By Teemu Virtanen
Since we are only a few days away from the Season X calendar announcement, it is time to look ahead and start getting ready for the perks that the new season will bring us and of course the summer before that. However, as a final nod of appreciation to the past season, which was truly amazing, we can go back and recall each race by reading what the winners said right after crossing the finish line. Today, we will bring back all the quotes from the men’s races and tomorrow we will give the spotlight to the ladies.
The Individual Prologue in Livigno, Italy, was the first race of the season before Christmas, and we remember how Team BN Bank dominated the race there. It was also a scene of two great comebacks as Øystein Pettersen won the race and his teammate Petter Eliassen finished 4th after a year-long retirement.
“This is the greatest day of my life. We’ve worked so hard for this team and built everything up from scratch and to have a glorious day like this is beyond my wildest dreams. I value this victory even more than my Olympic success. For a while, it seemed that I may not be able to perform at this level again, but I’ve been healthy this year and my training has proceeded really well. And it’s great to have Petter in our team and being as strong as ever.”
The action continued in Seefeld, Austria, in mid-January and Team BN Bank continued their dominance taking home their second triple victory. By winning the race, Eliassen showed us all that he was truly the comeback king and he was here to stay.
“Morten started really fast and after the climb point we had a good lead. We just wanted to keep up the pace and make sure that the chasing group can’t catch up. Everything worked very much according to our plan. At the end, we just wanted to make sure that Vetle is not on the podium. Tough races like this wear you out and I’m sure that other skiers will get closer to us once the season continues. We’re in a really good shape now, and we hope to keep going like this.”
A week later, the tables were turned in La Diagonela, Switzerland, and the reigning pro team champion Team Ragde Eiendom returned to the fold and did exactly what Team BN Bank had done in the first two races; took home all podium places. And the race presented Andreas Nygaard his first victory of the season.
“It is fantastic to be back on the podium. Today was such a team performance with great skis. It’s really incredible to have all of our guys on the podium. As always, there was a high speed up to St. Moritz, but then everything slowed down, and I just wanted to save energy for the last 3 km.”
The end of January means only one thing in Visma Ski Classics; the legendary Marcialonga in Italy. Petter Eliassen was finally able to achieve his lifelong goal to win the race. He took up the reins early on and kept a high pace and broke away in the final Cascata climb to Cavalese.
“My tactic was to keep as high speed as possible from the start. It was a big group of skiers with only 10 km left and to speed up the pace to make the others tired was my advantage. When I approached the Cascata hill and was looking forward to the tough climb, it was a good sign.”
The following weekend, Toblach-Cortina, Italy, was canceled due to extreme weather conditions, which meant that pro skiers had a weekend off unless they decided to race elsewhere. The Visma Ski Classics pro tour continued a week later in the Czech Republic when one of the biggest ski races in Central Europe, Jizerska Padesatka, took place in perfect winter conditions.
Andreas Nygaard continued his reign showing again his sprinting prowess while Lina Korsgren managed to get her second Visma Ski Classics stage win after her victory in Vasaloppet in 2018 (you can read her comment tomorrow).
“It seems that every time I’m sick and bedridden I come back stronger. I felt really strong today, and we had good skis. It was a hard race from the beginning, and the weather kept changing making it quite challenging. We knew about Morten’s tactic, but this time we were able to keep up with him. Now, I’m going home and I will do a local race there next weekend and get ready for defending my Vasaloppet title.”
There was a three-week break after Jizerska, and the tour reconvened in Sweden when the greatest ski race in the world, Vasaloppet, took place on the first Sunday of March. The conditions were extremely challenging as it kept snowing throughout the race making this year’s edition one of the slowest in recent history. Team Koteng came up with a sensational tactical maneuver that left everyone else eating their dust. Tore Bjørseth Berdal broke away only about five kilometers before the finish and won his first Visma Ski Classics race.
Tore Bjørseth Berdal:
“I’m taken by this victory. Our captain John Kristian Dahl organized our troops and manipulated this victory for me. My teammates blocked the way, and John just shouted to me that it was time to go. I did what was asked and kept thinking that I have to be stronger than last year when I was in a similar breakaway as well. This is an amazing day for me and our team, a dream come true!”
A week after Vasaloppet, the pro teams headed towards Switzerland where the first ever skating race, Engadin Skimarathon, was next in line. The short race was dominated by World Cup skiers, but Visma Ski Classics athletes put up a good fight as Anders Gløersen, Team Oslo Sportslager – Rustad IL, finished 3rd, Chris Jespersen 7th and Petter Eliassen 8th. The Swiss superstar Dario Cologna won the race after a tight sprint.
“I didn’t expect the race to be this fast. Visma Ski Classics skiers wanted to set the pace and we went fast from the beginning. But it suited me well. I was happy to see only seven skiers at the end, but I wasn’t that confident about winning. But I got lucky and had a good sprint at the end. This was the most competitive field I’ve seen in this race due to Visma Ski Classics and the French National Team skiers. I won’t be able to do more Visma Ski Classics races this year, but perhaps next year.”
The following weekend, the action returned to Scandinavia as the biggest ski race in Norway, Birkebeinerrennet, welcomed our pro teams and their athletes. Once again, Petter Eliassen proved to be too strong for the other players in the game. He seemed to be out of this world as he broke away in the first climb and skied solo all the way to the finish.
“This went according to our plan. This is a good race and great course for me. I attacked early on and managed to keep the gap. I just tried to focus on my own performance and make sure that I won’t encounter any unwanted mishaps on the way. It was a perfect day for our team, and I’m happy that my teammates did so well, too.”
After Birken, the pro teams and their skiers had another three-week break before Reistadløpet, the hardest course in the tour, took place in Northern Norway above the arctic circle. New faces graced the podium, and Petter Eliassen was the best Visma Ski Classics athlete and the only one among the top skiers who double-poled without kick wax. Mikael Gunnulfsen, Team Telemark, was the fastest man in the sprint and won the race.
'I didn't believe that I had it in me to win! The key was not to burn too much energy too early, I tried to stay calm for the finish and was able to do that better than the rest.”
The action-filled season ended in Finland where Ylläs-Levi once again hosted the finale and the glamorous gala night with the award ceremony. Before the race, there was a lot excitement in the air as Andreas Nygaard and Petter Eliassen were neck and neck fighting for the Hertz Champion title. The former proved to be extremely strong as he broke away in the last climb and managed to win his first race without sprinting at the end. The victory also sealed the championship title and Nygaard become the King of Season IX.
“Finally a solo victory and the best possible way to end the season. I felt super-strong the whole way and we had good skis. The plan wasn’t to attack and go solo, but I pushed hard in the deep uphill and nobody followed. I tried not to kill myself, and for the first time I’m crossing the finish line by myself in the front. That’s really nice! And I got the champion title as well. Unfortunately, Petter didn’t have a good day, but this was the best possible way to end the season.”