By Teemu Virtanen
Vasaloppet, the world’s biggest ski race that started in 1922, will once again take place on the first Sunday of March, 3rd. More than 15,000 participants are ready for their 90 km journey from Sälen to Mora in Sweden. The mass start of the race, including both the pro men and pro women, is at 8:00 am CET. The extremely warm weather has challenged the organizers, but the experienced team has no fears or concerns for this Sunday.
“There’s water on some of the lakes,” Tommy Höglund, Sport Manager of Vasaloppet, says while checking out Halvvasan on Tuesday. “We have changed the course a bit just before Evertsberg, the halfway point. But it’s in great and fast shape at the moment. Former Vasaloppet winner Oskar Svärd managed to ski the whole course by himself in four hours and one minute. The weather should get a bit colder towards the end of the week. Let’s just hope that it won’t snow or rain on Sunday, which may be the case.”
If it snows on Sunday, the organizers will have a solution for keeping the tracks open. They have new forerunners who are not going to be skiers behind scooters as before but weights put on sledges with mounted skis.
“Besides that change, we now have fluor free waxing stations during the race and absolutely no littering except within the designated litter zones,” Tommy continues. “We hope that our elite skiers will understand that we also have thousands of other skiers doing the race, and we cannot always make the best possible decisions for the fastest 200 elite skiers.”
When considering all possible factors contributing to the success of Vasaloppet, Tommy Höglund credits the Swedish mentality, the National Television of Sweden and great marketing.
“We’ve been extremely lucky as we have maintained our status as a must-do race in Sweden. I think there is some kind of a finisher mentality within the Swedes that makes our race so popular. You just have to do Vasaloppet at least once in your lifetime, and once you have done it, you become a proud finisher. It’s something you can brag about at dinner tables and barbeques.”
Tommy admits that there is a slight drop in participation numbers in other events during the week, but the main brand remains untouched. However, he would like to see more foreign skiers in the main race and in other events as well. He thinks that Visma Ski Classics can assist in getting more attention outside of Sweden, and he is very happy to have the long distance world championship tour as a cooperation partner.
“Visma Ski Classics guarantees that we have the best long distance skiers available in our race. We don’t need to go chasing them, and it’s easy to work with the Visma Ski Classics team. They know who we are and we know what they need. We have a very strong television broadcast tradition here in Sweden, but Visma Ski Classics offers us an outlet to the world out there.”
For any event to prosper and evolve, the organizers always need to have their eyes on future development. There is no rest for the wicked, and Tommy knows that very well.
“There are always discussions about new things to do and new events to be included. But we already have so many activities during the week, and we need to have days off for our volunteers. We can’t push them too much. That being said, we can toy with new ideas, and perhaps even take away some of the existing events if new ideas sound exciting enough.”
Now when a skating race has entered the Visma Ski Classics tour, it is time to ask Tommy about Vasaloppet’s plans to include a free technique event.
“We already have Nattvasan, the night race with headlights in two-person teams, but of course we have discussed about it. I think every long distance ski event has done so. Only time will tell if we are going to have one, and as I said before we need to evaluate the overall offering and the workload of our team and volunteers before changing our portfolio.”
Indeed, Vasaloppet is the strongest brand in the ski world, and everything the organizers tend to come up with is usually welcomed with open arms. But the Sunday’s race is always the icing on the cake, and that is the case this year as well. When predicting possible winners and podium skiers, Vasaloppet always comes with surprises.
Many experienced skiers such as John Kristian Dahl, Team Koteng, Stanislav Rezac, Slavia Pojistovna Team, and Jörgen Brink, JBrink Ski Team, tend to do their best race of the season in Vasaloppet. There is usually a sprint finish at the end leaving a door ajar for many dark horses to enter the podium such as last year’s second Bob Impola, Team Serneke.
However, it is quite obvious that the winners from last year Andreas Nygaard, Team Radge Eiendom, and Lina Korsgren, Team Ramudden, are the number one favorites as they both won in Jizerska 50 three weeks ago and they are in great shape. Nygaard will face a fierce competition from his teammates Tord Asle Gjerdalen and Oskar Kardin, Petter Eliassen, who was sick in Jizerska 50, and Ari Luusua, Team Mäenpää, 3rd in Jizerska 50, whose main goal of the season is to do well in Vasaloppet.
There are countless other potential candidates for the podium places such as Tore Bjørseth Berdal, Team Koteng, Morten Eide Pedersen, Team BN Bank, Ilya Chernousov and Alexis Jeannerod, ED System Bauer Team, Anders Aukland, Team Radge Eiendom, and even last year’s third Stian Hoelgaard, Team Koteng, whose season has been very challenging so far.
In the women’s race, Korsgren will have to fight against the usual suspects Britta Johansson Norgren, Lager 157 Ski Team, Katerina Smutná, ED System Bauer Team, and Astrid Øyre Slind, Team Koteng. Justyna Kowalczyk, Team Trentino Robinson Trainer, is also a force to be reckoned with, but she might be a bit worn out from her duties at the World Championships in Seefeld, Austria