When former U.S. Ski Team racer Holly Brooks steps onto the starting line in the Marcialonga on Sunday, she will be wearing the red FIS Marathon Cup overall leader’s bib after winning the Dolomitenlauf in Austria last weekend.
Brooks will face a stacked women’s field in the Marcialonga, as the classic race in Northern Italy is a part of both the Ski Classics long-distance series and the FIS Marathon Cup, bringing together the entire field of the top long-distance specialists in the world.
The snow situation is again causing trouble for Central European race organizers, forcing the Marcialonga committee to shorten the course from 70 k to 57 k, and move the start further up the valley.
While Brooks won the 42-kilometer freestyle race Dolomitenlauf last weekend by 2.5 minutes, she admits being quite nervous going into the event after a month away from the race scene.
“I was actually pretty nervous after taking a long break from racing. While it was nice to be home over the holidays it was hard to sit in Alaska and watch the results roll in from the Tour de Ski and Nationals without having my own chance to race,” Brooks wrote in an email.
With the recent Dolomitenlauf victory and the red leader’s bib, Brooks feels more confident going into this weekend’s race, which features 57 k classic.
“The (Dolomitenlauf) was awesome. I felt good in the race, had good skis, and found a pack of guys to ski with,” Brooks said, adding that the winning experience itself was unique. “I’ve been dreaming about getting one of those wreaths for a while so that was pretty cool. Also, they played the Star Spangled banner at the awards,” she said.
Fierce female battles on tap
The snow conditions and shortened course do not seem to deter skiers from the race. The Marcialonga is also a part of the FIS Marathon Cup schedule, which means that all the top long-distance racers will be on the same racecourse, as opposed to last weekend where the field was split between the Ski Classics La Diagonela in Switzerland and the FIS Marathon Cup race Dolomitenlauf in Austria.
Masako Ishida of Japan will challenge experienced Katerina Smutna and Seraina Boner for the overall Ski Classics lead, while Russian Marathon team racers Tatiana Jambaeva and Julia Tikhonova are other tough opponents.
Also, Sweden’s Britta Johansson Norgren and Annika Löfström of Team SkiProAm, Adela Boudikova of the Czech Republic, local Italian favorite Antonella Confortola and Brook’s Santander teammate Laila Kveli of Norway are some of the contenders expected to give Brooks a good run for her money on Sunday.
Small margins in the men’s race
The elite men’s start list includes last year’s second-place finisher John Kristian Dahl of Norway, and his teammate Øystein Pettersen who is currently wearing the yellow Ski Classics leader bib, as well as a long list of Ski Classics pro team racers eager to snag the leader bib, the sprint points and the victory: Morten Eide Pedersen of Norway and Team Coop is only five points behind Pettersen in the overall standings, while Anders Aukland of Team Santander is five points behind Pedersen, so there is a lot at stake in the men’s race.
“I am excited for the race, especially when I am so close to the yellow jersey. Every point counts and it will be a tight race with a shorter course than normal. We have had a good week of recovery and it has been a good build up for Marcialonga,” Pedersen said in a press release from Team Coop.
Legendary veteran Thomas Alsgaard, who retired from World Cup skiing in 2003 after more than a decade on the circuit, three Olympics and five FIS World Championships, is also on the start list. Other veterans include Giorgio Di Centa of Italy and Lukas Bauer of the Czech Republic.
Shorter and even flatter: Marcialonga reduced to 57km
Due to a warm winter and lack of snow, the course is shortened from 70 k to 57 k, and the short version, Marcialonga Light, is cut down to 33 k from its normal length at 46 k. The start for both races is moved to Mazzin. The start time for elite men and women in Ski Classics is postponed one hour, and will start at 9am Central European Time. Ski Classics sprints remain the same and will be in Canazei after 5 k and in Predazzo after 32 k.
However, the organizers have seen the problem coming and prepared for the race with a backup plan. More than 100,000 cubic meters of artificial snow have been produced in the past weeks due to a lack of natural snow so far, and on Thursday, it was snowing in Val di Fiemme and Fassa.
The 2015 Marcialonga will start in Mazzin, 13 k up on the original course, hence shortening the track to 57 k. The original course over 70 k starts on the plain of Moena, Val di Fassa, and finishes in Cavalese, Val di Diemme. After the start the course climbs 20 k through the villages of Pozza, and Canazei, where competitors then turn around to head downhill to Moena and on towards Predazzo before starting the last part which goes through the villages of Ziano, Panchia, Lago di Tesero, Masi di Cavalese, Castello–Molina. After 67.5 k the most famous and hardest part begins; the Cascata climb, where the athletes struggle up the serpentines to the finish in the center of Cavalese.
Science at work
This year’s Marcialonga is part of the new Marcialonga Science Project, which aims to evaluate and measure the impact of the double poling technique on muscles, muscle fibers and the heart of some athletes during and after the competition. The results of the study will be presented at the International Congress on Science in Nordic Skiing in Finland next June, and at the Mountain Sport Health Congress in Rovereto, Italy, next November.
Marcialonga is the most important Italian cross-country ski race. Founded in 1971 from the idea of four friends who, on the way back from the mythic Vasaloppet, decided to organize a similar event in Italy. However, it has been discussed that the idea to Maricalonga started already in 1969 inspired by the Italian skier Franco Nones outstanding performance in the Grenoble Winter Olympics the year before, where he took the gold medal in the men’s 30 k.
The first problem was “where” an event at this size should take place, and almost immediately the two valleys of Fiemme and Fassa came to mind. The first race was held in 1971 and became famous for their promotional action, where they dropped 50.000 leaflets from an airplane over the valley to get the attention from the inhabitants. In the end the name Marcialonga, long march, was chosen.