By Teemu Virtanen
The 8th stage of the Visma Ski Classics Pro Tour, Jizerska Padesatka, is only two days away, and it will be certain that this Sunday will be an action-packed day. The 50 km race has always had its own appeal with a unique atmosphere and a challenging course.
There are certain Pro Team athletes who seem to perform really well in the Jizera Mountains. Morten Eide Pedersen, Team Kaffebryggeriet, has three wins under his belt, and those are his only victories in the Pro Tour. Katerina Smutná, ED System Bauer Team, knows how to race on her home turf as does Stanislav Rezac, Slavia Pojistovna Sport Team. The former has two Jizerska victories and two second places while the former has won the race three times in the past. Lina Korsgren, Team Ramudden, won the race last year and the course seems to fit her well. All of these athletes, besides Rezac, are strong favorites to be the fastest skier on Sunday.
As this season has presented us some twists and turns, it isn’t an easy feat to predict potential winners or podium skiers. But let’s start the guessing game, and we should keep in mind that surprises are most likely going to happen once again.
In the women’s race, besides the aforementioned Katerina and Lina, there is one notable absentee. Last weekend’s third Anastasia Vlasova, Russian Winter Team, won’t pack her bags and travel to the Czech Republic, and she will be replaced by a young athlete from Finland, Rebecca Immonen. Astrid Øyre Slind, Team Koteng, felt under the weather last Saturday, but she raced anyway. That was probably not a good decision as she is still feeling the strain from the race.
That leaves us with two more athletes who have the power and stamina to win the race. They are, of course, Britta Johansson Norgen, Lager 157 Ski Team, who has always been on the podium since 2016, two victories, and Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes, Team Koteng, who became the Queen of Marcialonga this winter. These two had an extremely tight fight at Toblach-Cortina, and they are prepared to repeat the action again this weekend.
Roxaine Lacgoix, ED System Bauer Team, has been strong this season and she performed really well in Italy, 7th, but to win a race is a hefty challenge for her. The young athletes from Team Ramudden, Ida Dahl and Jenny Larsson, and from Team Ragde Eiendom, Emilie Fleten and Thea Krogan Murud, can reach the podium if they have a perfect day.
In the men’s race, Morten is, as always, one of the strongest favorites, and he showed us last Saturday that he is capable of a breakaway if need be. Speaking of breakaways, Petter Eliassen, Team Ragde Eiendom, doesn’t really any other tactic than attack either on the first climb or the second. But who will be able to follow this time around?
Last weekend’s winner Andreas Nygaard, who also won Jizerska 50 last winter, caught up with his teammate Petter only a few kilometers before the finish of Toblach-Cortina, and if he can be close enough to Petter after the last long climb, he can easily do the same at Jizerska 50. His teammate Tore Asle Gjerdalen pushed hard last weekend, and he is getting to be tired of not having any wins this season. He will fight tooth and nail against anyone standing his way.
What will Team Kaffebryggeriet’s leader Vetle Thyli, Lager 157 Ski Team guys, Team Koteng and Ari Luusua do? Marcus Johansson managed to be on the podium again at Toblach-Cortina and he is a fast sprinter. So, if there’s a sprint finish, he can get his third podium place. However, his teammates Emil Persson, Andreas Holmberg and the new recruit Daniel Richardsson have an equal chance to be there, and even to win the race. Ari got his first and only podium place, 3rd, at Jizerska last season, and he has performed solidly throughout the winter. Team Koteng has been dancing around a looming sickness, and Chris Andre Jespersen, La Diagonela winner, is out, and Stian Hoelgaard has taken easy since the last weekend. But Tore Bjørseth Berdal is ready to face the fight.
Finally, this season’s rising stars, the Russian Winter Team Pro Athletes, have more podium places in their mind, and Alexander Grebenko and Alexey Dvoskin are racing this weekend. We should pay a close attention to them as they can take more podium trophies and prize money to Russia when they travel back home after this weekend.