The Visma Ski Classics series wrapped up on Saturday with the 63 k Årefjällsloppet in Sweden, which had to be partially relocated due to snow conditions; the finish line was moved from Åre to Edsåsdalen.
In the men’s race a group of eight were together almost to the finish, when Johan Kjølstad and John Kristian Dahl of Team United Bakeries were able to pull away. Kjølstad took the win 5.79 seconds ahead of Dahl, with Petter Eliassen of Team LeasePlan Go taking third +8.87. Daniel Richardsson of Team Exspirit was the top Swede in fourth, +12.91.
“That was it hard work in the mountains and I [was bouncing around] in the peloton,” Richardsson told Langd.se, according to a translation. “Too bad I was not a little more alert.”
Happy boy’s in #edsåsdalen congrats to Mr Eliassen and the other winners in the competition for jerseys. Thanks to all followers to. #seasonisover #tubmonkey #tubforlife #swix #unitedbakeries #eatmovesleep @isklarwater @skigo_clothes @bendit.no #meny @johankjolstad @johnkristiand 📷Skiclassics/Magnus Östh
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It was Kjølstad’s first win of the season, but he didn’t stop there. The very next day, some of the field headed to Norway for the Flyktningerennet, a point-to-point 42 k classic race. Kjølstad won that, too, by over three and half minutes – 15:41 ahead of 11th place Petter Northug.
“It’s fun for me to take two straight wins at the end of the season,” Kjølstad told Aftenposten. “It means a lot. It helps a lot for my part toward next season… it’s hard to keep the shape an entire season. Actually, it’s a little surprising that I have succeeded so well at the end here.”
Now Kjølstad has his sights on one man: Martin Johnsrud Sundby, the winner of the Tour de Ski, the Ski Tour Canada, and the overall World Cup. He also won the 50 k at Norwegian national championships over the weekend. Kjølstad looks forward to racing against him next season, he told Aftenposten.
Despite Dahl winning the previous two races (the Vasaloppet and the Birkebeiner), it was Eliassen who took home the overall Ski Classics title by 211 points over Tord Asle Gjerdalen of Team Santander. Dahl and Kjølstad were third and fourth, respectively.
In the women’s race at Årefjällsloppet, Polish star Justyna Kowalczyk, skiing for Team Santander, won by 15.89 seconds over Seraina Boner of Team Exspirit. Masako Ishida of Team United Bakeries was third, +1:17.28, holding off Katerina Smutna of Team Santander by just over ten seconds.
“This victory means a lot to me, because the season was far from ideal,” Kowalczyk told the Polish press. “I knew I had to attack Seraina on the final climb.”
Kowalczyk said that although she loved racing some ski marathons this winter – she did La Sgambeda in Italy, La Diagonela in Switzerland, the Marcialonga in Italy, and the Birkebeiner in Norway – she still plans to focus primarily on FIS World Championships in Lahti, Finland, next season.
Despite the results of the women’s race on Saturday, it was Britta Johansson Norgren of Team Lager 157 who took the season title on the back of big wins earlier in the season. She finished just seventh on the day in Åre but still ended with a 130 point lead over Boner, with Smutna sliding into third, just 20 more points back.
Norgren was exhausted at the end of this season, after double-poling all of the races in the series, but was already looking forward to 2017.
“It feels great to win overall,” she told the Swedish media. “But today I’m disappointed. The head wanted it more than the body. Double-poling has been my strength in the winter, but today there was not there… It is difficult to keep fit an entire season. But I’m very eager to do this again next year. The other girls will improve and I also hope to get better.”
Team Santander bested Team United Bakeries in the overall standings by 666 points. The team announced to Langrenn.com that athlete members Anders and Jørgen Aukland would move into roles as team managers.
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The FIS Worldloppet Cup also wrapped up on Saturday, in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. Toni Livers of Switzerland and Aurelie Dabudyk of France earned overall titles.
Dabudyk had already had the win wrapped up, so the women’s race carried no season-title drama. But Livers led the Worldloppet Cup by just 20 points going into the 50 k skate Ugra Ski Marathon, and had to win or at least beat key competitors if he wanted the title.
It wouldn’t be easy: the star-studded field featured not only the usual long-distance suspects but also Sergey Ustiugov of Russia, most recently seen winning stages and finishing second overall in the Ski Tour Canada World Cup series.
Ustiugov attacked over and over again in Khanty-Mansiysk, but in the end Livers was able to overtake him and ski to the win just half a second ahead of Yurij Shopin of Russia. Bastien Poirrier of France took third just a tenth of a second behind Shopin, with teammate Candide Pralong another tenth of a second back and Ustiugov landing in fifth another two-tenths of a second back.
“Ustiugov was very strong today,” Livers said in a FIS press release. “He attacked all the time and opened gaps, so I thought I will fight for the second place today. But on the last 3 km the race became a hectic one and I felt strong enough, so I tried my luck!”
Dabudyk treated the race like a training session, and instead it was Yulia Tikhonova of Belarus who claimed the win by 45 seconds over Olga Rotcheva of Russia. Elisa Brocard of Italy was third, +3:51.
In the end Dabudyk bested Brocard in the overall standings by 431 points to 370, with Klara Moravcova of the Czech Republic third with 330 points. Livers landed 60 points ahead of Poirrier, with Pralong another 36 points back in third.