By Teemu Virtanen
The 7th stage of the Visma Ski Classics Pro Tour, Toblach-Cortina, sets in motion tomorrow at 8:30 am CET with the women’s race, and the men start their 42 km long classic race at 9:10 am CET.
The course has a sprint competition point at the Nordic Arena in Toblach at 11 km and one Climb point at the highest point of the course at Cimabanche, 30 km into the race. Before the sprint, there is an easy section followed by a long gradual climb to the top. The last 12 km descend into Cortina where the finish is located in the heart of the town.
In the men’s race, there are several potential winners, and many expect Team Ragde Eiendom’s strong athletes Petter Eliassen, Tord Asle Gjerdalen and Andreas Nygaard to perform well. Russian Winter Team’s Ermil Vokuev, the winner of La Venosta, is back in action and expected to push hard on the long climb along with the aforementioned Team Ragde Eiendom skiers. Gjerdalen has won the race three times in the past, and he is one of the strongest favorites.
“This race seems to suit me well,” Gjerdalen admits a day before the race. “But it’s hard to predict winners. If there’s a high speed up to the top, only high capacity skiers are left to fight for the podium. I aim to be one of them, and we have a strong team and we can work together. However, there are many other strong skiers who can attack on that long climb, and we have to be prepared for that.”
The Marcialonga winner Tore Bjørseth Berdal, Team Koteng, is feeling a bit under the weather and may not start tomorrow, but his teammates Chris Andre Jespersen, Stian Hoelgaard, Andrew Musgrave and Torleif Syrstad are among the potential podium skiers. Other potential male winners could be Team Kaffebryggeriet’s Morten Eide Pedersen and Lager 157 Ski Team’s Emil Persson and Andreas Holmberg.
“To win Marcialonga was a dream come to true to me,” Berdal says with a grateful tone in his voice. “I had worked for that goal for so many years and I got close two years ago. But now I don’t feel so well and I’m not sure if I’m going to start tomorrow. I guess it’s the price I have to pay for my victory last weekend. But my project Vasaloppet has already started, and I want to be able to defend my victory there.”
In the women’s race, Team Koteng’s Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes, the Marcialonga winner, is ready to repeat the feat tomorrow while her teammate Astrid Øyre Slind is uncertain about racing as she has fallen sick. Britta Johansson Norgren, Lager 157 Ski Team, has had some problems in the last two races, but she is now confident that she can perform at her best possible level. So is Team Ramudden’s Lina Korsgren, who has overcome a long period of illness, and her third place at Marcialonga was a good proof of a successful recovery.
“The Marcialonga victory has really made me more relaxed now,” Vikhagen Gjeitnes states on the eve of the race. “We will have a different tactic tomorrow as the men won’t catch us at all. We’ll have our own race, and I need to be prepared for many possible tactical moves during the race. I think it’ll be a hard race after the sprint point when we start climbing.”
The weather is expected to be sunny and the temperature around zero with light wind in Toblach in the morning, and at the finish in Cortina, the temperature can rise up to 5 C by noon.