Analysis and text by Lars Behrenz
Edited and shortened by Teemu Virtanen
Vasaloppet has become an entirely international competition where last year 39 Swedes were among the top 100. In 1968, Vasaloppet was still a national competition with some foreign elements. The Norwegian dominance has been very large in recent years with only Norwegian winners since 2012. Among the top 100, there are also more Norwegians than Swedes but the difference has decreased somewhat in the last 10 years.
You feel especially sad for those who go to Vasaloppet year after year and get top positions but never reach their long-awaited victory. On Sunday, legend Stanislav Rezac is back in the elite group with his start number 7. He has competed in international cross-country circuit for 16 years with extremely good results. Throughout Europe, he has been at the top of the podium, for example, he has four victories in the Birkebeiner race. But he has never won Vasaloppet. However, he is not the guy who gives up… Stanislav runs his 21st Vasaloppet on Sunday! Rezac has been on the podium six times and another eight times within the best 10 skiers. But no victory so far ... He's so close every year.
Nils “Mora-Nisse" Karlsson's nine wins make him the King of Vasaloppet in all categories. Janne Stefansson has seven wins, Arthur Häggblad and Jan Ottoson four each. When making a table of "the best Vasaloppet skiers of all times", I would also like to include other top positions. In the Vasaloppet, which today has 15,000 starters and over 200 in the men's elite starting line, I think that the top ten is a good measure.
If you make a list of Vasaloppet top skiers based on their top-ten achievements, Mora-Nisse is also number one in this analysis, Oskar Svärd second and Anders Törnkvist third. On Sunday, Rezac can come third with a victory or a second place and the other "old men" Anders Aukland and Jörgen Brink can also improve their position.
Elite favorites in Vasaloppet 2019
Lina Korsgren, Team Ramudden. Last year’s winner. Lina can win the Vasaloppet this year again, and I think she has a great chance if the conditions are tricky with snowfall and gusty winds.
Britta Johansson Norgren, Lager 157. Britta is a great favorite on Sunday. But she had a hard time last year and came at 4th place, 10 minutes after Korsgren. But with her victory two years ago and three straight second places before that, she is a very strong candidate to win. The words from Britta before the race: "I've never been better prepared!"
Astrid Øyre Slind, Team Koteng. She has come second in two straight Vasaloppets and is a great candidate to fight for the victory this year. She has the right motivation, but she may not have enough energy during the last kilometers, which is a prerequisite for winning the race.
Katerina Smutna, Ed System Bauer Teams. Once upon a time, she was a sprinter, but for some years she has been a world star as a long distance skier. She won Vasaloppet in 2016, and she won the Visma Ski Classics tour in the same year. So, this is a woman with high capacity. Katerina has performed better and better during the season and can be a tough threat to the Swedish stars Britta and Lina. Smutna never gives up, and it is expected that there will be a fierce battle all the way into the park of Mora.
Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes, Team Ragde Eiendom. Kari was injured last year and had to cancel Vasaloppet, but this year she has shown good shape on longer distances with eg. a second place in La Diagonela and a fourth place in Kaiser Maximilian Lauf. This is her first Vasaloppet, and it usually means that you have a little to learn, but the 34-year-old Norwegian has a long-running experience and she is known to be tactically skilled. So, she will surely perform well on Sunday.
Laila Kveli, Team Tynell. Laila has won Vasaloppet in 2013 and 2014. So, she is a strong Vasaloppet skier. On Sunday, Kveli is goint to have her 9th Vasaloppet, and she showed in Tjejvasan, where she was 6 seconds from the winner, that she is back on the saddle again.
Andreas Nygaard, Team Ragde Eiendom. He was so happy after last year's victory and stated; “Now I can rest calmly in my grave when I die."As a sprint specialist, he killed everyone in the final sprint. Eliassen, who is perhaps the toughest rival for Nygaard, was able to leave Andreas in the last uphill in this year's Marcialonga, but there is no such climb at the end of Vasaloppet. Therefore, I think it will be a replay on last year's Vasaloppet with Nygaard winning after a sprint finish.
Petter Eliassen, Team BN Bank. He won Vasaloppet in 2015. He is an incredibly strong long-distance skier who won Visma Ski Classics in both 2015 and 2016. His tactic is often full speed from start to finish. The question is whether or not a dozen skiers can keep up with him causing a problem for Petter at the end. The weather will determine his strategy and final outcome.
Oskar Kardin, Team Ragde Eiendom. Sweden's big hope in this year's Vasaloppet. His previous Vasaloppet results: ten, ten and eleven. Last year, he had a very good race where he was leading the race 600 meters before the finish line. He has been strong this year with his third places in La Diagonela and Marcialonga. Will it be a Swede on the top of the podium on Sunday?
Tord A Gjerdalen, Team Ragde Eiendom. Gjerdalen is doing his sixth Vasaloppet on Sunday. He has won Visma Ski Classics both in 2017 and 2018 and is fighting for the victory this year again. He is very good at being economical and saving power to the end. Only smart guys can win Vasaloppet! But he has not yet been on the podium in Vasaloppet, and I think there is a bit too much double-poling and no uphills at the end of the course for this Norwegian top skier.
Tore B Berdal, Team Koteng. He made a great race last year even though finishing 21st. He broke away from the pack and led the race by a minute. In retrospect, it can be stated that he started little too early as he had to ski alone over 20 km in fresh snow. But this year, he may have his chance!
Anders Aukland, Team Ragde Eiendom. He is doing his 13th Vasaloppet! He won in 2004 and he has nine top-ten places, which says it all - he is a cruel Vasaloppet skier. Last year's Vasaloppet was yet another incredible achievement as he was a support skier for his team and still managed to finish six seconds behind Nygaard He will again carry on his duties for the team on Sunday and hang on until the finish.
Bob Niemi Impola, Team Serneke. He had the day of his life when he came second in last year's Vasaloppet only 3 seconds behind the winner. Before his great success last year, his only remarkable achievement was the victory in Vasaloppet China in 2015. But he has now gained more self-confidence and feels strong for the race tomorrow. For a guy, who is only semi-professional and trains about 600 hours a year, it is an amazing feat to be on the podium in Vasaloppet, but he is a strong skier lifting 125 kg in bench press. He might surprise again this year!
Anton Karlsson Lager 157. Last season, his only goal was winning the green jersey (sprint cup) and he did that in superior style. Last year, despite his focus on the green bib, he managed to get several good results, but he now wants to win Vasaloppet. He hasn’t been able to show his full capacity yet and he might do that tomorrow.
Stian Hoelgaard, Team Koteng. He is a very good Vasaloppet skier. He has a second place and two thirds in the last three years of Vasaloppet, only cumulative five seconds away from the number one spot within 270 kilometers of skiing. But this season has been very challenging for him as his results in Visma Ski Classics scare nobody: 12, 22, 29, 27 and 12 in Jizerska Padesatka. Stian has now spent a few weeks focusing only on Vasaloppet and I think he is going to have his best race of the season tomorrow.
John Kristian Dahl, Team Koteng. Dahl has won Vasaloppet in 2014, 2016 and 2017. Dahl has a gruesome sprint ability and great capacity to win. In the past years, he has suffered heart problems with fibrillation, and last year’s Vasaloppet was not that impressive as he was 44th. But no one can count him out when it comes to Vasaloppet.
So, set the alarm clock so you can wake up early! If you are just going to watch the race, get some Blueberry soup, make some coffee, bake a plate of cinnamon buns. Read through this analysis once more, while waiting for the buns to be ready, and you are well prepared for the year's sport highlight.