Below is a recap of the last several races of the Ski Classics and Worldloppet Marathon Cup seasons.
Årefjällsloppet, March 25
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 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.
Reistadløpet, April 1
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.
“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.
Ylläs-Levi, April 8
– 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.
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.
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!”
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.
— Ian Tovell