By Teemu Virtanen
This Sunday’s Vasaloppet, 90 km, from Sälen to Mora is going to be a thrilling race as always. The cold weather this week has secured the full course, but the forecast predicts somewhat tricky conditions as it could be snowing again much like last year.
Before we start analyzing and predicting potential winners, it makes sense to look at some latest statistics of the upcoming race on Sunday. The average age in Vasaloppet 2020 is 42.4 years, and the average participant has skied Vasaloppet 3.6 times before. Out of the registered Vasaloppet skiers this year, 62 percent have skied Vasaloppet before and 38 percent are participating in Vasaloppet for the first time. A new record is set for the number of female participants, 17 %, which means that every sixth skier is a woman.
The male winners in the past seven years have come from Norway, Jörgen Brink is the last Swedish winner in 2012. That was the year when he also broke the Vasaloppet record, 3:38:41. Of the past Vasaloppet winners, four are still fighting for another victory on Sunday; Tore Bjørseth Berdal, Team Koteng – last year’s winner, Andreas Nygaard, Team Ragde Eiendom - the winner in 2018, Petter Eliassen, Team Ragde Eiendom – the winner in 2015, and Anders Aukland, Team Ragde Eiendom – the winner in 2004.
Four of the previous women’s class victors are going to race this Sunday; Laila Kveli, Team Engcon – the winner in 2013 and 2014, Katerina Smutná, ED System Bauer Team, the winner in 2016, Lina Korsgren, Team Ramudden – the winner in 2018, and Britta Johansson Norgren, Lager 157 Ski Team – the winner in 2017 and 2019.
We all remember how Johansson Norgren dominated the women’s field last year and managed to finish as the 81st fastest skier in total, and how Team Koteng conjured up a clever tactical maneuver in the men’s race that got them a triple victory. It is unlikely that the men in yellow will repeat the feat this time around, but Johansson Norgren is certainly one of the strongest candidates to win the women’s race.
As the race is long and demanding, it may turn out to be a challenge for the younger Pro Team Athletes in the women’s race. Therefore, it is expected that the experienced athletes will take the reins. In addition to Johansson Norgren, Astrid Øyre Slind, Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes, both from Team Koteng, and the aforementioned former winners Korsgren and Smutná are going to be strong. Of the young athletes, both Emilie Fleten, Team Ragde Eiendom, and Ida Dahl, Team Ramudden, have shown strength and capacity for a race like Vasaloppet, and they have a chance to be on the podium.
On the men’s side of things, last year’s winner Berdal can be a wild card again as he won Marcialonga earlier this year. Last year’s second, Stian Hoelgaard, also from Team Koteng, hasn’t really had a bad race this season, and he will be high up again. Could Vasaloppet finally be his first victory in the Pro Tour? The third Team Koteng skier, who can reach the podium, is Chris Andre Jespersen, the winner of La Diagonela. Their fourth skier, Torleif Syrstad, will have a hard time repeating his last year's success, 3rd, as this season has not been exactly what he had hoped for.
Both Nygaard and Eliassen have been training together in Alta, Norway, and they have prepared well for the race. They can work together and attack early on if need be, and their teammate Tord Asle Gjerdalen can easily join a possible breakaway.
Additionally, we should pay attention to Morten Eide Pedersen, Team Kaffebryggeriet, and the Swedish male skiers, Marcus Johansson, Emil Persson and Andreas Holmberg, all from Lager 157 Ski Team, and Max Novak, Team Ramudden. And there’s always room for surprises at Vasaloppet – for example, in 2018, Bob Impola, Team Serneke, finished 2nd quite unexpectedly. A special note should be given to Stanislav Rezac, Slavia Pojistovna Sport Team, who always manages to perform well at Vasaloppet – he will most likely be among the top 10 skiers!