Original text by Johan Trygg, English text by Teemu Virtanen
Team Ramudden's Johannes Eklöf had a strong season in the Visma Ski Classics Pro Tour last winter. The 26-year-old skier from Jönköping, Sweden, finished the season as the 11th best Pro Team athlete, the fourth best Swede and the second best in the Youth competition only behind the overall winner Emil Persson, Lager 157 Ski Team. Last weekend, he managed to be second at Lysebotn Opp in Norway, the 7,5 km uphill race with the total climb of 640 meters, behind the winner Andrew Musgrave.
"I've focus on my double-poling on steeper hills this summer," Eklöf told our affiliate Längd.se.
Eklöf were able to finish three times among the 10 best skiers last season; 8th at La Diagonela 10th at both Tåssåsen Criterium 64 and Årefjällsloppet.
"I kept an even level throughout the season. My overall performance was even above my expectations, but I missed the perfect day when everything goes as planned. When your shape, tactics, skis and the course work in your favor. The goal this winter is to reach the podium once," says Eklöf.
On the way to his ambitious goal, Eklöf undertakes countless hours of training.
"It was 1,100 hours last year. It was a special year with a later start to the season. I'm thinking that it’ll be about 1,050 hours this year. Now, it has been about just over 100 hours per month. I do more intensive workouts three times a week.”
Eklöf seems to be on the right track in his search for greatness, as the second place at Lysebotn Opp proved. In that race, he started carefully, then sped up and passed skiers along the way.
"Since I’ve done quite a lot of uphill training, I feel that I’ve moved forward in that aspect, and this was also evident at Lysebotn Opp.”
Before the start, however, things were a bit out of hand for Johannes. His gear stayed behind in Gothenburg.
“I had to borrow Lina's (Korsgrens) poles, Gustaf's (Korsgren) helmet and Herman's (Pause) boots. Maybe this lowered my expectations a little bit before the race, but it also eased up some nervousness," Eklöf admits with a smile.
The following day, Johannes participated in the prologue race and continued in the pursuit race against some tough World Cup skiers. Although he barely qualified from the prologue, he was able to become the 20th fastest man in the main race. He was just four seconds behind a Swedish National team member Oskar Svensson, who finished ninth.
"It was a fun race and good training for positioning myself in a big crowd.”
On Sunday, Eklöf showed his stamina again when he was the third member of Team Ramudden's winning team at Blink Classics Team Challenge. The other two members were Lina Korsgren and Max Novak.
"The relay was a crazy thing. I couldn't relax all day. It was important to be prepared for any sudden skier exchange depending on the other teams’ tactics.”
When the race was at a crucial stage on the 19th of 20 laps, Johannes was in the lead along with Team Eksjöhus’ Norwegian Morten Eide Pedersen. The Norwegian made a move and got a gap on the Swede on the last steep hill, but Eklöf was not overly concerned at that point.
"He got a few seconds on the downhill, but I felt like I wasn't completely exhausted. I was actually going to attack at the end. With that in the back of my mind, it was easier to counter-attack. When I started closing the gap, I knew I had a chance.”
The duo then approached the exchanged neck-and-neck, and Max Novak and Axel Jutterström started their leg together. Novak was able to break away from Jutterström just a few kilometers before the finish.
"I was happy to give Max a good position for the final lap. I felt it was enough that I arrived at the exchange with Pedersen.”
Even if Eklöf’s training load is heavy, he is currently facing an intensive racing period with roller-ski competitions five weekends in a row, which forces him to cut back on his training hours.
"I'm dropping maybe five hours a week this period. I want to be able to do the races properly. Since the season starts in earnest only after the New Year, there is a lot of time left for basic training after this competition period.”
Next weekend Eklöf will compete at the Swedish Roller-ski Championships in Tanum. Then, he has Toppidrettsveka in Norway, Alliansloppet and Värnamorullen in Sweden in his calendar.
In the summer, Eklöf spends time at his parents' place in Jönköping. This fall, he will return to Umeå where he studies engineering physics.
"I've been studying full time for three years, but now it's 75 percent, so I guess I've got two years left.”
This summer, he will be training with his friends, and he tells us that Jönköping has many good places for extensive workouts.
When asked about his favorite Pro Tour events, he mentions two races.
"It would be a dream to succeed at Marcialonga. On paper, it's a race I should have no real chances, but it has that final hill and I’ve been training for that. Then, Jizerska Padesatka is a race that should suit me, but I have crashed there for the last two years. So, if I can avoid accidents, I could do well there.”