The Long Distance Ski Championship

MARTIN JOHNSRUD SUNDBY AND JUSTYNA KOWALCZYK WIN BIRKEBEINERRENNET

Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Team United Bakeries did exactly what was expected of him in Birkebeinerrennet. The FIS World Cup winner made sure that a high pace was kept up from the beginning, and after the first sprint at 9 km point there were only two men in the lead group besides Johnsrud Sundby.

Petter Eliassen of Team LeasePlan and Simen Østensen of Team BN Bank were able to keep with up the pace with Sundby until the second climb about 30 km into the race when Sundby double-poled away from the pair. Nothing could stop Sundby from winning the race while Eliassen and Østensen came to the finish area together. The former proved to be stronger, and the tables were now turned as Eliassen won in 2015 and today’s winner Sundby was second back then. Sundby admitted that the defeat two years ago was an eye-opening experience for him, which made him focus more on his double-poling. Sundby was 48 seconds faster than Elliasen who in his turn was 3,4 seconds ahead of Østensen. The yellow bib holder Tord Asle Gjerdalen of Team Santander was fourth 2.24 minutes behind and his teammate Anders Aukland took his fifth top 10 placing of the season.

“It was a great race and we kept a high tempo up all the way,” the seemingly happy winner Sundby declared after the race. “I was able to use uphills for my advantage and get a gap. I had good skis, the conditions were perfect, and to win here was one of my goals for the season. I have the Norwegian Championships in two weeks, and I haven’t counted out the option of going to Finland for the Visma Ski Classics finale.”

In the women’s race, Justyna Kowalczyk of Team Santander crushed her opponents by skiing solo almost all the way. Team United bakeries Masako Ishida held on to Kowalczyk for a good while before she had to let go. Britta Johansson Norgren of Lager 157 Ski Team cought up with Ishida and the two were playing cat and mouse as the Japanese skier using kick wax was stronger in the climbs while Johansson Norgren took an advantage of her powerful double-poling on flats and downhill parts. In the end, the Vasaloppet winner Johansson Norgren was stronger, taking home second place.Kowalczyk was in a league of her own as she beat Johansson Norgren by 4,14 minutes. Ishida was 5.03 minutes behind the winner while the gap between the fourth fastest skier, Astrid Øyre Slind of Team United Bakeries, turned out to be more than seven minutes.
 
“I’m really happy to win this race,” the always smiling Kowalczyk admitted. “Everything went well and the cheering on the course was amazing. I will do the rest of the races in Visma Ski Classics, but this victory was the most important for me. Of course, I want to win again in Årefjällsloppet like I did last year, but to win here in front of this audience means so much to me.”

There were no major changes in Visma Ski Classics standings as Tord Asle Gjerdalen  and Britta Johansson Norgren lead the overall competitions, the sprint bib holders are the same as after Vasaloppet; Andreas Nygaard of Team Santander and Johansson Norgren, the team competition is lead by Team Santander and the youth category bibs are being held by Stian Hoelgaard of Team Leaseplan and Svenja Hoelzle of Team Synnfjell. However, only six points are separating the latter from Evelina Bångman of Team Ski Pro Am.

Birkebeinerrennet was the second event of the new Visma Nordic Trophy competition, and after two races Andreas Nygaard and Britta Johansson Norgren are in the lead in their respective categories. The next Visma Ski Classics race is Årefjällsloppet in Sweden on Saturday March 25. The following two races in the long distance ski world championship are Reistadlöpet in Norway on April 1 and Ylläs-Levi in Finland on April 8.

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