By Teemu Virtanen
On stage, the lights shine brightly, the drama unfolds before the very eyes of the excited audience and the actors utter their lines with passion and conviction. The lead actors seem larger than life and the supporting players carry their torch as the show must go on, and it will go on as long as there are captivating stories to tell and audiences ready to be engaged in the mysteries of the show business.
Sports is show business at its best and its stage is any given game, race, competition, tournament or event. In Nordic skiing, the Visma Ski Classics Pro Tour is the stage where all ski events present their individual theatrical plays and pro teams with their athletes are the dramatic players; some of them play the lead and some are content with their supporting roles. Nevertheless, during the wintertime thrilling stories come to life, great battles are being fought, some tragedies rip us apart and glorious scenes enchant us every weekend. Isn’t Visma Ski Classics the greatest play William Shakespeare never wrote?
In this wonderful play of Visma Ski Classics, there is one supporting player who always delivers, who is constant in his performance, who is a man with great words and charisma and who knows what it takes to get the lead role, to become the star of the play. He is Øyvind Moen Fjeld, who supported Team Ragde Eiendom’s star skiers with pride and honor for four years, and he is now ready to be the brightest movie star in the blockbuster film we call Visma Ski Classics.
Before we let the man open up, let’s find out who he is outside of the Visma Ski Classics stage. He loves cycling and watching it on TV, his favorite movie is “The Shawshank Redemption”, the best band Coldplay, his greatest memory from his childhood is playing football with his friends, and he doesn’t really have any heroes or idols, except his girlfriend, but he fondly remembers the time when he had a chance to train with Vegard Ulvang, a ski legend and his countryman.
With no further ado, let’s give a round of applause to this great star-in-making and let the spotlight shine upon this charismatic player, whose time in the headlines is about to come. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, this is Mr. Øyvind Moen Fjeld, a man who never shies away from extremely long distances and challenges beyond our wildest dreams.
1. Firstly, about your new team - what are your expectations and hopes for being part of Lager 157 Ski Team?
- I hope that being part of Lager 157 can make me a better skier and that I at the same time can help my new teammates to develop as skiers as well. Changing environment and getting new impulses will hopefully be a good way to take steps in the right direction. At the same time, I know that my training has been solid for the last years, so I will not make too many changes.
2. What did you learn from being a vital member of Team Santander/Ragde Eiendom?
- During the 4 years I was a member of Team Santander/Ragde Eiendom, I trained and lived with a lot of legends like the Aukland brothers, Johan Olsson, Tord Asle Gjerdalen, Justyna Kowalcyck, Katarina Smutna, Iivo Niskanen, Andreas Nygaard and several others. Combined, they have so much experience and knowledge. Just by watching how they train, what they do besides skiing and how they rest, you learn. For me, being new to long distance skiing when I started in the spring of 2015, that was a real inspiration. I knew right away what level I needed to reach. I have also really appreciated the team spirit and working together to reach our goals. Being away on training camps and races is much easier when you travel with your friends.
3. You have always been a solid support skier until Ylläs-Levi this season, were you content with your role back then and do you think that your role will be elevated now in the Swedish team? What's your goal for the Season X?
- In most of the Visma Ski Classics races, I have started the race with my role being a support skier. However, many of the races develop in a way that makes it difficult or impossible to “help”. In the end, cross-country skiing is still an individual sport in my opinion. In Levi we had one goal; for Andreas to win the yellow bib. Both Joar, Oskar, Anders and myself contributed to catch Morten Eide Pedersen, who was in a breakaway. When Andreas outraced the rest of us in the last uphill, we knew the yellow bib was safe. I felt good and was able to get away with the chasing group. Finishing off with a good sprint, I was really happy to finally step up on the podium. In Lager 157, I will be able to (finally) focus 100 % on trying to achieve the best results possible for me. However, there is a long training period ahead and things might change. If it turns out that my teammates are much stronger than me during the race season (as many of them were in the first races of the season this year), I will of course do my best to help them out. My goal for Season X is to develop as a skier. If I manage to do that, hopefully it will lead to more podiums and maybe being able to challenge for the win in a race for the first time?
4. Speaking of your podium place at Ylläs-Levi, how did it feel to finally reach that level and how much is it going to change your future chances?
- To finally be able to step up on the podium was a great feeling. Since my first 4th place in Vasaloppet 2016, I have had two 4th places and three 5th places in addition to several other top 10 results. I knew that I was strong enough for a podium place, but several factors like good shape, good skies and no duties as a supporter skier have to work out at the same time. Finally, in Levi, things worked out. Achieving a goal you have worked for a long time is a great feeling. Whether this will make it easier to get on the podium next time, I don’t know. Hopefully, the answer is yes, but honestly, I doubt it. Every race has its own life. If I can manage to come to Season X a little stronger than this season, I will be satisfied. Hopefully that will lead to more podium places as well.
5. How and why did you choose to be a long distance skier?
- By the spring of 2015 I had been a distance skier for 7 years (as a senior). I had done one World Cup race, the 50 km in Holmenkollen in 2014, finishing 27th, and my three best Norwegian Championship results were achieved at the 50 km. I beat many of the Ski Classics athletes at Birkebeinerennet in 2015 and I also did well at the 120 km edition of Troll Ski Marathon that spring. In short, I enjoyed skiing the long distance races and it also felt like I had some talent in competing for many hours. Nils Marius Otterstad and Anders and Jørgen Aukland wanted to try me out and gave me a spot on the team. I still remember the day Jørgen called me, it was a great feeling.
6. What are your favorite races in the pro tour and why?
- Difficult question, as many of them are really nice. I like Vasaloppet since it is the longest and suits me well. Races like Birkebeinerrennet, Ylläs-Levi and Kaiser Maximillian Lauf are also really nice. They are all quite long, have a good variation of terrain and have a stunning scenery.
7. You, much like Andreas Nygaard, love truly long distances, e.g. Nordenskiöldsloppet, and those extreme challenges seem to work in your favor. It didn't for Petter Eliassen, but how would you explain the fact that you and Nygaard peaked after Nordenskiöldsloppet this season?
- For me, Nordenskiöldsloppet is one of the highlights of the season and it is really interesting to see that the body can recover from the effort in such a short amount of time. Both Andreas and I were a bit nervous taking part in Nordenskioldsloppet this year as Reistadløpet was only one week later, but it turned out to be a success for both of us. Why, it’s difficult to say, but in cycling you can see some of the same signs after long stage races. In the days and weeks after the race some of the cyclists do stellar performances. I think that a race like Nordenskiöldsloppet can make your shape turn both ways. If you are a little bit tired, sick or injured, a long race like that might be the end of the season. If you are 100 % fit and rested when starting the race, I believe you could end up even stronger than you were before. In addition, I think there is some sort of talent for handling those extreme races and that talent is not necessarily connected to your performance in races under 4 hours.
8. Generally speaking, should we have more long distances in the pro tour?
- I would really enjoy more of the longer races in the tour. Today all races (besides Vasaloppet) are between 50 and 70 km. Maybe it is time to look at the possibilities of increasing the length of some them. To me it seems like both participants and spectators are fascinated by the extremes. Including Nordenskiöldsloppet or other long distance races to Visma Ski Classics would definitely draw attention to the sport, to the skiers, to the sponsors and be a great addition to the tour.
9. What are your training plans for the summer & what is your favorite workout?
- Except for less altitude training, my training plan for the summer is pretty similar to the previous years. That means a lot of long sessions on roller-skies in addition to some intervals. Finding the balance between training and resting is the key in my summer training plan. My favorite summer workout is 3-4 hours easy double poling in nice weather.
10. The next year will be the 10th anniversary for Visma Ski Classics - looking towards the next 10, what improvements and developments would you like to see from a pro athlete's point of view?
- As mentioned above, I would like to have longer races in the tour. Besides that, I think we should strengthen and build on what we already are best at: double poling long distance races. In both skating races and races with kick wax, there are other skiers beating us. In my opinion the Visma Si Classic pro tour might end up becoming more or less a B-World Cup, if the tour contains both skating, kick wax and double poling races. I also think it would be good to categorize the climbs in the climb competition. It is not fair that there are the same amount of points for winning the climb in La Sgambeda and the climb on top of Orta in Reistadløpet. In my opinion, you could have three or four different categories. Then there could be 2-3 climb sprints in each race, also those, which are flatter.