The Visma Ski Classics series continued this past weekend in Livigno, Italy, with the first marathon of the season, La Sgambeda. The conditions were perfect as a cold night before ensured a hard surface for skiers and the sunshine on race day guaranteed for a great 30-kilometer classic race. Both the men’s and women’s races ended with a sprint to the line.
In the men’s competition, the lead group stayed together until the final climb. There, Norway’s Tord Asle Gjerdalen (Team Santander) and Russia’s Ilya Chernousov (Team Pioneer Investment) passed Norway’s Petter Eliassen (Team LeasePlan Go), who had led most of the race. Gjerdalen and Chernousov came to the finish neck and neck, but Gjerdalen was able to take the win by 1.3 seconds. Eliassen, who won last week, finished third, 2.7 seconds behind the winner.
“It was a tough race and I just tried to stay behind John Kristian Dahl and let Petter do all the work,” Gjerdalen said, according to a Ski Classics press release. “I felt strong in the last hill, but I wasn’t sure if I could beat Ilya in the end.”
Eliassen could not overcome the Livigno burden and said that he will probably never win La Sgambeda. Chernousov was quite happy with his performance behind Gjerdalen and said he will be focusing on long-distance races this season as well as continuing to podium.
“I tried to maintain a high speed over the first lap to wear out the others. But when I saw that the field was still large I gave up, ” Eliassen said in an interview with Altaposten. “This course is a little too fast for me, so I was never going to win this race. That’s why I’m happy.”
“I felt tired during the start and fought to stay behind Petter Eliassen,” Gjerdalen said in a finish-line interview. “During the end, I had the most energy and better skis than Chernousov. It was perfect for me.”
Like the men’s race, the women’s race came down to the last climb. Britta Johansson Norgren (Lager 157) and Katerina Smutná (Team Santander) were able to break away from Sara Lindborg (Team Serneke) on the last hill. Norgen tried to pull away from Smutná, but it came down to the finish, where Norgren was able to increase her double-pole tempo. Norgen was able to beat Smutná by 1.3 seconds, while Lindborg placed third, 17.4 seconds out of first. Norgren finished as the fastest female as well as the best sprinter on the day making her a double jersey holder.
“The last climb was really hard and I was nervous seeing Katerina right behind me,” Norgren said with a smile on her face, according to the press release. “I felt strong today and this was a great race. I was freezing while skiing the first lap, but once the sun got up it was fine.”
Smutná said that Norgren was simply stronger on Saturday and she did all she could the last 100 meter, but was not able to match her attack. Lindberg said that she felt strong from the start, but couldn’t match the intensity of the two other skiers.
Norgren and Gjerdalen are now leading the individual standings, while Team Santander is the top team after two races. Norgren and Andreas Nygaard (Team Santander) are leading in the sprint standings. The next Ski Classics race, the Vasaloppet China 50 k classic, will be held Jan. 4 in Changchun, China.
— Ian Tovell (Aleks Tangen contributed translating)