The Long Distance Ski Championship

SEASON VIII STARTS ON SUNDAY

Visma Ski Classics season number eight kicks off in Pontresina- Switzerland on Sunday when 28 Pro Teams embark on the 11 km Pro Team Tempo.

By: Teemu Virtanen

This prologue is the perfect platform for all teams to introduce themselves, showcase their shiny new outfits and make some noise before the actual racing season begins in Livigno, Italy the following weekend (you can check out the format and the rules of the race at http://www.vismaskiclassics.com/event/pro-team-tem... ).

As the new season is upon us, it is time to recall the results from the last season and see what pro team may bring home the bacon. The three top ranked pro teams are, respectively, Team Santander, Lager 157 Ski Team and Team Koteng (former Team United Bakeries). These three teams are the most likely candidates to hop on the podium on Sunday, but there may be some surprises waiting in the wings.

Last year, no one predicted that the French team Gel Interim Rossignol could be so high up in the result list. These guys came, conquered and disappeared after the prologue, but a similar feat is not expected this year. However, new rules and a more team friendly format allow some room for dark horses to rise.

One such pro team could be Bauer Ski Team (rank. 6), although many would argue that Bauer's gang plays no underdog role in the Visma Ski Classics play. Instead, some would say that the Czech team is the challenger number one. Besides Lucas Bauer himself, the team has Katerina Smutná, five consecutive wins last season, and Ilya Chernousov, La Diagonela winner, in its ranks, and the team is hungry for success.

Another good bet for a podium place would be Team Serneke (rank. 5) whose athletes have the capacity to push themselves to the limit as we witnessed last year. Bob Impola can be a true fighter when the good day comes knocking, and Anders Høst, the new recruit, had a great run in the latter part of the last season by being in the top 15 in every race since Birkebeinerrennet.

But in Sunday's race, it all boils down to the women. The winning team needs to have a strong female skier to seal the deal. All of the teams above can really boast of the power they have in their women. Team Santader has Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes, Lager 157 has Britta Johansson Norgren, Team Koteng has Astrid Øyre Slind, Team Serneke has Sara Lindborg and Bauer's Team has the aforementioned Smutná.

Team BN Bank currently stands at fourth place in the Pro Team ranking, but there is no female skier to be found in the house that Øystein Pettersen built. Therefore, this team will take a huge blow on Sunday. And finally, we should not discount Russian Marathon Team (rank. 7), Team Trentino Robinson Trainer (rank. 8) and Team Tynell (rank. 9) as they are breathing down the neck of the leading teams. These teams have strong skiers who are not willing to show the white feather, and perhaps something unexpected comes out of the blue on Sunday.