaard and Kowalczyk

Early breakaways and cold weather were the primary characteristics in the 80thanniversary edition of Birkebeinerrennet. The Vasaloppet winner Andreas Nygaard, Team Santander, took home the victory just ahead of his teammate Tord Asle Gjerdalen while Justyna Kowalczyk, Team Trentino Robinson Trainer, dominated the women’s race from the outset to win the Birken for the second straight year.

A sunny but extremely cold morning, -22 C, greeted the skiers of Birkebeinerrennet when they started their 54 km pursuit from Rena to Lillehammer.  Due to the cold conditions, there were many diagonal striders both in the men’s and women’s races.

In the women’s race, Kowalczyk broke away in the first long climb towards the mountains and remained in the lead all the way to the finish. Behind her, Kateriná Smutná, Bauer Ski Team, and Astrid Øyre Slind, Team Koteng, worked in tandem throughout the course. The former proved to be stronger in the end and crossed the finish line about 50 seconds before her opponent. The Hertz yellow bib holder Britta Johansson Norgren, Lager 157 Ski Team, struggled today but managed to get important points by being 4th. All three of the women’s podium skiers used kick wax.

“I was surprised that the others didn’t follow me when I broke away,” Kowalczyk said smiling. “The first 20 kilometers suit me really well, but naturally I felt tired after Sjusjøen, the last control point, because 54 km is still a long distance for me. I knew I had nothing to worry about because my gap was over 5 minutes at one point, and I didn’t need to push myself that hard. It feels great to be back in the long distance game again, I will do the remaining two races if my recovery goes well and I stay healthy.”

In the men’s race, the Russian Marathon Team member Ermil Vokuev managed to make a gap before the final long climb in the second half of the race. He was quickly followed by Gjerdalen and Nygaard. Their teammate Anders Aukland was able to catch up the three, but Gjerdalen made his decisive move before the final descent to Lillehammer. Only Nygaard was able to follow. In the end, the Vasaloppet winner was stronger and beat his teammate in the final sprint. The legend of the sport Mr. Aukland was able to leave Vokuev behind before reaching the final meters, hence taking the last podium position.

“It feels a bit surreal to win both Vasaloppet and Birken back-to-back,” the extremely satisfied winner Nygaard declared. “Gjerdalen and I didn’t really have a cat and mouse game in the end as we worked well together, and I was confident that I can beat him in the end. I’ve had a bit of rollercoaster feeling after Vasaloppet both mentally and physically, but it seems that spending time watching Netflix and playing video games on my couch paid off. I will now go to Nordenskiöldsloppet, 220 km, and then spend my Easter ice fishing and chopping wood at my cabin. That’ll be my preparation for Reistadløpet and Ylläs-Levi!”

There were no sprint competitions in Birkebeinerrennet, leaving those points standings unaffected. Johansson Norgren and her teammate Anton Karlsson lead those respective competitions. In the climb competition, Vokuev got some points over Morten Eide Pedersen, Team BN Bank, who still remains in the lead and Johansson Norgen does the same on the women’s side. 

Youth categories are still led by Oskar Kardin, Team Santander, and by Evelina Bångman, Team Mäenpää, who didn’t race today. The pro team competition remains really tight, but Team Santander managed to beat Lager 157 Ski Team in Norway and now has a 60-point lead over the Swedish team. The women’s Visma Nordic Trophy race is still completely open as Øyre Slind and Smutná are tied at the top and Lina Korsgren, Åre Ski Club, is only 20 points behind. Nygaard dominates the men’s race with his two consecutive wins.

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2nd place Katerina Smutna (CZE), 1st place Justyna Kowalczyk (POL), 3rd place Astrid Øyre Slind (NOR)

2nd place Tord Asle Gjerdalen (NOR), 1st place Andreas Nygaard (NOR), 3rd place Anders Aukland (NOR)

Emil Vokuev, Russian Marathon Team received the Visma Skier of the day award.
Due to his offensive skiing throughout the race.