VISMA SKI CLASSICS MOVES TO SCANDINAVIA – VASALOPPET IS NEXT
The Central-European part of the Visma Ski Classics tour ended two weeks ago in the Czech Republic when Jizerska Padesatka, 50 km, took place in wintery conditions. The elite skiers and their teams have now completed eight races and they have five more to do, and this Sunday is the day that many of them have been waiting for- Vasaloppet. This legendary race with its long history and great atmosphere makes it a prestigious event to win. Vasaloppet will also be the first race of the new Visma Nordic Trophy competition, taking place at the five last events of the season VII.
Tord Asle Gjerdalen of Team Santander did not have his strongest day in the last race in the Czech mountains, but he is leading the overall standings by 309 points over Morten Eide Pedersen, BN Bank Team. With his victory, Morten Eide showed that he is ready to fight for the podium and the victory in Vasaloppet. Petter Eliassen from Team LeasePlan suffered from a six-week period of sickness in the early season, but he is now getting back in shape. His strong breakaway in Jizerska Padesatka gave a storm warning to everyone. Petter is back and his tactic is simple: fast pace and tempo from the beginning and that may indeed be his plan for the legendary race from Sälen to Mora. Petter is currenly fifth in the overall standings of this season.
The young skiers Stian Hoelgaard of Team LeasePlan and Andreas Nygaard of Team Santander have their own fight right behind Tord Asle and Morten Eide, fourth and fifth places respectively. Andreas did not race in the Czech Republic as his lead in the sprint competition is safe, and he felt that he needed some rest for the main race of the season. Stian, on the other hand, has raced in every single event in the cup and been on the podium twice. He has also been on the top 10 in every race since Sgambeda in early December.
These five names are certainly the best candidates for the podium in Vasaloppet, but the race has always presented pleasant surprises. There are several names who could claim the number one spot, among them are two previous winners John Kristian Dahl of Team United Bakeries and Anders Aukland of Team Santander, Øystein Pettersen of Team BN Bank whose comeback to the top is greatly welcomed, Johan Kjølstad of Team United Bakeries who was second in Marcialonga, but has not performed that well since then, and the La Diagonela winner Ilya Chernousov of Team Pioneer Investments. Aswell we should not forget the legend of the sport Stanislav Rezak of Team Slivini Madshus who has been on the Vasaloppet podium six times in the past and has managed to be in the top 10 amazing thirteen times in his career and eight years in a row.
In the women’s overall competition, Lager 157 Team’s Britta Johansson Norgren’s hold on the yellow jersey is being weakened by every race as Katerina Smutná of Team Santander is closing in. The latter is only 15 points behind her opponent and her never-before-seen winning streak, five consecutive victories this season, makes her the strongest candidate to win Vasaloppet again (last year’s winner). But Britta will not give up her dream of winning on her home turf, and we can expect a tight fight between these two ladies. Katerina raced at the World Championships in Lahti, and it remains to be seen if there is enough time for her to recover come Sunday. Britta is also leading the sprint competition by 150 points over Katerina.
Behind these two female athletes, Astrid Øyre Slind of Team United Bakeries and Sara Lindborg of Team Serneke are also neck and neck as only 28 points separate them; the former at third place and the latter fourth. The youth categories are currently being led by the aforementioned Stian Hoelgaard and Svenja Hoelzle of Team Synnfjell. Team Santader is in an outstanding lead in the team competition.
The sports director of Vasaloppet Tommy Höglund is confident that the event will once again deliver a world-class experience to its participants. He thinks that the tradition and constant development are the key elements in keeping the spirit alive.
“The whole course is in great shape with both artificial and natural show. We will have cold weather over the weekend, and we have no need for any changes on the course. I’m pleased that so many great athletes come to our race, and Visma Ski Classics has certainly contributed to that fact. Long distance skiing is really a brand of its own now and it is very important for us, too. Of course, Norwegians are dominating at the moment, but that’s not their fault. We just need great challengers from other countries. However, I will not be surprised if a skier from Norway win the men’s race this year, but perhaps we can see some local flavor in the women’s race. I welcome everyone to Vasaloppet this weekend, and it will be a great gathering of long distance ski enthusiasts around the world.”