The eighth stage of the Ski Classics took place on Sunday, Feb. 19, with the 50-kilometer Jizerská Padesatka in Liberec, Czech Republic. There, Morton Eide Pedersen (Team BN Bank) and Petter Eliassen (Team Leaseplan) prevented Tord Asle Gjerdalen (Team Santander) from claiming his fourth victory of the series after the two broke away on the long uphill about 19 k before the finish and dropped Gjerdalen. Pedersen was able to claim the victory after winning this race back in 2015, finishing Sunday in 1:55:53.1 hours, by just 0.5 seconds ahead of Eliassen (+0.5). Gjerdalen took third, 1:13.6 minutes back, with the help of his teammate Anders Aukland, who helped Gjerdalen after the breakaway. Aukland finished fifth (+1:17.1), behind Ermil Vokuev (Russian Marathon Team) in fourth (+1:13.8). Gjerdalen said that he felt that he had some lactic acid built up in his muscles.
“I had a good day today,” Pedersen said, according to a Ski Classics press release. ”I saved some energy in the beginning and wanted to make sure that I have enough power in the long climb where Eliassen did his breakaway. I just tried to keep up with him and once we got the gap, we worked well together ensuring that the chasing group couldn’t catch us. It was about time that we pushed Gjerdalen away from the top podium place!”
In the women’s race, Katerina Smutná (Team Santander), Britta Johansson Norgren (Lager 157 Ski Team), and Astrid Øyre Slind (Team United Bakeries) separated themselves from the pack early and remained together for most of the race. With a few kilometers to go, Norgren and Smutná dropped Slind on the final downhill section. Smutná was able to increase her speed on the last climb and gap Norgren. Smutná ultimately finished first in 2:17:34.7 for her fifth victory in a row, making her the first skier to ever have five consecutive Ski Classics victories. Norgren placed second, 9.5 seconds later, and Slind was third (+40.5) for the last spot on the podium.
“I felt really strong in my double poling,” Smutná said, according to the press release. ”I hope that I can keep this up come Vasaloppet in two weeks. This was a tough race as we expected, but I did what I had planned beforehand and it worked out perfectly. Now, I have some time before Vasaloppet where Britta will be tough to beat. It’s her home soil and she really wants to win that race.”
Even with Gjerdalen finishing third, he still is wearing the yellow Ski Classics leader bib with a significant lead over Pedersen and Stian Hoelgaard (Team LeasePlan), who finished ninth (+3:17.7) on Sunday. On the women’s side, Norgren still holds the overall lead by 15 points over Smutná, who has closed the gap over the last five races. Slind is currently third in the standings.
The next race is the 90 k Vasaloppet on March 5 from Sälen to Mora, Sweden. Jizerská Padesatka was the last race in central Europe, as the next five races will take place in northern Europe, with the last of them being the Ylläs-Levi in Finland on April 8.
— Ian Tovell