By Teemu Virtanen
Since we don’t have a Visma Ski Classics race this weekend, it’s a perfect time to dig deep into the archives and pull out an article written in the fall of 2017. It’s about Team Santander, now known as Team Ragde Eiendom, and that team has had a somewhat challenging season so far. Andreas Nygaard is the Hertz Champion bib holder at the moment, but the defending Champion Tord Asle Gjerdalen has managed to be on the podium twice. La Diagonela was a great success for the team as they had a triple victory there, but the team has faced a fierce competition from other teams such as Lager 157 Ski Team and Team Koteng. Team Ragde Eiendom is currently third in the pro team competition. This is something that the team director Magnar Dalen expected to happen even back in 2017.
Let’s go back in time and find out what Magnar had to say just before the Season XIII kicked off. The article is divided into two parts, and tomorrow you will be able to read what Jørgen Aukland had in mind at the end of 2017.
TEAM SANTANDER – STILL THE FORCE TO BEAT
As I’m sitting on the train to Rovaniemi, on my way to Levi, I can’t help myself from looking outside to see the last signs of this summer reminding me of a song that I used to listen to at the tender age of my early adulthood. The words still echo in my mind and I can hear the lead singer John Wetton belting out that “the summer can’t last too long.” Rest in peace Mr. Wetton and enjoy the greener pastures wherever you are. The Asia vocalist really knew what he was singing about.
The fact is that the summer is always too short. At least here in the vicinity of the Arctic Circle where we don’t have the luxury of enjoying endless heat waves and gloriously bright and sunny days. But we are not complaining as the end of the summer means that the beginning of the winter is looming in the distance. Well, we need to stumble through a transitional period where those green leaves turn to multiple colors and days get shorter and colder. That’s the time we call fall, or autumn where the Oxford English is still the lexicon to go by.
Actually, the fall season is quite nice. It’s relatively comfortable to train in the brisk weather whenever it isn’t raining like cats and dogs, which it does quite often here in the land of the northern lights. The fall also means that there are not many months left before the ski season is in full gear, and that puts a nice spin on everyone’s exercise routine. There’s no time to fuss about as the first race is coming quicker than we can blink our eyes. Our training sessions get more intense, and we keep running up to the attic to check out our winter gear. Soon we can take them out and start enjoying the perks of the magical winter season.
This time of the year is also important for Visma Ski Classics pro teams as the long days of summer are fading away giving room for the long nights of fall. Indeed, this is the time when the teams finish up their VSC registrations, conclude their team rosters and leave behind their summer camps. So, this is a perfect time to catch up with them, and who would be better than the number one gang in the club; Team Santander.
The team has enjoyed a great summer as the members had a kick-off session with their title sponsor in June followed by a training camp in Bö in Telemark, Norway. The skiers also participated in two roller ski races, Olaf Skogslunds Minnelöp and Blinkfestivalen, in July, and the roller ski action continued last weekend when the world’s largest summer ski event Alliansloppet took place in Sweden. And as expected Team Santader was conspicuously present at these events gaining several podium places. The team remains in Trollhättan where the team’s sport director Magnar Dalen can be reached. He is in his usual perky mood, and why not, Team Santander seems to be stronger than ever (is that even possible?).
“Our summertime training consists of a variety of activities,” Magnar declares confidently. “Our athletes do a lot of roller-skiing, running and strength training. But not only that as many do cycling either on mountain bikes or on roads. Others do kayaking, orienteering and some of us have been down in Livigno, Italy, for an extra camp. We all know that we need to ski faster than last year in order to have the same success. The competition is getting harder as it should!”
When asked about the secret of his team’s success, Magnar is quick to reply by stating bluntly that it all boils down to training hard but not too hard. The key things are to avoid overtraining, to stay healthy and work on technique, capacity and tactics. He is also happy about the changes made in the race calendar for the upcoming season as it will leave some weekends off and have 11 races instead of 13.
Despite the great success that Team Santander has gained over the years, many have also criticized the team for having too much focus on Norwegian power and becoming almost like a national team on its own. Magnar is, however, willing to contradict the notion by saying that the team is not only carrying the flag of Norway as Oskar Kardin from Sweden is their new recruitment. Magnar admits that now after Kateriná Smutna and Justyna Kowalczyk have jumped ship and the new set of team competition rules have been presented, the fight for the number one spot is harsher than ever.
“United Bakeries, Lager 157, Pioneer Investments, BN Bank and many other teams will be our fiercest opponents come the new season,” Magnar says without hesitation. “But we have a good team and organization. Jørgen and Anders Aukland are the owners of the team, and the latter is still racing while the former acts like a manager responsible for sponsorships and such. He’s working at the office, but he will come with me to the most important races next season, but the rest he will skip and stay with his family. That leaves me to take care of training camps and races. I’m really happy with the set-up we have here between the three of us. We all have a lot of experience and skills, and combined we will thrive.”
It’s hard to argue with Magnar, and the truth of the matter is that his team has contributed a great deal to long distance skiing. The Aukland brothers are true legends of the sport and their eternally burning passion moves mountains, which we need in order to see long distance skiing surviving in the midst of the ever-changing world. Speaking of that, how does Magnar see the future of Visma Ski Classics and mass start events?
“Long distance ski races will grow! There are many athletes from the FIS World Cup reaching out to see what this particular sport is about. So after the Olympics in 2018 and specially the World Championships in 2019, I think there will be many standard distance skiers testing out long distances. The most important thing for us to do is to make sure that we will always have a great variety of races with different course profiles. This is not a stadium sport and it will never be such. We need to be out in the open surrounded by beautiful nature and scenery. And where else can you have pro and amateur athletes together doing the same race. It’s really wonderful to see those huge crowds of people moving ahead mile after mile. I also believe that we can present an exciting show for spectators and TV viewers because these races usually offer suspense and drama, and of course great endings.”
Before letting Magnar go and carry out his duties at the on-going camp, it’s time to ask him how he keeps himself so motivated after all these years.
“The motivation is there as long as I can keep motivating our athletes. To see those young athletes with their big dreams and hunger for success, working hard for their goals, keeps me motivated. Also, understanding and knowing the importance of taking care of my skiers. I know that cross-country skiing isn’t the biggest sport in the world, but we have to work hard to keep it alive. Not just for pro skiers, but for everyone regardless who they are; young, old, elite, amateurs, men, women. Everyone who crosses the finish line in a ski event is a winner, and that’s the spirit we need to nurture!”
Well said Magnar! We all are winners and we certainly deserve to be treated as such.
To be continued tomorrow!