By Teemu Virtanen
This anniversary season, X, has been exceptional as there have been so many new winners and faces on the podium. Last weekend’s Toblach-Cortina continued the trend even if the winners were the faces we all know very well. Last season’s Hertz Champions Britta Johansson Norgren, Lager 157 Ski Team, and Andreas Nygaard, Team Ragde Eiendom, returned to form and won their respective races, but behind them there were again surprises since Marcus Johansson, Lager 157 Ski Team, and Anastasia Vlasova, Russian Winter Team, managed to find their way to the podium, both finished third.
The latter athlete was certainly a new face as her best result before Toblach-Cortina this season was 11th at Kaiser Maximilian Lauf. Marcus has been on the podium once before this season, and he has performed extremely well throughout the winter.
Anastasia’s success solidified Russian Winter Team’s perfect season, and the Pro Team is now setting their sights on even greater things. They are currently 5th in the Pro Team Competition, and the team has now three podium athletes; Ermil Vokuev who won La Venosta, Alexey Shemiakin, 3rd at La Diagonela, and now Anastasia Vlasova. Those podium places are not the only remarkable achievements since there are many top 10 performances within the Russians.
No wonder that the director of Russian Winter Team, Andrey Tyuterev, is extremely proud of his athletes, and he thinks that they are even capable of achieving much more as they gain more ground in Visma Ski Classics. He is an active cross-country skier who got bitten by the long distance skiing bug when racing in America.
“I studied at the Forestry Academy in St. Petersburg. I am a mechanical engineer by education, but the forest always attracted me more to ski than to cut down the trees. When I was a professional athlete, I got into the Russian sprint team. In 2011, after the World Cup in Rybinsk, I went to a sprint competition in the USA, but the sprint was canceled, and I got invited to take part in American Birkebeiner. It wasn’t really my strongest suit, but I was able to finish third. So, I got interested in long distance races."
"And the following year, Russia began to assemble the first professional team for Visma Ski Classics, and I ended up as an athlete in the team. After several years of racing in the tour, I began to understand well what was needed for a professional team. Sponsors noticed this and offered me a job and conditions that you can only dream of. Our sponsor Nikita Tamm has faith in me, and all my ideas and suggestions, starting with the choice of athletes, services, logistics, camps and many other issues, are supported without any major changes.”
What is the secret of your success this season?
”I don’t think there is any secret. Every year we become a little more experienced. We are moving towards the goal that we set for ourselves. There is always time to experience and learn more, and I believe that we are now more experienced, and because of this we have become stronger.”
Andrey truly puts his heart and soul into skiing, and he is passionate about the sport and his own team, which seems to be more than just a bunch skiers traveling and racing together.
“Most importantly, we are all as one big family. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a great champion or just a young athlete. Everyone has a great time and jokes with each other. We’re smiling, helping out and creating an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable. The owner of the team sets our goals and objectives, and the personal podium places and top 5 in the Team competition correspond to the plan that was set for this season. Naturally, the fulfillment of our goal gives me confidence and boosts the team.”
”We even raised the bar when Ermil won La Venosta,” Andrey continues sounding gratified. ”Now, everyone is expecting victories and great results from us. I believe that we can continue performing well. The overall goal is to create a team that can fight throughout the season with top teams. I think that in the first half of the season, we at least forced everyone to pay attention to ourselves and start taking us into account in the peloton as well learn some key Russian words. Eliassen and Nygaard can surely say Привет (privet, which means hi in English)!”
What is the state of Nordic skiing, and in particular Visma Ski Classics, in Russia?
”Skiing is popular in Russia, but it’s not shown much on TV. I think Visma Ski Classics can attract a large audience if they continue to work on promotion on TV. A few years ago, only those who went to the famous long distance ski events and started in the elite row knew about the brand. Now, the situation has changed and you can watch the tour live with a Russian commentator. If this continues, many ski fans in Russia will learn the names of the Pro Athletes and the Pro Tour events, and they will soon want to go and participate in the races themselves as well.”
What about a Visma Ski Classics event in Russia?
”David Nilsson regularly raises the topic of having an event in Russia. A few years ago, I organized a meeting with the head of the city of Kandalaksha, but unfortunately the budget of a small town cannot allow such a big event. I hope that Visma Ski Classics will grow in popularity in Russia, and then there will be many more sponsors for the event and we can make it happen. Moreover, the country is big enough for finding a suitable location if need be.”
Andrey says that he and his team don’t really have a favorite Visma Ski Classics race in mind, but they find each race interesting and idiosyncratic in its own way. They are now ready to fight hard this weekend when the Central-European side of the Pro Tour ends in the Czech Republic with Jizerska Padesatka. And not just this weekend but for the rest of the season. They aim to stay among the six best Pro Teams and get more podium places when the Scandinavian leg of the tour commences.