By Teemu Virtanen
This Sunday’s legendary Marcialonga in Italy will be an open field both for the men and women.
The women’s race has three equally strong candidates for the prestigious victory. Britta Johansson Norgren, Lager 157 Ski Team, didn’t have her best day at La Diagonela, but she was really strong towards the end of the race and skied even faster than the winner Astrid Øyre Slind, Team Koteng. Team Ramudden’s Lina Korsgren’s superior performance at Kaiser Maximilian Lauf left her opponent scratching their head, but the question remains; is her days of convalescence really over and is she ready to fight for the victory? Astrid, on the other hand, has two amazing performances under her belt this season, and she is probably the number one favorite at the moment.
Behind these three athletes, Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes, Team Koteng, has been extremely consistent with her podium places in every race except Kaiser Maximilian Lauf. She will, most likely, find her way up to the podium again while Katerina Smutná, ED System Bauer Team, will certainly continue her great performances, top 5 in every race, when Sunday is upon us.
The young Pro Team Athletes, Ida Dahl and Jenny Larsson from Team Ramudden, together with Emilie Fleten and Thea Krokan Murud from Team Ragde Eiendom will be strong, but for them the high-tempo double poling that Marcialonga calls for may be a bit too much to chew in their first year.
In the men’s race, Team Ragde Eiendom’s Petter Eliassen, last year’s winner, is still one of the strongest favorites. He ran out power about 10 km before the finish at La Diagonela, but he managed to conjure up an impressive breakaway with kick wax. He was also recovering from a long period of sickness, which certainly affected his performance. His breakaway companion Chris Andre Jespersen, Team Koteng, seemed to be out of this planet last Saturday. If he has been able to maintain his mojo, he may repeat the feat on Sunday.
Tord Asle Gjerdalen, three wins, has often been called “Mr. Marcialonga”, and he was second at La Diagonela. Hence, he is ready to be the number one again. His teammates Andreas Nygaard and Oskar Kardin are no strangers to being on the podium at Marcialonga. However, the latter has not been able to be among the top three skiers in any of the races yet.
This season rising star Emil Persson, Lager 157 Ski Team, has already two stage wins, and a third one this weekend maybe a bit too much as he is recovering from sickness. Team Kaffebryggeriet’s Morten Eide Pedersen has been on the podium twice this season, and he desires to win other races than Jizerska 50. Russian Winter Team’s Aleksey Shemiakin was third at La Diagonela, and he could raise the bar on Sunday.
Finally, this season has been exceptional in presenting surprise winners in every race. Therefore, we should not count out any dark horses. A good bet for a male winner could be last year’s Vasaloppet winner Tore Bjørseth Berdal, Team Koteng, and his teammate Stian Hoelgaard who wears the yellow bib at the moment. Tore was second at Marcialonga in 2018, and he is on his way back to the top after spending time on his master’s thesis while Stian has been among the top finishers in every race, and he craves for his first victory.
Many cross-country ski fans may expect some new faces such as Dario Cologna, Team Coop, Andrew Musgrave, Team Koteng, Sjur Røthe and Eugeniy Dementiev to push themselves close to the podium, and it wouldn’t be a big surprise if these World Cup skiers performed well. But to win Marcialonga, one needs the experience, extreme double-poling capacity and strength to conquer the famous Cascata Hill.