The Long Distance Ski Championship

Lukas Bauer - the person behind team PIONEER Investment

Written by: Denis Kabanen

Lukas Bauer is a legendary cross-country skier from Czech Republic. He earned multiple medals in World Championships and Olympics, won the World Cup and twice Tour de Ski. He also did a lot of Visma Ski Classics races but has only one podium place back in 2013 on Jizerská-50 where he was 2nd. After last season he is done with World Cup, but not with skiing. Maybe the lack of top results encourage him to continue his long distance skier career, or his desire  to bring Team PIONEER Investments to the circle? The team that gets stronger and stronger each year.

Now we can call Lukas Bauer an active manager  – he is doing full workouts on training camps with 2017 La Diagonela winner Ilya Chernousov and plan to do at least six Visma Ski Classics races coming season. Bauer’s main focus though is the team director work, to bring the squad to the next level.

In the beginning of July Team PIONEER Investments held a training camp in Lenzerheide Biathlon Arena in Switzerland, a place where Olympic medalist family Chernousov-Gasparin lives.

- Ilya stayed at home. It was no problem for me since I do the same when we have training camps in my home town – Bozi Dar in Czech Republic. Then I live at home and the team lives close by, but not in the same place. The reason is simple, we want to stay as much as possible with our families. I think it's normal for people who have a family, that they prefer it this way, especially when you are at least ½ of the year on the road and the kids are small. It´s also good for an athletes mind – I know it from my career. Ilya is a real professional and I´m not worried that he will not train without the team.

During the camp the athletes did some double poling workouts on famous Albula pass but most of the training was done on roller skis in skate and diagonal classic technique.

- I don't think that we are doing too much of full coordination workouts, it’s needed to be in balance. Despite the fact that almost 90% of Visma Ski Classics races are pure double poling races, training only with this technique won’t work. I think you have to be a complex skier and can't forget about your legs, because they also work quite a lot during double poling. Another thing is VO2max, you can not be “just a strong skier”. Maybe it worked in the past for double poling, but every year since the capacity is becoming more and more an important factor in long distance skiing, you need to have very high VO2max if you want to win- so you should make complex training all the time.

Now the team is training in east part of Czech Republic in a mountain resort called Červenohorské sedlo. This weekend they will participate in roller ski uphill races that are part of national Silvini Skiroll Classics series.

- I´m not 100% focused for those races, the most important is to train together, but we will take part there and we will fight. I'm sure that Stanislav Rezac also will be there, and he is strong on rollerskis. It will be good training for us.

Czech skiers have good traditions in Visma Ski Classics. Katrina Smutna had a strike of 5 consecutive wins last season and national broadcaster ČT sport showed all races live. So I had a big question of interest since long distance skiing is growing in Czech Republic among professional skiers, hobby riders and television viewers.

- What does Czech pros dream of; Olympics or Visma Ski Classics?
- Olympics. Long distance skiing for most of them is a good training and off-season fun. Even if their career in the national team is over, they don’t consider of trying to do long distance skiing. Not many real professional teams are able to pay salary for athletes, and with double poling dominance, regular World Cup skiers have an disadvantage to make good result in the beginning. If you want to be strong in long distance skiing, then you have to make a lot of double poling training that don’t match with World Cup preparations. So everyone is scared to take these risks. Also the Norwegian dominance is not something that will help to change the opinion of those athletes.

- What about the hobby skiers?
- They are 100% opposite and very inspired of the chance to start with the ski elite and to match their time in the same conditions - something you can not do in the World Cup. We have around 200 participants from Czech Republic in Vasaloppet and Marcalonga, not talking about thousands on Jizerska-50. It shows good interest to long distance skiing in my country

- And the TV-audience?
- Viewers are bored from too much double poling – that’s what I hear very-very often. I think that for them it doesn't matter if we will skate or classic...the only thing important to them is to watch "their" athletes in front. This is the key to have high interest for marathons… too big dominance from one nation is not good for the sport. But I'm not surprised why the Norwegians are so strong.

- So if we talk about TV-audience interest then we have two situations when winning Czech skier is racing for Norwegian team – Katerina Smutna, and when Russian skier Ilya Chernousov winning for Czech team. Is there a difference?
- For me it’s almost the same. It was very inspiring two years ago when Lina Korsgren won the women part of the Pro Team Tempo for my team. But it’s hard to say for others. For sure most of the TV-viewers knows that Ilya is a member of a Czech team and they are happy with his wins. When Ilya fights for victory, then also the commentators in the TV studio are very loud and focused on Ilya. But still there is big difference to Katerina’s wins…

The same is with media. For sure Czech media is fully focused on Czech athletes and also a lot on team results, but they would never have the same attention on other members of the team if they are not Czech. Then, for example, I understand why Santander is more about Norwegian and Swedish skiers. Foreign athletes would bring you points and etc. But it’s very difficult to increase media interest, get more partners and advertising with them, because they don’t have the same role model status like native athletes.

- So it’s not so close to Tour de France where we follow mostly personalities, not nations?
- People likes personalities, but media interest in cycling is much higher so they open up much more information about Tour de France stars than the skiing ones.

- Do you think that Visma Ski Classics can grow to a National Team competition also?
- It’s  a difficult question. I think that national teams (or pure ones) in this situation would kill the sport. Also there are not much resources for real national teams to build specialist squads for long distance skiing. My feeling is that the system of World Cup´s, in this moment, is on the edge for many national teams and this is very-very expensive. And again there is big dominance of the Norwegian team: not only athletes, but also service, team crew, training system, plus many strong athletes behind the national team who can jump in when it will be needed. Only two other nations can be real opponents, and the rest are limited in many ways. Of course other nations can beat them- or be close, but only with strong individuals. But nobody can replace them if they will be injured, sick or out of shape. And all will disappear when they will retire...

If we will make only national teams in Visma Ski Classics, then the Norwegian dominance will be much more visible, because many nations have not many strong athletes.

- Anyway you have to build an international Czech team to get points and results, don’t you?
- I was positive from the beginning that if I want a successful team, then it should be an international team. But I have to say that it’s very difficult to build a truly international team. When you start to collect sponsor’s budgets it’s almost impossible to "sell the idea of a successful international team" to partners. You are facing the fact that they are mostly interested in supporting native athletes. You can try to make international marketing and find international partners, but then it needs to be a much stronger management. Honestly long distance skiing is cool for us, but it’s not the same in the most middle Europe. For sure TV coverage of Visma Ski Classics is helpful, but we are missing key markets (Germany, Switzerland, France...). And this is the challenge for Visma Ski Classics organizers also.

- Is everything too complicated?
- No, it’s not. I´m not complaining, it’s just a challenge that we face and I fight hard to solve it. With Katerina Smutna’s performance we can get a bigger media cake and it would result in better contracts with sponsors. But the sport results is only the beginning of the manager’s work. A lot depends on manager’s quality and luck. That´s the life

- Team BN Bank had a perfect idea to invite different non-ski stars each season. Maybe you should have Jaromir Jagr in the team?
- Sure, it can work, but don't forget that there is a big difference in how popular skiing is in Norway and in other countries. Jaromir is 100% out during winters since they have their own season. It´s possible only with people from show-business or ex-sportsmen, but it´s worth a try, I'm thinking about it.

- I have a question about travelling to all marathons. Do you fly or drive with all equipment?
- it´s easy traveling for us when the races are in the middle of Europe. We go there by car: service team and athletes. Races in Scandinavia are a little bit different. Athletes fly there and servicemen go with a car. But not all servicemen go with us because they have to coordinate travel with regular work - nobody is 100% professional.

- Did you consider buying Leaseplan's skiwax truck?
- It´s a nice idea to have a wax truck, but it’s all about money and how much benefit you can get from it. At this moment a wax truck is something what we cannot afford, and I really don’t think it limits us.

- Let’s talk about the Pro Team competition new point-counting rule. Last season Team PIONEER Investments was 7th, but with Katrina Smutna’s margin you could be 5th. Now strong under 26 years old skiers can bring double points to the team because all Youth (Pink bib) points counts for Pro Team standing.
- Honestly I didn't read rules details yet. This is new information for me. It needs more results analyze, how much U26 earned last season and what positions they were...but it would definitely push teams to find and support more youth skiers than before. I have some young skiers in the team, but they are more focused for traditional skiing right now and they will make just few races like last season.

- And what about Climb jersey? Maybe it can help to make breakaways during races? Without Eliassen everyone might go easy until the finish line.
- It’s something new – very interesting to see how it would work. I don't think it will help with breakaways since it is very difficult to go away with such a high level of competition. But we will see if there will be somebody to go all in for climbs and not take much care about final result.

- With such a high level of competition do you have to be 100% focused on long distance skiing? Even on women side? Don’t you think Katerina Smutna’s World Championship racing actually ruined her second part of Visma Ski Classics season?
- I think Katerina will be fully focused on Visma Ski Classics for two reasons. First, she wants revenge for last season’s second place. And second, Czech ski federation didn´t nominate Katrina to the National team for next season. It’s a really strange decision. For sure her basic plan is to make all marathons, but you never know.

- And what’s your racing plan? Your are training hard. What if in November you will feel strong and would try to make Olympics?
- Now I’m 100% focused on long distance skiing, because my national team career is over. I'm not considering qualification to Olympics at all. And also I won’t make any other ski competitions besides long distance skiing. My basic idea is to be fully focused for my team director work and make everything for team support, secure budget, meetings with partners and develop the team to another level. All my racing will be done in my own “leisure time“. Simply said, that the idea is to race 6 Visma Ski Classics races and the rest would depend if everything will be done or not. If everything will be OK, then I will make the whole season. But if it would be needed to skip some races then I will make less than 6 races. All in for the team!

- What are those 6 races you are aiming for?
- I didn't think about them exactly and still hope to do them all. But for sure I want to ski Marcialonga, Jizerska-50, Vasaloppet, Reistadlopet. Jizerska-50 because it's the only Czech race in Visma Ski Classics, Reistadlopet due to hilly profile and because it´s a nice race. The reason for Marcialonga is I’ve never done it – for the last 3 years every time I had some problems or collisions with final preparation for World Championship. And Vasaloppet is because it's so famous, so long… a real legend!

- Was it your first Vasaloppet last winter?
- No, I did it for my second time. The first one was a week after Sochi and a week before Holmenkollen – what a tough program. I went with no-wax skis and suffered hard. Now I double poled the race and it was much better.

- Do you have а place in your training to improve double poling?
- I don't know, we will see… After 20 years in traditional skiing with full focus on classic and skate training with legs dominance it is very difficult to switch in such short time to only double poling, it needs long time and a lot of motivation....
Since I’m out from traditional skiing, now I can be fully focus on things I had a lack of time for before.

- And what are those things you didn’t have time for? Gardening, cooking?
- No, I´m focused to support and develop my team as much as possible, secure financial budget, that is quite tough. But I like it and I´m enjoying the job. For sure I have some work around the house done but it was like it every year. Maybe I have a little bit more time for things like orienteering and some other things that I had not so much time for before. But I’m still missing some hours every day.
Anyway my time management is much more relaxed than in last years when I had to train a lot, manage the team, try to be with my family as much as possible and other projects that I was/am active in.