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Ski Classics Recaps: Reistadløpet & Ylläs-Levi

The winners of the 2018 Reistadløpet 50 k marathon in Norway: Masako Ishida (l) of Team Koteng and Tord Asle Gjerdalen of Team Santander. (Photo: Ski Classics)

The Ski Classics marathon series continued this month, with the 50-kilometer Reistadløpet on April 7 in northern Norway. This year’s edition of the race featured challenging waxing conditions, leaving skiers to decide whether to use kick wax or double pole the entire race with heavy snowfall the morning of the race. It stopped snowing before the race, and all of the podium places went to diagonal striders.

In the women’s race, three athletes broke away on the first long climb to Orta: Masako Ishida (Team Koteng), Justyna Kowalczyk (Team Trentino Robinson Trainer) and Astrid Øyre Slind (Koteng). While Ishida and Kowalczyk went neck and neck for the rest of the race, Ishida ultimately took the win in 2:31:55.7 hours. Kowalczyk finished 11.5 seconds back in second place while Øyre Slind crossed the line 2:13.1 minutes after Ishida for third place.

“I had better skis than Justyna in the end, and I tried to break away but couldn’t,” Ishida said, according to a Ski Classics press release. “It was a tough race, and I’m so glad to have my second Visma Ski Classics victory in my career. This was also my best race of the whole season.”

Ski Classics overall leader Britta Johannson Norgren of the Lager 157 Ski Team double poled and finished the race in eighth (+13:26.2) yet kept the yellow bib, while Katerina Smutna (Team Santander) remained in second overall after finishing fourth on the day (+8:58.2).

In the men’s race, Tord Asle Gjerdalen (Santander) and Chris Jespersen (Koteng) distanced themselves from the pack on the first long uphill, while Anders Aukland (Santander), Daniel Richardsson (Lager 157) and Øyvind Moen Fjeld (Santander) followed. Gjerdalen attacked on the second ascent to the top of the mountain to drop Jespersen, who was struggling with his kick wax, and took the win by over a minute and a half in 2:10:58.8. Jespersen finished second (+1:33.7) and followed by Aukland in third (+2:06.1). Gjerdalen kept himself ahead of Andreas Nygaard in the overall standings, after Nygaard placed seventh on the day (+4:58.4). Richardsson placed fourth (+2:59.3) ahead of Fjeld in fifth (+3:36.9).

“I had wonderful skis and I had a perfect day,” Gjerdalen said, according to the press release. “When I left the hotel, I was still going to go double poling, but only a few minutes before the start, I changed my mind and chose diagonal striding. It was the right decision. I don’t even remember my last race with kick wax.”

Reistadløpet results

Norwegians Astrid Øyre Slind (Team Koteng) and Andreas Nygaard (Team Santander) after winning the 2018 Ylläs-Levi in Finland. (Photo: Ski Classics)

One week later, Ski Classics season ended with the Ylläs-Levi 70 k marathon on April 14 from Ylläs to Levi, Finland.

Five women broke away on the first climb and stayed together until the last uphill of the long race. Slind raced with her Team Koteng teammate Ishida, followed by Johansson Norgren, Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes (Team Santander), and Kowalczyk. The group remained in tact until the last climb to Pyhätunturi, where Ishida strided away on her own up front. Slind closed the gap about seven kilometers before the finish, and three others passed a fading Ishida as well. Slind stayed ahead to secure the win in 3:31:23.1 hours, while Johansson Norgren followed 33.3 seconds later for second place. Gjeitnes was just behind in third (+35.9), Kowalczyk placed fourth (+1:00.1) and Ishida fifth (+1:30.1).

“I’m so happy to finally win,” Slind said, according to a Ski Classics press release. “We went quite slow after the second sprint as none of us wanted to take the lead. But when Ishida broke away on the last climb, I just tried to slow the pace down to make sure she could win today. But my skis were so good in the end and I was able to catch her, and then I just kept going. This victory feels so good!”

Johansson Norgren was proclaimed champion in three overall categories: champion, sprint and climb, while Slind claimed the Nordic Trophy title.

In the men’s race, the lead group included 20 skiers through the first two sprints. Morten Eide Pedersen (Team BN Bank) and Gjerdalen battled for the climbing points up Kukastunturi, which Pedersen ultimately won in that mini-competition within the race.

About 30 kilometers before the finish, four Santander skiers broke away with Tore Björseth Berdal (Koteng). The Santander teammates went on to drop Berdal, and Aukland, Nygaard, Gjerdalen, and Feld entered the finishing straight together. There, Nygaard narrowly fended off Gjerdalen by 1.4 seconds for the win in 2:59.25. Aukland outlunged Fjeld by 0.1 seconds for the last spot on the podium, 3 seconds out of first, while Fjeld settled for fourth on the day. Finnish Olympic champion Iivo Niskanen (Team Mäenpää) placed fifth, 2:25.6 minutes out of first.

“The last 20 kilometers were tough,” Nygaard said, according to the press release. “I was tired in the end, but so was Tord Asle. He pushed really hard in the last kilometers, but I was able to speed up in the final meters and win the race. It feels so good to end the season on a high note.”

With the runner-up finish, Gjerdalen claimed the overall Ski Classics Championship title. Anton Karlsson (Lager 157) won the overall sprint title, Pedersen was the season-long climbing champion, and Nygaard won the Nordic Trophy.

Team Santander took the win for top pro team of the season.

Ylläs-Levi results

— Ian Tovell

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Kowalczyk, Nygaard Win Big at Norwegian Birkebeinerrennet

Women’s podium at the 80th annual Norwegian Birkebeinerrennet. With Justyna Kowalczyk (c) in first, Katerina Smutna (l) in second, and Astrid Øyre Slind (r) in third. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

The 80th annual Birkebeinerrennet took place last Saturday, March 17, from Rena to Lillehammer, Norway. According to a press release, this year’s race was a cold one, leading even the top racers to use kick wax and diagonal stride, as opposed to double poling the entire course.

In the women’s race, Justyna Kowalczyk (Team Trentino Robinson Trainer) dropped the pack on the first long climb and held her lead to the finish, winning by more than three minutes in  3:06:10.7 hours. Behind her, Kateriná Smutná (Bauer Ski Team) and Astrid Øyre Slind (Team Koteng) worked together and ended the race in a battle for second, which Smutná took (+3:04.9) over Slind in third (+3:56.3). The overall leader of the Ski Classics series,  Britta Johansson Norgren (Lager 157 Ski Team) finished nearly 10 minutes later in fourth (+13:21.9), while Americans Chelsea Holmes (Alaska Pacific University) and Erika Flowers (Stratton Mountain School T2 Team) finished 12th (+27:50.4) and 28th (+29:03.4), respectively.

“I was surprised that the others didn’t follow me when I broke away,” Kowalczyk said, according to the Ski Classics press release. “The first 20 kilometers suit me really well, but naturally I felt tired after Sjusjøen, the last control point, because 54 km is still a long distance for me. I knew I had nothing to worry about because my gap was over 5 minutes at one point, and I didn’t need to push myself that hard. It feels great to be back in the long distance game again, I will do the remaining two races if my recovery goes well and I stay healthy.”

In the men’s race, Ermil Vokuev (Russian Marathon Team) pulled away before the final climb on the second half of the course, but was quickly followed by Team Santander’s Tord Asle Gjerdalen and Andreas Nygaard. Behind them, Anders Aukland was able to catch his Santander teammates to make the finish quite interesting. Nygaard trailed Gjerdalen along the final downhill into Lillehammer, then took the win by 2.8 seconds ahead of Gjerdalen, crossing the finish line in 2:33:13.6. Aukland placed third (+2:01.8), while Vokuev faded to finish fourth (+2:16.4).

The men’s Podium at the 2018 Birkebeinerrennet, with Andreas Nygaard (c) in first, Tord Asle Gjerdalen (l) in second, and Anders Aukland (r) in third. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

“It feels a bit surreal to win both Vasaloppet and Birken back to back,” Nygaard said, according to the press release. “Gjerdalen and I didn’t really have a cat-and-mouse game in the end as we worked well together, and I was confident that I can beat him in the end. I’ve had a bit of rollercoaster feeling after Vasaloppet both mentally and physically, but it seems that spending time watching Netflix and playing video games on my couch paid off. I will now go to Nordenskiöldsloppet, 220 km, and then spend my Easter ice fishing and chopping wood at my cabin. That’ll be my preparation for Reistadløpet and Ylläs-Levi!”

The men’s overall standings did not change with Gjerdalen sitting atop with 3084 points. On the women’s side, Johansson Norgren continues to lead with 3720 points.

The next race will be on April 7 for the Reistadløpet in Norway.

Results: Men | Women

— Ian Tovell

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Perrillat Boiteux, Dabudyk 2018 Worldloppet Cup Champs; Holmes 3rd in Engadin

The all-French men’s overall FIS Worldloppet Cup podium: (from left to right) Gerard Agnellet in second, Ivan Perillat Boiteux in first, and Loic Guigonnet in third. (Photo: Worldloppet)

The final race of the 2018 FIS Worldloppet Cup, the 50th annual Engadin Skimarathon Skimarathon, took place this past Sunday, March 11 in Switzerland’s upper Engadine valley with a point-to-point race from Maloja to S-chanf.

For both the men and women, the fight for the overall Worldloppet Cup title was tight with Ivan Perrillat Boiteux (Haute-Savoie Nordic Team) entering the race 15 points ahead of his teammate Gerard Agnellet, while Aurélie Dabudyk, also of Haute-Savoie, held a 14-point lead over Maria Gräfnings (SAS Pro Team) in the women’s overall standings.

In the men’s 42-kilometer freestyle race, a big pack of about 30 skiers surged toward the finishing lanes together. There had been multiple moves throughout the race, but no one was able to pull away. At the finish line, Switzerland’s Roman Furger was able to win the race for the third time, with a time of 1:34:05.2. France’s Collet Martin finished 1.1 seconds back in second place, ahead of his fellow countrymen Louis Schwartz in third (+1.2), Renaud Jay in fourth (+1.3), Jean Tiberghien in fifth (+1.6), and Thomas Chambellant in sixth (+1.7). Perrillat Boiteux finished 10th (+2.9) while Agnellet followed in 14th (+4.0). Norway’s Petter Northug raced to 19th (+5.1).

At the end of the day, 10th place was enough for Perrillat Boiteux to win his first overall FIS Worldloppet Cup. He finished the season with one victory (La Transjurassienne), two second places and a third place on the circuit, and a grand total of 378 points. Haute-Savoie swept the men’s overall podium with Agnellet in second (353 points) and Loic Guigonnet in third (254 points) after Guigonnet placed 11th in the Engadin (+3.0).

“I am very happy,” Perrillat Boiteux said according to a Wordloppet press release. “This season was so hard with Gerard [Agnellet] as opponent but it was a very good season for me in total. And to be FIS Worldloppet Cup Champion of course is feeling good. It is a good motivation for the French Championships coming up.”

In the women’s 42 k race, Switzerland’s Nadine Fähndrich dominated the day and was able to win the race in a time of 1:38:35.3. Another Swiss skier, Rahel Imoberdorf finished 1:20.7 minutes later in second, while American Chelsea Holmes out of Alaska Pacific University raced to third (+2:52). Holmes edged Gräfnings by 0.2 seconds for the last spot on the podium as Gräfnings finished fourth. (+2:52.2), while Dabudyk placed seventh (+6:06.2). Another American, Erika Flowers of the Stratton Mountain School T2 Team placed 11th (+7:08.1).

The women’s overall FIS Worldloppet Cup podium: (from left to right) Sweden’s Maria Gräfnings in second, France’s Aurelie Dabudyk in first (for an unprecedented third year in a row), and Switzerland’s Rahel Imoberdorf in third. (Photo: Worldloppet)

Ultimately, Dabudyk made history with her third overall Worldloppet Cup title in a row. She won the first three races of the season and reached the podium in every other race that followed (except the Engadin). Dabudyk finished the season with 486 points and won the tie-breaker (for the most race wins) over Gräfnings, who ended the season with 486 points at well. Imoberdorf finished the season in third place with 230 points.

“I am so happy with my third overall victory in a row,” Dabudyk said, according to the press release. “But this year it was very close. Maria [Gräfnings] was so strong over the last races and almost got me, so I am glad to win this third cup in a row this close. Now I have to focus one more time for the French National Championships in 3 weeks.”

Results:  Men | Women

— Ian Tovell

https://www.instagram.com/p/BgRkoFynIDI/?taken-by=eflowers89

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Russians Dominate Demino Marathon; Nygaard, Korsgren Win Vasaloppet

The women’s podium at the 2018 Demino Ski Marathon in Rybinsk, Russia, with (from left to right) Olga Rotcheva in second, Svetlana Nikolaeva in first and Ekaterina Yadovina in third. (Photo: Worldloppet)

Demino Ski Marathon

The sixth stage of the FIS Worldloppet Cup, the Demino Ski Stadium, took place Saturday, March 3 in Rybinsk, Russia. On the men’s side, there was only one point separating current series leader Gerard Agnellet over his Team Haute-Savoie teammate Ivan Perrillat Boiteux. From the start it was clear that the Russian skiers were going to try to hold home-field advantage, according to a Worldloppet press release. Russia’s Andrey Melnichenko, Evgeniy Dementiev and Alexander Legkov kept the pace high and led most of the race. It came down to a sprint finish with Melnichenko winning in 2:00:54.3, just 0.2 seconds over fellow Russians Nikolay Khokhryakov in second and Dementiev in third (+0.5).  Perrillat Boiteux finished eighth (+3.3) while Agnellet finished 15th (+11.3), putting Perrillat Boiteux 15 points ahead in the overall standings. Loic Guigonnet (Team Haute-Savoie) finished the day in ninth (+4.5) and currently sits in third in the overall standings.

In the women’s race, the finish came down to a photo finish. After review, Svetlana Nikolaeva was deemed the winner in 2:12:00.9. Olga Rocheva placed second (+0.01) and Ekaterina Yadovina finished third (+1.1). Overall Worldloppet leader Aurelie Dabudyk placed sixth (+2:12.7) ahead of  Maria Gräfnings, who is second in the overall standings, in seventh (+4:41.5). The third overall ranked skier, Rahel Imoberdorf did not race. The women’s standings did not change with Dabudyk in first, Gräfnings in second, 15 points back, and Imoberdorf in third.

The final Worldloppet race will be the Engadin Skimarathon on March 11 in Switzerland.

Results: MenWomen

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The men’s podium at the 2018 Swedish Vasaloppet, with (From left to right) Bob Impola in second (l), Andreas Nygarrd in first (c) and Stian Hoelgaard (r) in third place. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

Vasaloppet

The seventh stage of the Visma Ski Classics took place on Sunday, March 4 with the 94th edition of the 90-kilometer Vasaloppet in Sweden. The conditions were a bit slow as it snowed throughout the morning. In the men’s race, Jan Šrail (Bauer Ski Team) and Joar Andreas Thele (Lyn Ski Moseteråsen) broke away during the first climb after 3 k and skied together until around 60 k, where Šrail began to fall off the pace. But about 10 k later, the chase pack caught both Šrail and Thele, and not long after, Tore Bjørseth Berdal (Team Koteng) put in a huge surge and was able to gap the group by 50 seconds. However, with 4 k to go, the pack had latched back onto Berdal, and the race came down to a sprint finish. Andreas Nygaard (Team Santander) was able to pull off the win with a time of 4:24:36.8, 2.8 seconds ahead of Bob Impola (Team Serneke) in second and 3.6 seconds ahead of Stian Hoelgaard (Team Koteng) in third. Thele finished 23rd (+3:19.5), while the overall men’s leader Tord Asle Gjerdalen (Team Santander) finished ninth (+6.0) to keep his lead over Nygaard and Morten Eide Pedersen (Team BN Bank) in third in the overall standings. Pedersen finished 15th (+7.9) on Sunday.

“I am so thankful for this win,” Nygaard said, according to a Visma Ski Classics press release. “It was my main goal this season and now I am full of confidence for the coming events!”

In the women’s race, current overall leader Britta Johansson Norgren (Lager 157 Ski Team) appeared to be conserving her energy for the end, but was unable to hang on to the pack as it pulled away from her near the finish. Astrid Øyre Slind (Team Koteng), who was coming off shoulder surgery, led the race until the last 8 k, where Katerina Smutna (Bauer Ski Team) and Lina Korsgren (Åre Ski Club) reeled her in. Korsgren was able to pull out the win in 4:41:50.7, while Øyre Slind placed second (+4:42) and Smutna ended up third (+5:58.5), ahead of Johansson Norgren in fourth (+10:00.5).

“I cannot believe this, to win Vasaloppet was my goal for this season and I am so happy right now,” Korsgren said.

Johansson Norgren was able to hold on her lead over Smutna by 530 points, and Sara Lindborg (Team Serneke) who is 1475 points back in third.

The next Ski Classics race is the Norwegian Birkebeinerrennet which will take place on March 17.

Results: Men | Women

— Ian Tovell

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Caitlin Gregg Wins 5th Birkie, Finishes with Husband Brian (Plus Start Videos)

Caitlin Gregg celebrates her fifth American Birkebeiner win on Saturday after winning the women’s 50 k skate race by 2.5 seconds over Sweden’s Maria Gräfnings in second place. (Photo: RJ Ochmann)

By Andrea Potyondy-Smith

HAYWARD, Wisconsin — After a soft slog for Kortelopet skiers on Friday, the snow firmed up overnight for Saturday’s 2018 Birkebeiner. Temperatures dropped into the single digits overnight, helping groomers compact the trail for the morning’s 13,000 racers.

While it seemed as though it would stay cold, the mercury quickly started to rise into the mid-30s Fahrenheit by the middle of the afternoon, and there was no headwind for racers to fight crossing Lake Hayward. The warmth meant some chopped-up snow on the uphills, but firm, fast downhills.

The women’s 50 k freestyle podium at the 2018 American Birkebeiner, with Caitlin Gregg (c) in first, Sweden’s Maria Gräfnings (l) in second place, and Chelsea Holmes (r) in third. (Photo: RJ Ochmann)

Taking the win in the men’s 50-kilometer freestyle race was Norway’s Anders Gløersen, a two-time medalist at 2015 World Championships, in a time of 2:02:29.6 hours. The first American man across the line was overall third-place finisher Kyle Bratrud, of Verona, Wisconsin, in 2:02:33.1. Winning the women’s 50 k freestyle was Caitlin Gregg of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2:23:30.3, just 2.5 seconds ahead of Sweden’s Maria Gräfnings in second and 3.8 seconds ahead of Chelsea Holmes of Girdwood, Alaska, in third. This was Gregg’s fifth overall Birkie win.

“I always find it to be pretty amazing,” Gregg, also a 2015 World Championships bronze medalist, reflected after the race. “It’s a 50-kilometer race; it’s two hours and fifteen to twenty minutes, and it [never] ceases to amaze me about how it can come down to such a small margin.”

“Five years … it’s a lot,” Gregg noted of her fifth Birkie win. “And there’s so much that can happen in a 50 k, so I’m grateful for every one of them that goes that well.”

Her husband, Brian Gregg, was in the front pack of men for most of the race and went on to finish 22nd, 1:01.2 minutes behind Gløersen.

“My goal was also to win, and so it’s disappointing to be off of that,” Brian said. “I lost the main group with about three kilometers to go … [but] that was still really fun to be able see the women’s race unfold [on the lake].”

After the elite women started 20 minutes ahead of the elite men, the top men’s finishers passed all of the elite women before the finish. With Brian lagging just behind that lead group, he caught up to Caitlin and they finished together.

“What a fantastic thing to see her cross the line for the victory number five, and us actually cross the line together,” he said.

Though not everyone can win an overall race, or even their age group, the winning spirit was strong at the starting line; the emcee noted to a number of the waves that 2018 Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins, a Minnesota native, had called in from South Korea to wish racers well, boosting the energy of the crowd.

After last year’s disappointing cancellation, the 2018 American Birkebeiner was about as much as a skier could hope for, leaving racers excited for 2019.

2018 Birkie start videos (by RJ Ochmann): 

Results (top 25): Birkie skate | Birkie classic

 

Full results

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New Snow for Korte Skiers on Friday, Birkie Kicks Off Saturday

Madeline Uraneck (front) smiles as she heads out of the start of the 29 k Kortelopet on Friday in Seeley, Wisconsin.

HAYWARD, Wisconsin — After a one-year hiatus due to low snow, the 2018 American Birkebeiner is back and set to kick off Saturday morning with the elite women’s 50-kilometer skate race at 8:30 followed by the elite men’s 50 k skate at 8:50.

But on Friday, it was all about the 29 k Kortelopet, which was held on a separate day from the Birkie for the first time this year.

Racers were met with 6 inches of new snow on Friday, making for some tough skiing in the Kortelopet (“Korte”) skate and classic races. Though the temperature at the start was ideal in the mid-20s, the snow quickly turned to a mashed-potatoes-like consistency as the course was skied in.

“It’s 26 or 27 degrees. At that kind of air temperature, it takes a while for the snow to get hard,” said American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) groomer John Fitzgerald. “We actually plowed quite a lot of snow off the course, so it was more workable, but the skiers are going to have soft conditions.”

This is the first year the Kortelopet was held on a day from the Birkebeiner; the independent dates were planned for 2017, however, last year’s rain-out caused both races to be canceled. This year, Korte racers finished on Main Street in downtown Hayward. They started at the County Highway OO Trailhead in Seeley, Wisconsin, and skied 29 k into town — 5 k longer than the old course, which started at the old Telemark Lodge and looped back into Cable, Wisconsin.

Jim Smith before racing Friday’s 2018 Kortelopet in Seeley, Wisconsin.

In a pre-race interview, Jim Smith, 59, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who has skied over 10 Kortelopets, noted the change in course would make for a slightly tougher route. “This is going to be way harder,” he said. Smith missed his goal of an age-group podium in the Korte classic race, finishing 28th, but despite the more taxing conditions, he still finished in nearly the same percentile as two years ago.

Madeline Uraneck, 70, of Madison, Wisconsin, said her goal was simply to “finish, have fun [and] not fall too many times.” She did more than that, with a second-place age group finish in 3:22:28.2.

Uraneck has been skiing since 1970, but this was only her third Kortelopet. When asked what prompted her to start skiing the race, she said, “It’s just such a famous thing about living in Wisconsin. If you’re going to live in Wisconsin, just get up there and do it.”

Birkebeiner racers might wake up to more favorable conditions on Saturday. “Tonight will be exceptional,” Fitzgerald said. Overnight temperatures are expected to about 10 degrees, hopefully allowing the freshly-groomed snow to set up. Saturday’s highs were forecast to be in the mid-30s, with a 70-percent chance of afternoon snow.

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WATCH the Birkie live

Birkie trail cam

— Andrea Potyondy-Smith

A group of happy volunteers at the 2018 Kortelopet on Friday in Seeley, Wisconsin.

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Two-Weekend Recap: Marcialonga, Moonlight Classic, Toblach-Cortina, König Ludwig Lauf

From left to right: Tore Bjørseth Berdal after placing second, Ilya Chernousov in first, and Morten Eider Pedersen in third in the Ski Classics 70 k Marcialonga in Trentino, Italy, on Jan. 28. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

Ski Classics: 70 k Marcialonga (Trentino, Italy) Jan. 28

Two weekends ago, the 70-kilometer Marcialonga, part of the Ski Classics series, was held on Sunday, Jan. 28 in Trentino, Italy. The conditions were ideal for the races, according to a press release, and both the men and women’s races came down to sprints at the finish.

At the halfway point of the men’s race, about 50 skiers remained in the lead group, and on the final climb at Cascata, 20 skiers were still fighting for the podium. At the start of the climb, four men broke away: Morten Eide Pedersen (Team BN Bank), Tord Asle Gjerdalen (team Santander), Tore Bjørseth Berdal (Team Koteng), and Ilya Chernousov (Team Bauer). All four skiers tried to make moves throughout the climb, but Chernousov was able to win his first Marcialonga in 2:48:08.7 hours, just 0.2 seconds ahead of Berdal in second. Pedersen finished 1.5 seconds back in third, Gjerdalen placed fourth (+7.0) and Andreas Nygaard (Team Santander) was fifth (+13.0).

“This is a dream come true for me,” Chernousov said, according to a Ski Classics press release. “I’ve done well in the previous races and I knew that I was in great shape. My tactic worked perfectly in the last climb, and I was able to beat Berdal.”

Gjerdalen in fourth was able to hold on to his lead for the overall Champion standings ahead of Chernousov by 90 points and 100 points over Pedersen. Gjerdalen also continued to leads the Alp Trophy standings as well.

In the women’s race, Britta Johansson Norgren (Lager 157 Ski Team) and Kateriná Smutná (Bauer Ski Team) broke away after Canazei, with Lina Korsgren (Åre Ski Club) skiing on her own behind them. When they approached the finish, Johansson Norgren and Smutná were neck and neck, but Norgren was able to outstretch Smutná by half a second to take the win in 3:11:48.3. Lina Korsgren followed in third (+1:22.5), Silje Oyre Slind (Team Koteng) placed fourth (+7:03.7),and Viktoria Melina (Russian Marathon Team) finished fifth (+10:14.6).

“It’s always wonderful to win here as this is a special race,” Johansson Norgren said, according to the press release. “And it’s also nice to have Kateriná back in the fold. Of course, you don’t feel that way when racing out there, but after the race you feel satisfied if you’ve managed to win a real tough race like this one.”

Johansson Norgren has won every Ski Classics race this season and extended her lead in the overall Champion standings to 850 points over Smutná in second and 645 points and Korsgren in third. Johansson Norgren is also leading the Alp Trophy.

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The 2018 Südtirol Moonlight Classic on Jan. 31 at Seiser Alm in South Tyrol, Italy. (Photo: Südtirol Moonlight Classic/Da Roberto)

Südtirol Moonlight Classic (Alpe di Siusi/Seiser Alm in South Tyrol, Italy) Jan. 31

The 12th annual Südtirol Moonlight Classic was held Wednesday Jan. 31 at Seiser Alm in South Tyrol, Italy, with two races — a 15 k and a 30 k race — lined with a thousand torches and the glow from the full moon.

In the 30 k race, Magnus Vesterheim of Norway finished first in 1:21:55.2, followed by Stanislav Řezáč of the Czech Republic in second (+2.5) and Norway’s Petter Soleng Skinstad in third (+3.0). In the women’s race, Virginia De Martin of Italy won the race in 1:34:18.8 over fellow Italian Lucia Scardoni (+1:50) and Germany’s Monique Siegel in third (+4:06.2).

In the 15 k race, Italy’s Julian Brunner won the race with a time of 40:51.0, ahead of the Czech Republic’s Svarc Martin in second (+5.7) and Italy’s Christian Niederkofler in third (+9.0). In the women’s 15 k race, Italy’s Giula Stuerz won in 47:58.1 over fellow Italian Antonella Confortola in second (+3.2) and the Czech Republic’s Tereza Hujerová in third (+25.2).

More than 400 skiers from 15 countries participated in the moonlight race.

Results

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Ski Classics: Toblach-Cortina (Italy) Feb. 3

Britta Johannson Norgren (l) and Tord Asle Gjerdalen, winners of the 2018 Toblach-Cortina. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

The sixth race of the Ski Classics series, the Toblach-Cortina, took place on Saturday, Feb. 3 with a snowy 50 k race from to Toblach to Cortina, Italy. Despite a few attempts to break away in the men’s race, no one was able to. Chernousov and Russian World Cup skier Sergey Ustiugov tried to pull away, but were unsuccessful. Chernousov ended up getting disqualified for obstruction that caused Stian Hoelgaard (Team Koteng) to lose his ski. Like the previous week, there was a sprint at the finish, with Gjerdalen (Team Santander) taking the win this time in 2:15:43.1. Nygaard finished half a second back in second place while Ustiugov was another 0.1 seconds back in third (+0.6) in his first Ski Classics race. Despite his ski troubles, Hoelgaard finished just 2.1 seconds back in 12th. The top 15 skiers were within 5.1 seconds of first.

“We knew it was going to be a slow race with a lot of people in tact,” Gjerdalen said, according to a Ski Classics press release. “I just had to make sure that I avoided any mishaps and accidents, and I just placed myself in a good spot before the sprint.”

With the win, Gjerdalen increased his lead in the overall Champion standings to 860 points. Pedersen moved up a spot to second place with 680 points and Nygaard moved up two places to third with 638 points. Chernousov dropped from second to fourth in the standings due to his disqualification.

In the women’s race, six women were able to break away from the pack at the 15 k mark. Johansson Norgren and Smutná pushed the pace and just like the week before, they entered the finishing straight together. Just like she has done the whole season, Johansson Norgren continued her undefeated streak, winning in 2:46:12.2, just 0.4 seconds over Smutná. Korsgren repeated in third, 19.7 seconds out of first.

“It was a slow race in the beginning,” Johansson Norgren said, according to the press release. “It makes you a bit nervous when you have that many skiers in the lead group, but Kateriná and I were able to speed up just before the finish. I was surprised that the men caught us up and it happened right before the finish making it a bit scary for all of us. Naturally, you don’t want to disrupt their race, but at the same time you want to go fast and win your own race.”

Johansson Norgren extended her stronghold on the overall Champion standings to 1050 points. Smutná is second with 815 points is Smutná and Korsgren third with 745 points.

The next race of the Ski Classics, the Jizerská 50, will be held Feb. 18 in the Jizera Mountains of the Czech Republic.

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The women’s podium at the 2018 König Ludwig Lauf, with France’s Aurélie Dabudyk (c) in first, Maria Graefings (l) in second, and Seraina Boner (r) in third. (Photo: Worldloppet)

FIS Worldloppet: König Ludwig Lauf (Oberammergau, Germany) Feb. 4

The men’s podium at the 2018 König Ludwig Lauf, with Tore Bjørseth Berdal (c) in first, Ivan Perrillat Boiteux (l) in second, and Riccardo Mich (r) in third. (Photo: Worldloppet)

The second race of the FIS Worldloppet Cup took place Sunday, Feb. 4 with the König Ludwig Lauf in Oberammergau, Germany. The start of the men’s race was slow through the first 20 k, with about 20 skiers remaining together. The pack dwindled to 12 before embarking on a sprint to the finish. Norway’s Berdal was able to take the win in 1:55:15.3, just 0.5 seconds ahead of France’s Ivan Perrillat Boiteux in second. Italy’s Riccardo Mich reached the podium in third (+1.0), while last year’s König Ludwig Lauf winner, Max Olex of Germany placed 26th (+8:24.4).

“Yesterday I skied the marathon in Cortina & I was not satisfied with the race, so I decided to come here,” Berdal said, according to a Worldloppet press release. He finished eighth in the Toblach-Cortina Ski Classics marathon. “We arrived tonight at 1 a.m. And I definitely don’t regret the decision, but now I am really tired.”

In the women’s race, last year’s winner of this race and the winner of the first race in the Worldloppet, France’s Aurélie Dabudyk won again with a time of 2:00:59.7. Sweden’s Maria Graefings finished second (+15.6) and Switzerland’s Seraina Boner, the race’s winner in 2013 and 2014, placed third (+3:33.0).

“It was much harder today,” Dabudyk said. “Maria and me we worked together for almost the whole race only on the last kilometer I was able to escape. Now I feel excited for skiing my home race, La Transjurasienne, in the red bib.”

With her second-straight win, Dabudyk extended her lead in the overall standings to 200 points, 60 points ahead of Graefnings in second while the Czech Republic’s Klara Moravcova is third, another 45 points back.

After placing fifth in the König Ludwig Lauf, France’s Gerard Agnellet leads the overall standings with 125 points, while Berdal and France’s Adrien Mougel are tied for second with 100 points.

The FIS Worldloppet Cup continues Feb. 11 with La Transjurassienne in France.

Results: Men | Women

— Ian Tovell

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La Diagonela & Dolomitenlauf

France’s Aurelie Dabudyk (Team Haute Savoie Nordic) after winning the Dolomitenlauf 42 k freestyle race for the third year in a row on Sunday in Obertilliach, Austria. (Photo: FIS Worldloppet Cup)

Two major international marathons took place this weekend in Switzerland and Austria, with the 65-kilometer classic La Diagonela, part of the Ski Classics series, and the 42 k freestyle Dolomitenlauf, the first race of the 2018 FIS Worldloppet Cup.

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Ski Classics: La Diagonela (Zuoz, Switzerland)

Sweden’s Britta Johansson Norgren (Lager 157 Ski Team) winning her third-straight Ski Classics marathon of the season on Saturday at the 65 k La Diagonela in Zuoz, Switzerland. (Photo: Ski Classics)

In the third marathon of the Ski Classic series, Britta Johansson Norgren (Lager 157 Ski Team) continued her undefeated streak and Tord Asle Gjerdalen (Team Santander) raced to his second-straight victory in the 65 k La Diagonela on Saturday, Jan. 20.

In its fifth year running, La Diagonela was held on its full 65 k course for the first time, which runs through the Engadin valley.

In the women’s race, Johansson Norgren and Katerina Smutná (Bauer Ski Team) dropped a large pack about 20 k in as they ascended the first tough climb toward St. Moritz, according to a Ski Classics press release. Lina Korsgren (Åre Ski Club) was slightly off their pace but eventually caught the two leaders. Sara Lindborg (Team Serneke) came close to doing the same, but couldn’t quite close the gap over the last 10 k.

On one of the final climbs a few kilometers before the finish, Johansson Norgren broke free off the front while Smutná and Korsgren battled for second. Norgren finished first in 3:26:53.8 hours, and Korsgren claimed second 37.5 seconds later and 15.9 seconds ahead of Smutná in third. Lindborg finished about two minutes later in fourth place (+2:50), Laila Kveli (Team Tynell) followed in fifth (+7:10.5) and Masako Ishida (Team Koteng) finished sixth (+7:38.6).

“I felt a little tired today at some points,” Johansson Norgren said, according to the press release. “Of course, Kateriná and I got a bit afraid when Lina caught us, but I just needed to save some energy and focus on winning. I did my final push some kilometers before the finish and that was enough this time around. It may seem that I’m unbeatable right now, but anything can happen in the upcoming races. It was great to have Lina and Kateriná on the podium again and they will be strong in Marcialonga!”

The men’s La Diagonela podium with Tord Asle Gjerdalen (c) in first, Ilya Chernousov (l) in second and Anders Aukland (r) in third on Saturday, Jan. 20. (Photo: Ski Classics)

In the men’s race, Gjerdalen struck about 500 meters before the finish to take the win in 2:57:29.0, 7.1 seconds ahead of Ilya Chernousov (Bauer Ski Team) in second and 11.5 seconds ahead of Gjerdalen’s Santander teammate Anders Aukland in third.

About 50 men stayed together until the long climb to St. Moritz, where Morten Eide Pedersen (Team BN Bank) attacked to split up the group.

The 13 skiers that remained in the lead group after that stuck together until the final 13 k, where Pedersen attacked again. Now they were down to four: Pedersen, Chernousov, Gjerdalen, and Aukland. Gjerdalen attacked with about half a kilometer remaining to take the win.

“I had an easy race,” Gjerdalen said, according to the release. “I had really good skis, and the old man Aukland helped me a lot. I had a perfect day on the tracks, and I didn’t have to push too hard in the race. I knew I was going to be strong in the final climb and made my move right before the finish.”

Aukland is 45. Gjerdalen is 34.

Pedersen finished fourth (+27.6) and was dubbed the “Visma Skier of the Day” for his ambitious attacks during the race. Santander took five of the top seven with Oskar Kardin in fifth, Andreas Nygaard in sixth, and Øyvind Moen Fjeld in seventh.

In the overall “Champion” standings, Johansson Norgren leads Smutná by 175 points and Lindborg is just another 5 points back in third.

Gjerdalen leads the men’s overall standings by 120 points over Pedersen in second and is 150 ahead of Kardin in third.

The next stop on the circuit, the Marcialonga is set for Sunday, Jan. 28, in Trentino, Italy.

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FIS Wordloppet Cup: Dolomitenlauf (Obertilliach, Austria)

France’s Adrien Mougel (Jobstation Rossignol) winning his first FIS Worldloppet Cup, the 2018 Dolomitenlauf 42 k freestyle, on Sunday in Obertilliach, Austria. (Photo: FIS Worldloppet Cup)

The 44th annual Dolomitenlauf marked the opening race of the 2018 FIS Worldloppet Cup on Sunday, and France’s Aurelie Dabudyk (Team Haute Savoie Nordic) won the race for the third-straight year. Adrien Mougel, also from France, of Jobstation Rossignol, won the men’s race for his first Worldloppet victory.

Dabudyk dominated the women’s race, winning by 1:08 minutes over fellow French skier Roxane Lacroix with a time of 2:06:01.1. Sweden’s Maria Gräfnings, of the SAS Pro Team, placed third (+1:21.7).

“To be honest, I don’t know what makes me that strong,” Dabudyk said, according to a Worldloppet press release. “My preparation went very well, I am feeling strong, and I am just happy with my third victory here in Austria.”

Ten men remained in the hunt up until the last few kilometers, before Mougel broke away on the final climb leading toward the finish in Obertilliach. He took the win in 1:55:05.7, just 1.1 seconds ahead of two other French skier Gerard Agnellet in second, and Mougel’s teammate Benoit Chauvet followed 7.8 seconds back in third.

“I changed my training this year a little bit and I think it payed off now,” Mougel said at the post-race press conference. “But it was only at the final hill when I knew, I really can win this thing. I am feeling strong and I am excited about the Worldloppet Cup winter.”

After one race, Dabudyk and Mougel lead the FIS Worldloppet Cup standings with 100 points apiece. The second-place skiers each have 80 points and 60 points was awarded for third place.

The next Worldloppet Cup marathon, the König Ludwig Lauf, will be held in Germany’s Ammergauer Alps on Sunday, Feb. 4.

Results: Women | Men 

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Johansson Norgren, Nygaard Win La Sgambeda

The women’s podium at last weekend’s La Sgambeda, with (from left to right) Katerina Smutna in second, Britta Johansson Norgren in first, and Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes in third. (Photo: Ski Classics/Magnus Östh)

The first marathon (and individual race) of the 2017/2018 Ski Classics season took place this weekend on Saturday, Dec. 2, in Livigno, Italy with the 28th annual La Sgambeda.  The conditions couldn’t have been better as it appeared to be full-on winter. In the women’s race, seven skiers were able to separate themselves from the lead group, with Britta Johansson Norgren (Lager 157 Ski Team), Kateriná Smutná (Bauer Ski Team), Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes (Team Santander), Astrid Øyre Slind (Team Koteng), and Sara Lindborg (Team Sernke).

The group stayed together until the hill-climb-competition checkpoint, where Norgren pulled away and won the new in-race competition.  With 500 meters left, Norgren was able to hold off a late charge from Smutna and won the 35-kilometer race with a time of 1:34:39, just ahead of Smutna (+0.6). Gjeitnes placed third (+3.3), ahead of Slind in fourth (+6.8) and Lindborg in fifth (+19.1).

“Everything went according to my plan,” Norgren said after the race, according to a Ski Classics press release. “I didn’t feel that strong in the last uphill, and let Kateriná take the lead right after that. I started my final sprint a little too early, but luckily managed to stay ahead of the others. This was a great start to the season, and I will now go back home, train hard and spend some time with my family.”

The men’s podium at the 2017 La Sgambeda in Livigno, Italy, with (from left to right) Torgeir Skare Thygesen in second, Andreas Nygaard in first, and Stian Hoelgaard in third. (Photo: Ski Classics/Magnus Östh)

In the men’s race, the lead group stuck together for the first 15 k.  Anton Karlsson (Team 157 Lager), who will be focusing on sprints this season, won the sprint competition within the race, followed by Ermil Vouev (Russian Marathon Team) in second and Oskar Kardin (Team Santander) in third.  At the hill climb, Simen Østensen (Team BN Bank) took the top honors.

As the men entered the final stretch, Andreas Nygaard (Team Santander) outlasted the group for his first win at altitude, according to the press release (Livigno lies nearly 6,000 feet above sea level), in a time of 1:20:41. Torgier Skare Thygesen (Team Oslo Sportslager) finished 0.2 seconds later in second, followed by Stian Hoelgaard (Team Koteng) in third (+0.7). Morten Eide Pedersen Team BN Bank placed fourth (+1.1) and Oskar Kardin  (Team Santander) finished fifth (+1.2).

“I felt strong today, but the race was harder than I expected,” Nygaard said, according to the press release. “We kept a good pace after the sprint, and the climb in this altitude was challenging. Tord Asle [Gjerdalen] and I had a minor crash just before the finish where he broke his pole, but I managed to stay unharmed.”

After the first marathon of the season-long Ski Classics series, Norgren leads the women’s overall standings with 250 points, while Smutna is second with 220 points, and Gjeitnes is in third place with 200 points. Thygesen is the current men’s leader with 220 points, followed by both Nygaard and Hoelgaard tied for second with 200 points.

The next Ski Classics race is the Kaiser Maximilian Lauf on Jan. 13 in Seefeld, Austria.

Searchable results & standings:  Men | Women

— Ian Tovell

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Marathon Roundup: Årefjällsloppet, Reistadløpet, Ylläs-Levi, & Ugra

Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov winning the Ugra Ski Marathon, the final race of the FIS Worldloppet Cup, on his 25th birthday in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. (Photo: Worldloppet)

Below is a recap of the last several races of the Ski Classics and Worldloppet Marathon Cup seasons.

SKI CLASSICS

Årefjällsloppet, March 25

The men’s podium at the 2017 Årefjällsloppet in Sweden, part of the Ski Classics series. Anders Aukland (c) won, Tord Asle Gjerdalen (l) placed second, and Oskar Kardin (r) finished thrid. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

In late March, the 11th race of the Ski Classics series, the 50-kilometer Årefjällsloppet, took place in Sweden’s Åre Mountains. In the men’s race, Morten Eide Pedersen (Team BN Bank) broke away from the pack soon after the start and led the race until the climb after Ottsjö, where the chase group caught him with 20 k to go. Then, with 3 k remaining, Petter Eliassen (Team Leaseplan) attacked and led a breakaway with Oskar Kardin (Team Serene), Anders Aukland (Team Leaseplan), Anders Malmen Høst (Team Leaseplan), and Tord Asle Gjerdalen (Team Santander). Gjerdalen and Aukland raced to a photo finish, which the 45-year-old Auckland won by less than one-tenth of a second in 2:14:16.3 hours. This was Aukland’s first win since the 2015 La Sgambeda, and Gjerdalen was given the same finishing time. Kardin finished 5.3 seconds back in third (+5.3), Eliassen placed fourth (+8.1) while Høst took fifth (+13.7). After leading more than half the race, Pedersen finished 13th (+1:05.3).

“It feels really good to win again,” Aukland said, according to a Ski Classics press release. “I’ve been in great shape throughout the season and this race suits me well. I knew that I could be strong here and the slow sprint in the end worked for me. Still, I wasn’t sure if I could beat Gjerdalen in that final climb, but I did but only by a hair.”

Gjerdalen held onto his lead in the men’s overall standings, with his Santander teammate Andreas Nygaard more than 450 points behind him. Pedersen ranked third, 52 points out of second. For the Visma Nordic Trophy, both Aukland and Gjerdalen were tied for first with 390 points with Nygard third with 350 points. Eliassen ranked fourth with 340 points.

The women’s overall podium at the 2017 Årefjällsloppet, the 11th race of the Ski Classics series. Britta Johansson Norgren (c) won, Katerina Smutná (l) finished second, with Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes (r) placed third. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

The women’s race was a battle between the double polers and the striders. Masako Ishida (Team United Bakeries) and Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes (Team Telemark) decided to use kick wax, while Britta Johansson Norgren (Team Santander) and Katerina Smutná (Team Santander) chose to double pole the entire course on glide wax. While Ishida and Gjeitnes were able to put a gap on Norgren and Smutná on the uphill sections, they lost their lead on the flats and downhills. Norgren went on to win in 2:40:20.7, two seconds ahead of Smutná in second. Gjeitnes finished third (+4.9) and Ishida ended up seventh (+1:59).

“It was a bit up and down for me today,” Norgren said after the race. “Masako was really strong when we climbed up, and the weather kept changing, making the race extremely difficult. When we reached the final hill towards the finish, I pushed as hard as I could to keep Katerina and Kari behind me. That worked and what a finish this is! This is really a hard course because there are so many steep hills here. I guess I need to work on my herring boning for next year.”

With the win, Norgren extended her lead in the women’s overall standings by 330 points over Smutná, while Astrid Øyre Slind (Team Telemark) was another 287 points back in third. For the Visma Nordic Tropy, Norgren was a whopping 570 points ahead of Slind and Justyna Kowalczyk (Team Santander) sat in third.

Two more events remained in the Ski Classics season and both took place in the Arctic Circle. The 50 k Reistadløpet was held in Norway on April 1 and the 67 k Ylläs-Levi took place in Finland on Saturday, April 8.

Årefjällsloppet results: Men | Women

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Reistadløpet, April 1

The overall top three men in the Reistadløpet on April 1 in northern Norway. (From left to right) Anders Auckland placed second, Petter Eliassen took first, and Simen Østensen finished third. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

The 12th and northernmost Ski Classics event took place on April 1 with the 50 k Reistadløpet from Setermoen to Bardufoss, Norway.

The Reistadløpet started in 1958 and has one of the richest ski traditions in Norway. It was established in memory of Colonel Ole Reistad, who was known for leading the Norwegian Ski Patrol to victory at the 1928 Winter Olympics.

Eliassen led this year’s race from the first long hill near Orta. The chase group consisted of Aukland, Simen Østensen (Team BN Bank), and Lukáš Bauer (Team Pioneer Investments). Eliassen held onto his lead and won the race in 2:31:41.5. Aukland put some time into Østensen and Bauer to finish second (+3:17) while Østensen and Bauer followed in third (+3:30.8) and fourth (+3:33.2), respectively.

“It felt good to win a race this season,” Eliassen said afterward, according to a Ski Classics press release. “It was a tough race and diagonal striding was the best option today. It has been a while since anyone of us has done a race using kick wax, which made this race quite challenging, but it worked out perfectly in the end. I haven’t really thought about the Visma Nordic Trophy tour that much, but I know that I have a good chance in that now so I will try to win again in the last race in Finland.”

The overall yellow bib holder Gjerdalen finished fifth (+4:48.8) to retain his lead in the overall standings by 312 point over Eliassen. Nygaard ranked third in the overall standings, 412 points behind Gjerdalen. Nygaard led the sprint competition with 231 points, followed by Pedersen 89 points back in second.

The women’s race came down to Kowalcyzk and Ishida, who were neck and neck until the top of the mountain the second time around. Kowalcyzk ultimately dropped Ishida and won the race in 2:53:23.9. Ishida held onto second (+54.8) while Slind followed in third (+3:27) after skiing alone for most of the race.

The women’s podium at the 2017 Reistadløpet on April 1 in northern Norway. (From left to right) Masako Ishida placed second, Justyna Kowalczyk first, and Astrid Øyre Slind third. (Photo: Ski Classics)

“I had amazing skis and great glide,” Kowalczyk said after. “Masako was strong in the uphill sections and we worked together a bit, but I knew that I had an advantage over her in the last part because of my fast skis. This was the hardest long distance ski race I’ve ever done in my career and before the race, I accepted the fact that this will be a really tough experience. The climbs are so long and steep, and I’ve never raced on a course like this. It was extremely tough but it feels wonderful to win again!”

The women’s overall leader, Norgren placed sixth, 13 minutes and 13 seconds behind Kowalczyk, after double poling the race. Norgren was still 325 points ahead of Smutná for the overall title. Øyre Slind ranked third in the standings. Norgren also led the overall sprint competition by 255 points over Slind.

Reistadløpet results: Men | Women

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Ylläs-Levi, April 8

Petter Eliassen, greeted by Santa, after winning his second-straight Ski Classics marathon on April 8 at the Ylläs-Levi in Finland. He finished the series in second overall. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

– This past weekend, the Ylläs-Levi, an unofficial marathon event for years, stood the season-ending event for the Ski Classics series, with a 67 k race from Ylläsjärvi to Levi, Finland.

In the men’s race, about 15 skiers formed the main group, which included Eliassen, Nygaard, Pedersen, and Anders Aukland. With about 12.5 k, Eliassen attacked on a final climb and opened up a 20-second gap. He went on to win for the second-straight weekend, finishing in 2:48:38.8. Nygaard was nearly a minute back in second (+57.9), just ahead of Stian Hoelgaard (Team Leaseplan) in third (+58.3). Hoelgaard edged Øystein Pettersen (Team BN Bank) by 0.1 seconds for the final spot on the podium as Pettersen finished fourth (+58.4).

“It was tough to break away in the long flats and downhills but I felt very good in the uphills and in the last one I was able to do it,” Eliassen said, according to a Ski Classics press release. “Still, I was not sure of winning until the final few kilometers.”

Gjerdalen crossed the line in seventh (+58.9) and ended the seventh-annual Ski Classics season as the Overall Champion. Eliassen claimed second overall, 302 points back, and Nygaard took third, 432 points behind the Gjerdalen. Nygaard won the overall sprint title by 100 points over Pedersen, and Eliassen ranked third in the sprint standings, 142 points out of first.

Katerina Smutná after winning the Ylläs-Levi 67 k Ski Classics marathon on April 8 in Finland. She finished the series second overall. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

In the women’s race, Smutná, Norgren and Kowalczyk skied together for more than half the race after dropping the rest of the field. With 31 k to go, the men’s lead group caught the three women, which caused some problems for Kowalczyk. She got stuck in traffic while Smutná and Norgren began to distance themselves from her. Smutná and Norgren battled to the finish, where but Smutná nipped Norgen by 0.2 seconds to win in 3:13:53.5. Kowalczyk finished more than 6 1/2 minutes later in third (+6:38.6) for her second podium in two weekends.

Norgren had already wrapped up the overall Ski Classics title before the final race, and ended up besting Smutná in second by 295 points. Slind rounded out the overall podium in third, 647 points behind Norgren. Norgren also won the sprint title, 280 points ahead of both Smutná and Kowalczyk.

“I was a little tired today. It was good to get away and I hoped to beat Smutná at the end but she was too strong,” Norgren said. “I am really satisfied with the season, winning the yellow jersey and Vasaloppet. But maybe next season, not so many second places!”

In the overall team standings, Team Santander took the title, ahead of Lager 157 Ski Team and Team United Bakeries.

The Visma Nordic Trophy, a new honor this year awarded the top three men and women in the last five events of the Ski Classic season, went to Eliassen and Norgren.

Ylläs-Levi results

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FIS WORLDLOPPET CUP

Ugra Ski Marathon, April 8

– The FIS Worldloppet Cup also concluded this past weekend with the Ugra Ski Marathon in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. Just 12 points separated the red bib leader Candide Pralong (Team Rossignol Gel Interim) and Ivan Perrillat-Boiteux (Team Haute Savoie). On the men’s side, Norway’s Petter Northug Jr. and Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov decided to compete and extend their season for one more race. On the women’s side, Aurelie Dabudyk (Team Haute Savoie) only needed three points to ensure she would win her second overall Worldloppet title in a row.

In the men’s race, Ustiugov attacked with a few kilometers to go and won in his home country and on his 25th birthday in 2:06:15.3. He beat fellow World Cup racer Northug, who finished second, by 40 seconds. The red bib holder, Pralong, took third (+40.1) right behind Northug, while Perrillat-Boiteux placed seventh (+44.3).

“Of course, the gold medals at Lahti are weighing a lot, but to win here today is also a great feeling, also since it is my birthday,” Ustiugov said, according to a Worldloppet press release. “But during the race I was not so sure if I can be in front in the end. It was so hard, windy, slow. But approximately 8 km before the finish I felt, that I can attack and I increased the speed and it worked out!”

The women’s podium at the Ugra Ski Marathon on April 8 in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, with Russia’s Olga Rocheva (c) in first, Sweden’s Maria Gräfnings (l) in second, and Russia’s Mariya Guschina (r) in third. (Photo: Worldloppet)

In the women’s race, Russia’s Olga Rocheva won at home in 2:11:22, 53 seconds ahead of Sweden’s Maria Gräfnings in second. Russia had two on the podium with Mariya Guschina in third (+2:10). Dabudyk struggled in the final stage in Russia, but with a 98-point lead in the overall ranking, she only needed to focus on finishing and placed 17th (+12:23.3).

“I don’t think the race or Russia is the problem, it’s because of the end of the season,” Dabudyk said, according to the press release. “It is hard for me to keep the performance on top level so long.”

Pralong was the most constant skier all year even without winning a race. The Worldloppet Cup returns to his team, after his teammate Toni Livers won it last year. Perrillat-Boiteux ended the season in second overall, while Livers followed in third.

On the women’s side, Dabudyk won the overall title for the second year in a row, Gräfnings finished second and Switzerland’s Rahel Imoberdorf placed third overall.

Ugra results: Men | Women

— Ian Tovell

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Watts, Bathe Collect Oosik Wins in Talkeetna

Denali and the Alaska Range in the upper Susitna Valley, near the site of this year’s Oosik Classic. (Photo: Gavin Kentch)

The population of Germany is roughly 82 million. The population of Talkeetna, Alaska, was 876 in the 2010 census. At least three skiers from Germany have won the Oosik Classic, the annual late-season classic marathon that takes skiers on the rivers and hills around beautiful downtown Talkeetna for 50 kilometers, give or take, each spring. No native son or daughter has yet to win Talkeetna’s hometown race … but one Talkeetna native is getting closer.

Anchorage skier and former Alaska Pacific University (APU) Masters Coach Dylan Watts collected his third-career Oosik title Saturday afternoon, covering probably slightly less than 50 k in 2:22:40 to pace a field of 65 skiers in the longer race on a perfect spring day. He was followed 1:21 later by current APU Masters Coach Galen Johnston, who moved up from his previous career-best 50 k Oosik finish of fifth to take second overall. Third was Anchorage skier and current University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) athlete Seiji Takagi, an additional six minutes back.

Watts was not immediately available for comment.

Beautiful Downtown Talkeetna in summer (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Johnston had nothing but praise for his former APU colleague, coupled with a certain degree of hometown pride. “It has been a couple years since I’ve been able to race the Oosik,” Johnston wrote to FasterSkier after the race. “Coming back to it and being able to pull off second, relatively close to the win, made me hungry to want to come back and take a first-ever hometown 50k win.”

Johnston continued, “For a while it was a Norwegian’s race. Now we have an American Oosik master in Dylan [Watts]. I’d love to crack into that winners’ circle for the home crowd.”

Reflecting the international diversity of Alaska’s NCAA ski programs, former Oosik champions have indeed hailed from Norway (Trond Flagstad, Kjetil Dammen, Thomas Oyberg), as well as Sweden (Erik Söderstrom) and Germany (Jonas Löffler, Michael Fehrenbach, NCAA champion Marius Korthauer). (Plus Holly Brooks once won the race wearing Aino-Kaisa Saarinen’s Finnish Olympic suit.) Numerous winners have hailed from Anchorage or Fairbanks. Just no one from Talkeetna yet.

This year’s women’s winner, Nichole Bathe, originally called Madison, Wisc., home, but has spent the past four seasons in Fairbanks. The end may be in sight for the UAF senior, but is not here yet, as Bathe still plans to compete in all four races at Spring Series (USSA Distance Nationals) starting in Fairbanks later this month.

Bathe found Saturday’s outing “pretty fun,” she wrote to FasterSkier. “I skied alone for most of it. I went out of the start pretty hard because it was a flat course for the most part so I just wanted to see how fast I could double pole really. The 50K course hooked back up to the 25K course with around 15K left and so that was pretty interesting with the course being single tracked through the woods and really narrow, it was kinda fun to dodge the 25K skiers as well as getting to walk up some of the hills behind them!”

First place for each gender was good for several hundred dollars. In deference to her current student-athlete collegiate status, Bathe clarified that she was still waiting to figure out if she would be allowed to receive her winnings, and “as of now haven’t accepted anything.”

The combined Oosik Classic podium, including Sadie Fox (far left), Seiji Takagi (third from left), Dylan Watts (next from left), and Galen Johnston (next from left). (Photo: Dan Beutel)

Bathe crossed the finish line in 2:53:19, good for 11th overall. She was relatively unchallenged within the women’s race, as second-place Shalane Frost and third-place Nicole De Yong were each over ten minutes behind her. Frost and De Yong reprised their podium finishes from the Tour of Anchorage 50 k skate race two weeks earlier.

The 25 k men’s race was also a rematch of sorts, as three Alaska Winter Stars U18 athletes who had raced against each other all season long, in the Besh Cup Junior Nationals qualifying series as well as high school races, toed the line once more. Gus Schumacher was once again victorious, adding the Oosik title to his three golds and one silver at JNs as he crossed the finish line first in 1:24:24. In the day’s closest race, he was shortly followed by Andrew Hull (+:05) and Zach Bassett (+:11).

The 25 k women’s race, by contrast, saw a mix of age and experience. First was Soldotna’s Sadie Fox, currently a sophomore at the University of Alaska Anchorage, whose 1:32:33 was only slightly off her winning time in this year’s 25 k classic Tour of Anchorage. Second, over ten minutes later, was Karina Packer, a 20-something Anchorageite who skied in college (Dartmouth ’15). One second behind her was another former college skier, the ageless Nancy Pease (Dartmouth ’82), a legend in Alaska skiing and mountain running circles.

Pease won the Tour of Anchorage 50 k in 1989, several years before either of the athletes ahead of her on Saturday was born. She set the women’s course record in the Bird Ridge Hill Climb in 1993, lodging a time in the two-mile, 3,400′ vertical feet ascent that no one has come close to in the two decades since. (Subsequent skiers with slower times include Holly Brooks, Jessica Yeaton, Mara Rabinowitz, Becca Rorabaugh, Kikkan Randall, etc.) In July 1989 the Anchorage Daily News hailed Pease as the “Toughest Woman in Alaska.” Perhaps little has changed.

A total of 65 skiers finished the 50 k on Saturday, plus nearly 600 more in the 25 k. The total field of 662 finishers, nearly the size of Talkeetna itself, made the Oosik the country’s largest classic-only ski race this winter, well ahead of the Craftsbury Marathon. In a year without the Birkie, southcentral Alaska can claim the largest classic ski race, largest ski race overall, and richest ski race in the country this winter.

Results

— Gavin Kentch

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Cologna, Eide Win Engadin; Gregg Third

The men’s podium at the 2017 Engadin Skimarathon on March 12 in S-chanf, Switzerland: (from left to right) Anders Gløersen, Dario Cologna and Illya Chernosov. (Photo: Wordloppet/Swiss-image.ch)

The 49th edition of Engadin Skimarathon took place on Sunday, March 12, with the 42-kilometer freestyle race spanning from Maloja to S-chanf, Switzerland. This was the seventh stage of the FIS Worldloppet Cup with sub-zero temperatures.

While a large pack skied together for most of the race, Switzerland’s 21-year-old Dajan Danuser (SC Vaettis) tested his luck and broke away early, distancing himself from the chase pack by 15-20 seconds and skiing alone for most of the race. A few kilometers before the finish, Switzerland’s Dario Cologna  and Norway’s Anders Gløersen and Eirik Brandsdal reeled Danuser in and passed him. A group of 20 skiers reached the final stretch together and sprinted to the finish. Cologna outlasted all of them in 1:27:46 for his third Engadin victory, edging Gløersen by six-hundredths of a second and Russia’s Ilia Chernousov by 0.07 seconds. Less than 11 seconds separated the top 20, with the likes of French World Cup skiers Maurice Manificat, Renaud Jay, and Jean-Marc Gaillard finishing fourth through sixth, respectively. Danuser ended up finishing 20th (+10.6), and Brandsdal 12th (+5.2).

“I tried to be in front in the most important phase of the race, this was not easy because Anders Gløersen did a great job today,” Cologna said in a press conference, according to a Worldloppet press release. “But I was able to overtake him right in the perfect moment, so I could enter the finish stretch as first, this is very important.”.

Switzerland’s Candide Pralong (Team Gel Rossignol) finished ninth (+3.2) and now leads the overall standings by 12 points over France’s Ivan Perrillat Boiteux (Haute-Savoie), who finished 16th (+7.3). Switzerland’s Toni Livers (Team Gel Rossignol) is currently third in the overall standings after finishing 10th (+3.9).

The women’s podium at the Engadin Skimarathon on March 12 in S-chanf, Switzerland: (from left to right) Rachel Imoberdorf (l), Mari Eide and Caitlin Gregg. (Photo: Worldloppet/Swiss-image.ch)

In the women’s race, Norway’s Mari Eide skied alone and was able to follow the leading men until St. Mortiz. She won in a time of 1:34:18.1, ahead of France’s Rahel Imoberdorf  (SAS & TG Hütten Team) in second (+17.6) while American Caitlin Gregg placed third (+23.2).

Sweden’s Maria Gräfnings (SAS & TG Hütten) finished 50 seconds behind Eide to end up fifth. She was not happy with her result as she had wanted to close the gap between her and France’s Aurelie Dabudyk (Haute-Savoie) in the overall standings. Dabudyk finished ninth on the day (+1:45.6) and was still able to hold on to her overall lead by 98 points over Gräfnings. Imoberdorf is currently third in the overall standings, another 66 points back.

“The race was not easy for me, I had to do lots of work in front of the group I was skiing with,” Eide said, according to a press release. “And then I didn’t really know if I was in a lead, I just thought it, because of the scooter with the camera in front of me. But in the finish I had to ask someone if I won, just to make sure. So I had to keep my speed high the whole race over. I tried to follow the boys but from St. Moritz on it was not possible anymore.”

One more race on the FIS Marathon Cup circuit remains: the Ugra Ski Marathon on April 8 in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.

Results: Men | Women

— Ian Tovell

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Buttin, Dabudyk Win Otepää Tartu Maraton; Lake Placid Loppet Postponed

Bastien Buttin celebrates his victory in the Tartu Maraton on Sunday, Feb. 26, in Otepää, Estonia. (Photo: FIS Worldloppet Cup)

– The sixth event of the Worldloppet series, the Tartu Maraton, was originally scheduled to take place this past Sunday, Feb. 26, in Tartu, Estonia. However, due to lack of snow, the marathon was moved 45 kilometers south to Otepää, Estonia. Organizers decided to hold the race on the 5 k World Cup loop at the Otepää stadium and reduced the distance from 55 k to 34 k.

In the men’s race, a group of 12 skiers formed the lead pack, including all of Team Gel Rossignol and the Haute-Savoie Nordic Team. Bastien Buttin (Haute-Savoie) won the sprint at the 4 k mark, and from there, with multiple lead changes, the race came down to 10 men fighting for the victory. Buttin took the win by one second over Benoît Chauvet (Team Gel Rossignol), finishing in 1:29:28 hours. Bastien Poirrier (+2.0) of Team Gel Rossignol finished third. The top 10 finished all within six seconds of first.

Most of the men double poled the entire race, but Toni Livers (Team Gel Rossignol), who finished fourth, was one of the few skiers who decided to use kick wax. Afterward, planned to travel to Lahti to race the 50 k this coming weekend at World Championships. Ivan Perrillat Boiteux (Haute-Savoie) finished fifth and was able to claim the red bib and overall lead by 2 points over Candide Pralong (Team Gel Rossignol) who finished sixth. Buttin is currently third overall in the standings, trailing by 33 points.

“It was very hard today on that lap course,” Buttin said, according to a Worldloppet press release. “I tried to break away several times throughout the race, but I couldn’t. So I had to focus on the final sprint and it worked out. Now I focus on the Engadin Skimarathon, there I will try to win again!”

Aurelie Dabudyk winning the 2017 Tartu Maraton on Sunday, Feb. 26, in Otepää, Estonia. (Photo: FIS Worldloppet Cup/Kaimo Puniste)

On the women’s side, Aurelie Dabudyk (Haute-Savoie) redeemed her loss in her home country at La Transjurassienne to take the win in 1:41:21.6. Tatjana Mannima (SAS & TG Hütten Team) was able to keep the pace very high and slowly drop the lead pack until Dabudyk caught her. In the last lap, Dabudyk double poled to victory, beating Mannima by 1:02.3 minutes. Maria Gräfnings (SAS & TG Hütten Team) finished third (+1:39.8). Dabudyk extended her overall lead to 114 points over Gräfnings and Mannima.

“The lap course was very hard for us because we had to overtake many skiers,” Dabudyk said, according to the press release. “But Tatjana (Mannima) made the overtaking and I followed her, so we managed to keep a high pace. Particularly the last lap was quite hard, but I am lucky that I was stronger than Tatjana today.”

There are only two races left in the FIS Worldloppet Cup, the next race being the Engadin Skimaraton 42 k on March 12 in the Engadine valley between Maloja and S-chanf, Switzerland.

Results: Men | Women

– The Lake Placid Loppet, originally scheduled for Feb. 25 in Lake Placid, N.Y., has been postponed until March 18 due to low snow.  According to the Lake Placid News, registration has reopened for the 25 and 50 k distances, in both skate and classic.  The Loppet was canceled last year due to lack of snow.

— Ian Tovell

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Three Birkie Scenarios: Shortened One-Way Race, Untimed Event or Party

(Press release)

HAYWARD, Wis. (February 21, 2017) – With unseasonable weather again today, the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) has announced that Birkie Week events previously scheduled for Friday, February 24 have been moved to Saturday, February 25. These events include the Kortelopet and Prince Haakon races. In addition, ABSF officials have determined there are three possible scenarios for Saturday, February 25 events.

  • Scenario #1 – With some snow remaining on the trails from the American Birkebeiner Trailhead to the OO Trailhead (at Highway OO), Birkie staff are monitoring trail conditions. With hopes of measurable snow on Friday, there is a very slim chance that a one-way, timed race could be held (American Birkebeiner, Kortelopet and Prince Haakon races).
  • Scenario #2 – If there is enough snow and conditions are such that 10,000 plus participants can safely ski, however unsafe for a competitive race, there is a possibility of an untimed, open-track, looped-event on the Birkie Trail (north of OO) for the American Birkebeiner, Kortelopet and Prince Haakon events.
  • Scenario #3 – If snow is unavailable, 2017 will be a Birkie, Korte & Prince Haakon like none other. Participants will be part of a first-ever winter Birkie run and street party celebration in downtown Hayward. Live music, Birkie Brew-Ski, food vendors, and a festival atmosphere!

As always, the safety of event participants is first and foremost in the minds of ABSF officials, followed by a goal of creating the best possible participant experience for all. Both things are weighed and considered with each and every decision the ABSF makes.

“The Birkie staff and board are hard at work and pulling out all the stops to make sure that every participant and visitor to the Hayward area has a Birkie experience to remember,” said Ben Popp, ABSF Executive Director. “While this may not look like a typical week, it will be absolutely one to remember! We’ll have a 2017 Birkie celebration like no other with or without snow!”

Thursday, February 23

  • 10:00am – Barkie Birkie Canicross (Running Skijor Race) – Hatchery Creek Park
  • 12:00pm – Barnebirkie Adventure Fun Run – Hatchery Creek Park
  • 1:00pm – 8:00pm – Slumberland American Birkebeiner Expo – Hayward High School
  • 2:00pm – Junior Birkie Run! – Hatchery Creek Park
  • 5:30pm – Birkie Bash Pasta & Salad Buffet – Steakhouse & Lodge

Friday, February 24

  • 8:00am – Worldloppet Breakfast – Flat Creek Inn & Suites
  • 9:00am – 8:00pm – Slumberland American Birkebeiner Expo – Hayward High School
    Saturday, February 25
  • Time TBD – Slumberland American Birkebeiner Event – Location TBD
  • Time TBD – Kortelopet Event – Location TBD
  • Time TBD – Prince Haakon Event – Location TBD
  • Time TBD – Birkie Giant Ski Event– Location TBD
  • 7:00pm – Birkebeinerne (The Last King) – Park Center Theater

Sunday, February 26

  • 9:00am – Birchleggings Club Breakfast – Steakhouse & Lodge
  • 9:00am – Birkie Ski & Fat Bike Demo Event – Location TBD
  • 9:30am – Fast & Female Champ Chat – Hayward High School
  • 12:00pm – Birkebeinerne (The Last King) – Park Center Theater

Cancellations:

While much to our dismay, the following events have been canceled due to weather conditions:

  • Nikkerbeiner and Opening Ceremonies
  • Elite Sprints
  • Birkie Adaptive Ski

As conditions or plans change, we will post the latest updates on www.Birkie.com.

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Birkie Announces Schedule Changes, Continues to Work on Contingency Plans

(Press release)

Hayward, WI (February 21, 2017) – The American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) today announced that after yesterday’s unseasonable rain, Duffy’s Field just outside of Hayward, WI, and the Birkie Trail south of Highway OO are no longer feasible for Slumberland American Birkebeiner, Kortelopet and Prince Haakon Events. Even with snow in the forecast, a downtown or Hayward area finish will not be reinstated. The ABSF team is working on contingency plans for Friday and Saturday events with a focus on the Birkie Trails north of Highway OO.

The safety of our participants is first and foremost in our minds, followed by our goal of creating the best possible participant experience for all. Both things are weighed and considered with each and every decision we make. With that in mind, while Thursday’s events, normally held on Hayward’s snow-covered Main Street, may not look the same they are infused with #BirkieFever and provide an opportunity for participants to experience and continue to be a part of Birkie week events.

Thursday, February 23 – Revised Event Schedule:

10:00am – Barkie Birkie Canicross (Running Skijor Race)

  • Runners and their furry friends will don their skijor harnesses and bibs, then set out on Hatchery Creek ski trails for either a 5K and 3K Canicross run.
  • Runners and their pups will be timed.
  • Medals, awards and more to follow the Canicross races in the tent at Rosie’s Field.
  • Register until midnight tonight or on site.
  • Runners and their dogs will take buses from the Wesleyan Church (see below) to Hatchery Creek and back.
  • Get your Barkie Fever ready for a day of Canicross fun!
  • Presented by Northern Lakes Co-Op Feed Mill

12:00pm – Barnebirkie Adventure Fun Run!

  • Imagine hundreds of kids, ages 3-13, on an adventure to remember as they take to the Birkie Trail at Hatchery Creek!
  • With 1K and 3K options, there is something for every age group!
    After the run, more fun! Kids can jump, run, and have a good-old-time while conquering an obstacle course in Rosie’s Field!
  • Cocoa, cookies, and medals to follow in the tent at Hatchery Creek!
  • Sponsored by Johnson Bank and Swiss Miss

2:00pm – Junior Birkie Run!

  • The next generation of passionate athletes, between 6 and 19-years of age, charge their way down the Birkie Trail in a competitive run.
  • 2:00pm – U8 & U10 – 1K run
  • 2:30pm – U12 & U14 – 3K run
  • 3:00pm – U16 & High School 4.5K run
  • 3:30pm – Sprint Relays
  • Elite athletes will be on site and working with Junior Birkie participants!
  • Refreshments & awards to follow races in the tent at Hatchery Creek!
  • Presented by Gear West

Busing for Barkie Birkie Canicross, Barnebirkie and Junior Birkie Participants & Spectators

  • Buses for both the Barnebirkie & the Junior Birkie will run continuously from the Wesleyan Church Parking lot, located 10655 Nyman Ave, Hayward, WI, from 9:00am to 4:00pm. The Wesleyan Church is found at the intersection of Highway 77 and Nyman Avenue.

Birkie Giant Ski

  • Hold on to your hats!  An announcement will be made regarding details surrounding the Birkie Giant Ski.  This event will be held on Saturday, the time, location and details are in the works!
  • Presented by Hayward Lakes Chamber of Commerce

Cancellations:

While much to our dismay, we must announce that the following events have been canceled due to weather conditions.

  • Nikkerbeiner and Opening Ceremonies
  • Elite Sprints
  • Birkie Adaptive Ski

Details on Birkie, Korte, and Prince Haakon events will likely be determined later today.  As conditions or plans change, we’ll notify all participants through Birkie Alert emails, Facebook posts, Twitter (@birkie), and will post the latest updates on www.Birkie.com.

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Pedersen, Smutná Victorious at Jizerská Padesatka

Morton Eide Pedersen (l) outstretches Petter Eliassen for the win in the 2017 Jizerská Padesatka on Feb. 19 in Liberec, Czech Republic.(Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

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!”

The women’s podium at the Jizerska Padesatka in Liberec, Czech Republic, the eighth event of the 2016/2017 Ski Classics series, with Katerina Smutná (c) in first, Britta Johansson Norgren (l) in second, and Astrid Øyre Slind (r) in third. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

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.

Results: Men | Women

— Ian Tovell

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Anxiety, Forecast Temps High as Birkie Approaches

The elite men’s 51 k skate podium at the 2016 American Birkebeiner, when the course reached Main Street in Hayward with relative ease: winner David Norris (APU), runner-up Ivan Perrillat Boiteux (France) and Benoit Chauvet (France) in third. (Photo: Vince Rosetta)

By Gavin Kentch

With just over a week to go until the first marathon event of the 2017 American Birkebeiner, race officials are measuring ice thickness on Lake Hayward, groomers are taking protective action, and 13,000 skiers around the country are becoming amateur meteorologists.

First, the facts. The 29-kilometer Kortelopet race is currently scheduled for next Friday, Feb. 24. The 15 k Prince Haakon is set for that afternoon. The main event, the 44th American Birkebeiner, a 50 k freestyle or 55 k classic point-to-point race from Cable to Hayward, starts at 8:15 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25.

The Birkie trail “is currently in good condition with a 4-8 [inch] solid base,” Nancy Knutson, marketing and communications director at the Birkie, wrote to FasterSkier on Thursday afternoon. (That’s closer to eight inches north of OO, at roughly the midway point of the trail, and closer to four inches at points south, Birkie officials wrote on Facebook earlier this week.) The entire Birkie trail closes to skiers effective midnight tonight until further notice. Lake ice at the end of the course is currently a healthy 16 to 20 inches.

Oh, and the weather is going to get somewhat warm between now and race day.

Here’s the extended forecast for Cable from the Weather Underground site:

Weather Underground extended forecast screenshot for Cable.

Here’s the comparable forecast for Hayward from the ECMWF European model, showing predicted weather and precipitation for the afternoon of each day:

ECMWF European model extended forecast screenshot for Hayward.

While forecasts that far in advance are notoriously unreliable, skiers nonetheless have good reason to be concerned about the potential viability of racing in northern Wisconsin on either or both of next Thursday or Friday.

“Hayward, we have a problem” Birkie aficionado Ari Ofsevit titled a post on his blog on Wednesday of this week. (Ofsevit’s blog, http://birkieguide.com/, promises to be required reading over the next week. Ofsevit is an enthusiastic elite-wave skier and Birkie supporter whose site has no official affiliation with the race.)

Ofsevit explained some of his predictions, and the models he was looking at, in a Thursday email to FasterSkier. “It’s going to be real warm,” he wrote. “There’s some base, but it’s not as much as most years.” He continued, “I fear for south-facing hills. It’s still better than rain, though. That’s what sunk the Birkie in 2000: two-foot deep puddles at low points on the trail.”

Summarizing hours spent poring over weather models, Ofsevit wrote, “The good news: the models have a strong signal for a snowstorm next Friday. 6 of the past 8 model runs have shown a strong (6″+) snowstorm next Thursday into Friday. That would be nothing short of a miracle. This will be what to watch.”

So what does he predict? “All in all, I’d say there’s a 40% chance that there’s enough snow on the course for a full race, and a 60% chance there’s enough at least to OO (and maybe back). I think there’s a 50% chance that there’s a snowstorm on Friday. Assuming these are independent (that warmth doesn’t mean snow or not) there’s a 20% chance the race is canceled, a 10% chance the race is significantly shortened and a 70% chance the race is able to run the full course. This is mostly dependent on the snowstorm. And I’m pulling these numbers out of my behind.”

For those of you wanting to play with the data yourselves, Ofsevit explains that “there are a lot” of weather models out there. “The three big ones are the GFS (American model), ECMWF (European model) and CMC (Canadian model) which go out 10-16 days. The GFS and CMC have output here. The Euro is much more proprietary, but you can see model output here. They come out twice a day (4x per day for the GFS) and I’ll be tracking them very frequently in the next week.”

Ofsevit promises frequent updates on this topic over the next week.

Speaking on behalf of the Birkie, Knutson wrote that, “With warmer weather forecast for the coming days, we’re continually monitoring conditions and taking necessary actions to preserve the trail as best we can for race week.” The closure of the entire Birkie Trail at midnight tonight is the most obvious such response. (The Birkie Ridge loop trails will remain open, as well as myriad other trails in the greater Cable area. Those trails are not hoping to host thousands of skiers next week.)

As of Thursday afternoon, race officials “have not made any changes to our Birkie Week plans,” Knutson wrote. But they are “discussing possible contingencies should they be needed. There are any number of contingencies potentially in play depending on what situation, if any, presents itself. For now, it’s full steam ahead!”

(Ofsevit has speculated about alternate possibilities, including a scenario in which “the trail will be skiable north of OO and not to the south. The new Classic trail gives the option of turning the race back at OO and finishing it in Cable, although this would be operationally difficult, it may be an option. We’d certainly miss out on the Hayward finish, but if it’s not skiable and the ice isn’t safe.”)

So what’s next? Knutson concluded, “As always, the safety of our participants is first and foremost in our minds, followed by our goal of creating the best possible participant experience for all. … We hope Mother nature has good things in store for us and we will address changing weather conditions and what that means to Birkie events, if anything, as Birkie week draws nearer. Given the infrastructure it takes to prepare for 13,000 skiers, including the construction of the International Bridge, we need about 4 days to make it all happen. If we find ourselves in a position where we need to adjust event plans, we will share the update by Tuesday afternoon at the latest.”

Knutson promised “daily briefings” at the main Birkie webpage, the event’s Facebook page, and their Twitter feed for interested skiers. Which probably includes around 13,000 people right about now.

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Gjerdalen, Smutná Win Dobbiaco-Cortina; Duvillard, Gräfnings Top La Transjurassienne

The start of the 2017 Gran Fondo Dobbiaco-Cortina, the seventh event of the 2016/2017 Ski Classics series, in Dobbiaco, Italy. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

— The seventh event of the Ski Classics tour took place last Saturday, Feb. 11, at the Gran Fondo Dobbiaco-Cortina in Italy. In the men’s 50-kilometer classic race, Petter Eliassen (Team Leaseplan) returned to racing and set a fast pace from the start. Joining Eliassen in the lead pack were Tord Asle Gjerdalen (Team Santander) and Morten Eide Pedersen (Team BN Bank). After the longest climb on the course, Eliassen and Gjerdalen were able to break away to battle for the victory. The last 10 k of the course were downhill, which led straight into the stadium at Fiames. At the finish line, Gjerdalen was able to outstretch Eliassen by 0.4 seconds to claim his third victory of the 2016/2017 Ski Classics season with a time of 2:04:59.3 hours.

Pedersen (+1:43.1) was able to beat out his surging teammate Øystein Pettersen (+1:44.3) for third place on the podium. Gjerdalen continues to hold the yellow bib as the Ski Classics overall leader, 79 points ahead of Andreas Nygaard (Team Santander) who finished fifth (+2:36.3) on Saturday. Nygaard leads the overall sprint competition by more than 100 points.

Tord Asle Gjerdalen (l) edging Petter Eliassen for the win in the 50 k Gran Fondo Dobbiaco-Cortina in Italy last Saturday, Feb. 11. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

“I’m glad that Eliassen is back and he helped me a lot,” Gjerdalen said after the race, according to a Ski Classics press release. “He made sure that we had a real breakaway and the really good sprinters were far behind us. He got very close in the end and I think he’ll be strong for the rest of the season. I try to focus on the remaining races and keep up my good shape, but it will be different from now on.”

In the women’s 50 k race, the race for first was between eight skiers halfway through. By the time they reached the top of the last climb, the pack had dwindled down to six. Astrid Øyre Slind (Team United Bakeries) started to break away but was quickly followed by Katerina Smutná (Team Santander) and Britta Johansson Norgren (Lager 157 Ski Team). All three entered the stadium together, where Smutná was able claim the victory in 2:30:32 for her fourth consecutive win. Norgren (+3.7) came in second while Slind (+7.3) finished third. Despite Smutná’s victory, Norgren was able to hold on to the yellow bib, with a 45-point lead over Smutná. Norgren is leading the sprint competition as well.

“I felt strong today and I’m overly happy to have the fourth victory in a row,” Smutná said at the finish. “I don’t know why I’m so strong and why I’ve been able to win so many races back-to-back. I hope my luck and good shape will continue as we are now halfway through the season. There are still many tough races left.”

The next race is Jizerská Padesatka in the Czech Rebuplic on Saturday, Feb. 18, followed by the Vasaloppet on March 5 in Sweden. The Vassaloppet is start of another competition within the tour called the Nordic Trophy.

Results: Men | Women

***

France’s Robin Duvillard celebrates after beating four others by less than a second for the win in the 2017 La Transjurassienne in France last Sunday, Feb. 12. (Photo: Worldloppet.com)

— The fifth stage of the FIS Worldloppet Cup took place last Sunday, Feb. 12, with the La Transjurassienne 48 k freestyle race in Morez, France. In the men’s race, a pack of 15 skiers stuck together for most of the race. At the front,  Robin Duvillard (Armées/EMHM-Villard de Lans), Toni Livers (Team Gel Rossignol), Jean-Marc Gaillard (Haute-Savoie Nordic Team) and Ivan Perrillat-Boiteux (Haute-Savoie Nordic Team) led the charge. Duvillard was able to claim the victory in 1:53:38.68 hours, beating out four others by less than a second, including fellow Frenchmen Gaillard and Perrillat-Boiteux, who finished second (+0.22) and third (+0.32), respectively, and Livers in fourth (+0.43) and Candide Pralong (Team Gel Rossignol) in fifth (+0.97). Not far behind were Gerard Agnellet (Haute-Savoie Nordic Team) in sixth (+1.34) and Adrien Backscheider in seventh (+1.7).

“I came here to test myself for the World Championships in Lahti, so I was not sure how my body would react in the race,” French World Cup skier Robin Duvillard said according to FIS Worldloppet press release. “But the pace was not too high, so it was good for me. I am happy to win here, for a French it is big to win La Transjurassienne!”

Maria Gräfnings after winning the 2017 La Transjurassienne on Feb. 12 in France. (Photo: Wordloppet.com)

The women’s race came down to Maria Gräfnings (SAS & TG Hütten Team) dominating the field. She was alone at the 10 k mark and started to work together with some of the men until the finish, where she crossed in 2:05:43.35. She beat local favorite Aurelie Dabudyk (Haute-Savoie Nordic Team), who was apparently was not feeling like herself, by 2 minutes and 18 seconds. Third place went to Aurore Jéan (Douanes SC Grandvaux), who was with Dabudyk for a while before getting dropped near the finish. She finished another 54 seconds back for the final spot on the podium. Dabduyk remains on top of the overall standings.

“After a few kilometers, I felt strong and got rid of my chasers,” Gräfnings said, according to the press release. “From that moment on I decided to never look back again and started to rush to the finish.”

“It is simple. Maria was very strong today and I wasn’t. I was not feeling so well today, so I am very happy to be second!” Dabudyk said, according to the press release.

The next FIS Marathon Cup stage will be the Tartu Maraton from Otepää to Elva, Estonia, on Feb. 26.

Results: Men | Women

–Ian Tovell

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Olex Ends 30-Year German Drought at König Ludwig Lauf

Germany's Max Olex, of the Adidas XCS-Team (l) celebrates his victory in the König Ludwig Lauf on Feb. 5 in Oberammergau, Germany. Olex, who previously skied for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, became the race's first German winner in 30 years. (Photo: Worldloppet.com)

Germany’s Max Olex, of the Adidas XCS-Team (l) celebrates his victory in the König Ludwig Lauf on Feb. 5 in Oberammergau, Germany. Olex, who previously skied for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, became the race’s first German winner in 30 years. (Photo: Worldloppet.com)

After warmer than usual temperatures and rain it was uncertain if the fourth stop of the Worldloppet circuit would happen or not on Sunday, Feb. 5. The organizers of the 44th König Ludwig Lauf in Oberammergau, Germany, able to work all night in order to get the conditions ready for the classic and freestyle races, which were shortened from 50 kilometers to 38 k. After Germany had been without a homegrown winner in the race for 30 years, Max Olex, of the Adidas XCS-Team (who previously raced at the University of Alaska Fairbanks), was able to end the drought in the elite men’s freestyle race, outlasting Damien Tarantola (Haute-Savoie Nordic Team) and Buttin Bastien (Haute-Savoie Nordic Team) in a photo finish. Olex (1:26:20.6) was able to outlunge Tarantola (+0.1) and Bastien (+0.8). Toni Livers (Team Gel Rossignol) was leading on the final uphill in front of the pack of 20 men, but a crash on the downhill forced him to slow down, allowing Olex and company to overtake him before the finish. Livers ended up finishing sixth (+1.8), just ahead two Americans, Tyler Kornfield in seventh (+2.4) and David Norris in eighth (+2.9), teammates at Alaska Pacific University.

“There are those days where you know, you can do it!” Olex said, according to a press release. “It was always one of my biggest dreams to win the König Ludwig Lauf, since here is my home and today was the day. I woke up at 5:00 this morning and couldn’t sleep anymore, so I went outside to see the conditions and saw that they are perfect for me. My words are still missing about this victory!”

In the women’s 38 k classic race, Aurelie Dabudyk (Haute-Savoie Nordic Team) the current overall Worldloppet leader was challenged by Maria Gräfnings (SAS & TG Hütten Team). It was a close race until the final stretch where Dabudyk (1:36:34.4) was able to hold off Gräfnings by seven-tenths of a second. Gräfnings’s teammate Tatjana Mannima rounded out the podium in third (+39.2).

“Today it was a very hard race for me,” Dabudyk said, according to the press release. “I didn’t feel so great after the Marcialonga, but fortunately, I was strong enough to win. Now I need some days break and then preparations for our home race, the Transjurasienne!”

The next Worldloppet race will be the 68 k freestyle La Transjurassienne on Feb. 12 in Morez, France.

Results: Men | Women

— Ian Tovell

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Smutná Holds Off Norgren; Gjerdalen Wins Third Marcialonga

Norway's Tord Asle Gjerdalen (l) and the Czech Republic's Katerina Smutná after winning the 2017 Marcialonga. (Photo: Marcialonga.it)

Norway’s Tord Asle Gjerdalen (l) and the Czech Republic’s Katerina Smutná after winning the 2017 Marcialonga. (Photo: Marcialonga.it)

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.

Results: Men | Women

— Ian Tovell

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