Sunshine and a full race course made for happy racers at La Diagonela, the fourth Visma Ski Classics event on Saturday and the first to be held on a single-lap course this season.
Petter Eliassen of Team LeasePlan Go and Britta Johansson-Norgren of the Lager 157 Ski Team both won the second-consecutive Ski Classics this season after taking titles at the Jizerská 50 two weeks ago.
Instead of 15 laps of a 3.3 k course at Jizerska, skiers traversed a 55-kilometer course along the beautiful Engadine Valley in the classic-only race. Contained within the valley, the course is relatively flat but features a significant climb just after 20 k to bring racers to the highest point of the course at 1800 meters above sea level. Although the second half features a net descent, skiers are challenged by undulating hills and a final climb into Zouz, Switzerland.
Although it was initially planned as a 65 k event, minor changes had to be made to the race course due to low snow. Even with snow challenges, the alternate course covered 55 kilometers thanks to the hard work of the volunteers and race organizers. The shorter event, the La Pachifica, was held on the full 35 k course.
The elite men and women started the race under grey skies and snow, but the clouds soon broke and made for a beautiful day of racing. The women started 15 minutes before the men and the fresh powder in the tracks made for an additional challenge for the women’s field early in the race.
In the men’s race, Eliassen attacked 10 k from the finish and was joined by Norwegian Tord Asle Gjerdalen of Team Santander. Morten Eide Pedersen of Team Exspirit chased but could not catch the pair. The title was decided in the final minutes of the race as Eliassen pulled away from his fellow countryman to win by just eight seconds.
Pedersen (+0:48) narrowly held off fellow Norwegians Anders Høst (+0:52) and Anders Auckland (+0:54) for the final podium placing.
“I could do nothing. Eliassen is too strong. He is good,” said Gjerdalen told TV2 according to a translation.
However, Eliassen was not as confident of the outcome as he approached the finish.
“I was very unsure of what was going to happen towards the end. I did not feel safe until it was five meters to the finish,” Eliassen told TV2.
After Saturday’s victory, Eliassen took the overall Ski Classics leader’s bib from Johan Kjølstad who finished 15th. Both Gjerdalen and Pedersen moved up in the overall standings to second and third, respectively, but neither are within 100 points of Eliassen.
In the women’s race, Johansson-Norgren of Sweden proved to be the class of the field yet again, claiming victory by over one minute. However, in contrast to Jizerska, the women’s podium was far from a Swedish sweep. Austrian Kateřina Smutná of Team Santander was second (+1:02) and Switzerland’s Seraina Boner of Team Exspirit took third (+1:51) claiming a podium finish in her home country. Swedes Lina Korsgren and Sara Lindborg who both double poled to the podium in Jizerska claimed a distant fourth (+3:49) and fifth (+3:56), respectively.
With her win Johansson-Norgren retains her yellow bib, extending her overall lead over Smutná and Korsgren.
Ski Classics racing will resume Jan. 31 in Trento, Italy, for the Italian Marcialonga 70 k classic race.
— Kaitlyn Patterson