The seventh season of the Visma Ski Classics officially began this past weekend with the 8-kilometer prologue on Sunday in Pontresina, Switzerland. The starting order was reversed so the winners of last season’s prologue started first. This time around, last year’s last-place finishers Team Gel Intérim/Rossignol took first.
The individual races both on the men and women side came down to the wire. In the men’s race, last year’s overall Ski Classics champion Petter Eliasson of Team LeasePlan Go started off slow and was 12 seconds out of first at the first timing point, but was able to pick it up the second half and claim the overall victory in 19:42.66 minutes. He beat Bastien Poirrier (Team Gel Intérim/Rossignol) by 8.53 seconds for the win.
“The plan was to start off easy so I would have more energy for the final two laps,” he said in a TV interview with NRK. “I hoped that my conditioning would be better this weekend and I didn’t think I would win this weekend because the distance was so short. I’m actually surprised.”
“It was a bit hard to double pole because my poles kept sinking into soft snow,” he said, according to a Ski Classic press release. “Other than that, I had no problems on the course.”
About 16 seconds out of first, Morten Eide Pedersen (Team BN Bank) took third. Both he and Poirrier said they were satisfied with their results and that the podium is their goal every race in the Ski Classics series.
In the women’s prologue. Katerina Smutná (Team Santander) edged out last season’s overall champion Britta Johansson Norgen (Lager 157 Ski Team) by 0.66 seconds. Sara Linborg (Team Serene) finished third (+20.66)..
“It was a hard race and the course was getting really soft,” Smutná said after the race while suffering from stomach cramps, according to a press release. “But this was a great start for the season and I’m off to Livigno and ready for the next race on Saturday.”
Norgen was pleased with her finish, but said that Sunday was not her best race day, citing trouble double poling up the course’s steepest hill.
Since there are no sprint points awarded for the prologue, Andreas Nygaard (Team Santander) currently retains the green bib race since he won the category winner last season. This will be the first year that women have a sprint completion in the Ski Classics series and Norgen, last year’s second-fastest woman, will keep the green bib until the next race.
The next race, the 25 k La Sgambeda, is set for Saturday, Dec. 3, in Livigno, Italy.
– By Ian Tovell (Aleks Tangen contributed translation)