By Teemu Virtanen
In Season X of the Visma Ski Classics Pro Tour, the sprint competition, in both genders, presented many thrilling moments to the audience around the world and to the athletes themselves. There were 10 sprint competition points in nine races, and some of them were quite early in the race and others much farther down the line.
The sprint winners of the season, Lina Korsgren, Team Ramudden, and Stian Berg, Team Kaffebryggeriet, admit that the competition was much fun, albeit hard work. For both of them, Vasaloppet was the highlight of the season. Lina dominated the women’s race while Stian showed his tactical prowess and managed to win the sprint competition over his rivals.
Here’s a Q&A with the sprint stars for your reading pleasure.
How would you describe this year's sprint competition and what does it mean to you to win this particular category?
Lina: “There were really tight sprints between Britta and me this year, and they were fun! When I took the green jersey at the sprint in Evertsberg, I felt really proud because I knew I would get the first ever jersey at the flower ceremony!”
Stian: “This year’s sprint competition was tough, especially with several sprint points placed in the middle of the races. The fight against Novak, Kardin and Panzhinskiy was also intense, exciting and tough. For me, the green bib has been the main goal since I started up my training right after Ylläs-Levi last year. And of course, I’m really happy and proud to reach my goal. To set goals and manage to reach them is a fantastic feeling and something every athlete is working for.”
Which was your favorite race in terms of the sprint points and why?
Lina: “I think that La Diagonela is the best sprint race. Unfortunately, I was sick this year. It’s a race with two sprints with a possibility for a quite big group coming into the sprints.”
Stian: “Definitely Vasaloppet. Together with Øystein Pettersen, we laid out a plan in the days before. We knew that the snowfall would make it difficult and tough, but often in difficult conditions, it is possible to do crazy things. The goal was to achieve a breakaway and win both sprints in Mångsbodarna and Evertsberg. I made it, and no other sprinter managed to take points. I took a risk but won by sticking to my tactical choice.”
How would you like to develop the sprint competition for the future?
Lina: “I think we could have more sprints during our races. Why not a sprint at some events after just one or two kilometers of skiing?”
Stian: “I think this year’s competition had a good mix of sprints. Some early spots in the races, some in the middle, some with both, and I also think it is good to have a few races without sprints, so I can also go for a good overall result without using a lot of power to get some sprint points. Maybe more sprints could be added to certain races, but with fewer points for each sprint. For example, 3-4 sprints at Vasaloppet, or in races with multiple laps like in Livigno.”
How are you going to defend this title and what are your primary goals for the next season?
Lina: “To develop my speed, which I also need for possible sprint finishes to be a challenger of the Yellow jersey.”
Stian: “Like many other previous winners, I’m also aiming for the Yellow one. It’s probably too early yet, but I have a 5-year plan where the Yellow one is the main goal. We will see if I am going to defend the Green bib title or going for some new goals. I definitely like to be an offensive skier, that is for sure. So, I’m going for action next season!”
Pro Team directors Gustaf Korslund, Team Ramudden, and Vetle Thyli, Team Kaffebryggeriet, say that the sprint victories really boost their team’s spirits and give them new opportunities. Thyli is extremely proud of his team's two competition wins (Climb & Sprint in the men's competition), and he hopes that this prestige will help to get more sponsors. Gustaf Korsgren agrees and offers his insight on how to develop the sprint competition and the Pro Tour.
”It’s important for our young athletes to be offensive and do sprints during our races! It’s also important for our supporters who are following us to have something to cheer for during the races. I think we could have some more sprints, but it’s important that the locations are suitable for sprinters. The Pro Team competition needs to get more exposure. Maybe a prize at the flower ceremony for winning a Team or Team Manager award. If we highlight that competition much more than just focusing on the top three teams, I think it will have positive effects on the whole Pro Tour!”