The sixth race in the Ski Classic series took place on Sunday, Jan. 29, with the 44th annual Marcialonga, a 57-kilometer classic race (this year from Mozzin to Cavalese, Italy). The race was orginally suppoed to be 70k, but was shortened due to low snow.
In the women’s race, Britta Johansson Norgen of Team Lager 157, and Katerina Smutná (Team Santander) broke away from the group early and were able to keep up the pace until the finish. Smutná was able to outlast Norgen at the finish to beat her by 0.8 seconds, taking the win in 2:22:46.4 hours. Sara Lindborg (+4:22.2) of Team Serneke rounded out the podium.
Norgren had a game plan to keep a fast pace throughout the whole race so the only person that would be able to follow her was Smutná. She was able to achieve that goal, but just didn’t have enough power at the end to defend her 2016 Marcialonga title. Norgren remains the overall women’s leader with a 75-point lead over Smutná.
“I respected Britta’s past victories in this race and the pace was high in the beginning when she was leading,” Smutná said, according to a Ski Classics press release. “The battle between Britta and I continues after this and the next step is in Toblach-Cortina. Luckily, we have a two-week break before that.”
On the men’s side, a few different skiers attempted breakaways. Thomas Gifstad of Team Forever Nordic broke away from the lead pack, but eventually was caught by the chase group and ultimately finished 46th. Andreas Nygaard (Team Santander) made the other move, which lasted almost to the finish, but was caught right before the Cascata climb.
The race then came down to Tord Asle Gjerdalen (Team Santander), Johan Kjölstad (Team United Bakeries), and Morten Eide Pedersen (Team BN Bank). Gjerdalen was able to finish strong and win his third-straight Marcialonga in 2:08:36, becoming the first man to claim three-consecutive wins in that race. Kjölstad (+2.6) finished second with Pedersen (+2.9) following in third. Gjerdalen leads the men’s overall standings with 824 points, 174 points over Nygaard in second place.
“I wasn’t nervous about my teammates’ breakaway,” Gjerdalen said, according to the press release. “It was part of our team tactics. I broke my pole in the beginning, that’s why I was a bit behind in the first control point. It was an easy race for me as I let Petter Eliassen and John Kristian Dahl and the guys do all the work when we were catching up with Andreas. I had a free ride until the last hill and then I knew it was my time again.”
Eliassen ended up 10th and Dahl placed 19th.
Americans Tyler Kornfield and David Norris of Alaska Pacific University (APU) finished 43rd (+5:03.8) and 66th (+10:43.1). Canadian Paralympian Brian McKeever finished 57th (+9:13.5) and guide Graham Nishikawa 81st (+12:56.5), followed by Ian Murray in 85th (+13:37.5) and McKeever’s other Paralympic guide Erik Carleton in 111th (+17:50.2).
The next Ski Classics race will be a 50 k in Toblach-Cortina, Italy, on Feb. 11.
— Ian Tovell