By Teemu Virtanen
This Sunday, the king of the ski race will take place again, and the king of long distance skiing Andreas Nygaard, Team Radge Eiendom, wants to rule over his kingdom after this weekend as he has done lately. He won Vasaloppet last year and kept winning even after that race as he was the fastest skier in Birkebeinerrennet and Ylläs-Levi. Since La Diagonela this winter, he has been on the podium in every race; two wins and one second place.
Nygaard is perhaps the biggest favorite to take home the Vasaloppet trophy on Sunday, but he will face a fierce competition as there are many other hungry pro skiers who want to dethrone him.
Let’s find out what the King is thinking just in the eve of the greatest event of the Visma Ski Classics tour.
What are you expecting from this year's Vasaloppet?
“It will be a tough race under challenging conditions. Unfortunately, the weather looks snowy with headwind, so it will be hard to break away. Maybe Petter Eliassen or Tore Bjørseth Berdal will try something during the last miles, but I think there will be a group of 10-20 people fighting for the victory at the end.”
From a pro athlete's perspective, how would you describe the race?
“It’s the longest by far, and the only one where we enter the "happy hour"(the zone that comes after skiing for 3-4 hours). The atmosphere and prestige is greater than in all the other races we do, and everybody wants to cross the finish line first.”
What is the most challenging part of the course?
“The first uphill. It’s both steep and long, and I usually don’t warm up at all. After that it’s pretty much flat with some easy hills.”
Who are your greatest rivals on Sunday?
I think my teammates Oskar Kardin and Tord Asle Gjerdalen will do really well. Besides them, Stian Hoelgaard always performs well here, and Eliassen is the locomotive who can do the most amazing things. John Kristian Dahl has won three times, and with this weather coming in he may have a chance.”
What did winning Vasaloppet really mean to you and your career?
“Personally it was a big thing. A big dream finally realized. I don’t know how much it meant to my career. I think things would have been quite the same if I had gotten second or third.”
Why is Vasaloppet so immensely popular and remains so year after year?
“That’s really hard for me to answer. But I think it has to do with the great tradition that this race has been able to create over the years.
What tips/advice would you give to those thousands of participants joining you on Sunday?
“Take it easy the days before the race and eat some extra carbohydrates. Do not bother testing skis on Saturday because the conditions will be totally different on Sunday. Stay calm during the race, eat and drink all the way, and hopefully you’ll reach your goal.”