By Teemu Virtanen
There are now four Visma Ski Classics events left in the season, and the next one, Engadin Skimarathon, is also the first free technique race in the tour’s history. This 42 km skating race from Maloja, 1,820 meters a.s.l., to S-chanf, 1,670 meters a.s.l., takes place in the famous Engadin valley in Switzerland that also annually hosts another Visma Ski Classics event La Diagonela.
On Sunday, March 10, the elite women start at 8:25 am CET and the elite men follow at 8:30 am CET. There are 14,200 registered participants who will embark on their ski journey after the elite in the wave start format.
Engadin Skimarathon is the biggest ski race in Central-Europe and one of the most renowned winter sporting events in the world. The first race took place in 1969, and today about 1,500 volunteers lend a hand on the day of the race. There are two Visma Ski Classics sprint competition points on the course; in St. Mortiz at 15 km and in La Punt Chamues at 33 km. There are no climb competition points in the race.
Several World Cup skiers are heading to Switzerland from Seefeld, Austria, where the FIS Nordic World Championships just ended. Among them are the Swiss superstar Dario Cologna, who has won the race three times, and the entire Swiss National Team, the strong French team, who managed to get the bronze medal in the relay event in Seefeld; Maurice Manificat, Clément Parisse and Adrien Backscheider and their countrymen Jules Lapierre, Jean Marc Gaillard, Robin Duvillard and Renaud Jay. Last year’s winner Roman Furger is going to defend his title, although his recent results have not been promising. Petter Northug from Norway and Dietmar Noeckler from Italy have also registered for the race.
These standard distance skiers will face a fierce battle against Visma Ski Classics pro athletes who are entering a somewhat unfamiliar territory as they do not race in free technique in any other Visma Ski Classics event. However, most of them use skating as an exercise method to balance the workload from their extensive double-poling workouts.
The biggest Visma Ski Classics favorites to chase after the podium places in Switzerland are Tord Asle Gjerdalen, Team Ragde Eiendom, who has performed well in skating races in the past, Petter Eliassen, Team BN Bank, whose best World Cup race was a skating one before he started long distance skiing, Ilya Chernousov, ED System Bauer Team, who won the race in 2015, and Chris Andre Jespersen, Team Koteng, who finished 5th in the World Cup race in December last year and 6th in the 15 km event in the 2014 Olympics in Russia.
In the women’s race, the three-time event winner Anouk Faivre-Picon from France and the Swiss team members Nathalie von Siebenthal and Nadine Fähndrich will go against the Vasaloppet winner Britta Johansson Norgren, Lager 157 Ski Team, Astrid Øyre Slind, Team Koteng, who won a skating race in the Scandinavian Cup earlier this season, Lina Korsgren, Team Ramudden, Katerina Smutná, ED System Bauer Team, Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes, Team Ragde Eiendom, and Heli Heiskanen, Vltava Fund Team, who has won many free technique long distance races in Finland and Central-Europe.