By Johan Trygg
Marcus "Mackan" Johansson, Lager 157 Ski Team, has had a breakthrough in Visma Ski Classics this winter. In the seven races so far, he has been in the top ten six times, and twice on the podium as third. In the Hertz Champion bib competition, Johansson is fifth and the best non-Norwegian.
Now he comes to Vasaloppet with good confidence after a long training camp on high-altitude in Livigno
"I have high hopes for Sunday," says Marcus, who turns 30 a few weeks after Vasaloppet.
Before this winter, Marcus had been in the top ten three times at Visma Ski Classics events. But never more than once per season. In 2016, he became 8th at La Diagonela, 2017 he was 7th at Vasaloppet China and in 2018 he became 9th at Marcialonga. Last winter he was never even top 20 in any race.
"Last year was extremely bad. I had a problem with a disc in the back all winter and was just glad I could get through the races."
This winter, it looks completely different. Marcus has an impressive list of results: Prolog Livigno (4), La Venosta (9), Kaiser Maximilian Laul (3), La Diagonala (6), Marcialonga (13), Toblach-Cortina (3) and Jizerska Padesatka (8).
What is the explanation for your success?
"I had a good summer and autumn. Although I had a knee injury into the season, I could still train with Ski Erg and I have not been sick at all. I felt this summer that I had taken a step forward. I’ve got continuity and got a little smarter over the years and didn’t make the same mistakes as before. Sometimes you have to think a little bit when training and not push everything to the limit."
Marcus’ self-confidence also got a real push at the season opening. Since he had major problems with one knee and decided to start in the Prologue races in Livigno just three days before the competition weekend, the fourth-place came as a big surprise.
"It was a little shock that it went so well," he says.
Already there, he was close to a podium place and in the first race of the new year, he got to step on the podium for the first time when he became third just behind his teammate Emil Persson and Andreas Nygaard, Team Ragde Eiendom, at Kaiser Maximilian Lauf in Seefeld.
"There I got a really good race. On the tough climb at the end of the track on the way back to Seefeld I was not even tired. For me, it could have gone even faster there. So, it felt really good that I could get up on the podium for the first time there."
After that Johansson continued to line up good races, and in Toblach-Cortina he was third again. "Mackan" won the sprint at the final stretch against seven other athletes and ended up in third place, just ahead of Team Ramudden's Max Novak.
As for almost all elite skiers in the Visma Ski Classics Pro Tour, Vasaloppet is the highlight and the most prestigious race to win. It is a dream for Marcus to win the race, and now he will be very well prepared for the 2020 edition.
Immediately after Jizerska Padesatka, Marcus went to Livigno together with teammates Emil Persson, who sensationally brought home both the prologue and Kaiser Maximilian Lauf this winter and Andreas Holmberg, the best non-Norwegian at Marcialonga at 6th place. There, the trio trained at high altitude and in glorious conditions for two weeks.
"We had a great time with good weather and nice tracks. It was perfect to be there and I got to do all the training I wanted. So now the hopes are high for Sunday."
The focus for the Lager 157-trio in Livigno was to get a lot of long workouts and a good period of training and at the same time not to train too hard at the high altitude.
"It will be fun to see what the effect of our stay will be on Sunday. Both Emil and Andreas also look really strong."
In fact, the trio has been at a high altitude for 44 days since the season started.
"And I don't even count the time we were in Toblach, which is also a bit high," says Marcus.
Now, the days before Vasaloppet, the entire Lager 157 Ski Team is in Orsa Grönklitt to make the final preparations and set up the tactics for Sunday.
"Yes, now we have to think and discuss what tactics we should use in the race."
Finally, we must also point out that Marcus Johansson has taken a different path than most other Pro Tour athletes in Visma Ski Classics.
Marcus competed in his youth on skis, but then there was more focus on football for many years, and he never went to a special high school for sports (skiing). He played football until he was 22 years old. Then there was more skiing again, and he increased the commitment year by year, and quite quickly he showed good performance on roller-skis. In 2014, he even won the overall World Cup on roller-skis. But it was on fast racing wheels, which is quite far from long-distance skiing.
After that summer, Marcus became part of the Lager 157 Ski Team and he is still on that road. At Vasaloppet, Marcus has his best place from 2016 when he was 15th. He will most likely end up higher this time.
Marcus is the Swedish hope to win Vasaloppet together with his teammates Emil Persson and Andreas Holmberg, Team Ramudden’s Max Novak, and Oskar Kardin, Team Ragde Eiendom, if he can start after his concussion. The last Swedish athlete to win the men's class at Vasaloppet was Jörgen Brink when he broke the track record with 3:38:41 in 2012.
Vasaloppet will take place this Sunday - both the men and women start together at 8 am CET. You can watch the live broadcast on our PLAY app, and you should also create, or re-create, your own Fantasy Team and fight for the Fantasy Pro Team Prizes to be awarded at the Ski Classics Gala in Levi. Additionally, our web shop is open where you can order great products.
Link to PLAY: https://play.vismaskiclassics.com/visma-ski-classics
Link to Fantasy: https://fantasy.vismaskiclassics.com
Link ro Shop: https://vismaskiclassics.com/shop/