Sunday, May 12, 2019 - 14:15


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By Teemu Virtanen

If the Visma Ski Classics Season IX was truly action-packed with great drama in the men’s competition, it was as thrilling on the women’s side. Britta Johansson Norgren, Lager 157 Ski Team, was extremely strong throughout the winter, and she managed to be on the podium in every race except Reistadløpet and she won four of the 11 individual races. But the season wasn’t just Britta’s game as she had tough rivals who also managed to win races such as Astrid Øyre Slind, Team Koteng, Katerina Smutná, ED System Bauer Team, Lina Korsgren, Team Ramudden and Justyna Kowalczyk, Team Trentino Robinson Trainer.

The season started in Livigno, Italy, where Britta and Astrid went nip and tuck all the way to the end where the former proved to be stronger in the sprint finish.

Britta Johansson Norgren:

“I knew that Astrid is in good shape. I always try to win in every race and get all the possible points, but it will be much harder this year. I felt really strong today and I was confident that I could win, but the tables can turn in Seefeld when Kaiser Maximilian Lauf takes place.”

Then the action moved to Austria, the Olympic region in Seefeld, and the cat and mouse play continued between Britta and Astrid. The Team Koteng skier was really strong in the uphill sections since she went diagonal striding while Britta double-poled. However, Britta managed to get a gap just before the finish and came to the World Championship arena a little ahead of her opponent.

Britta Johansson Norgren:

“I was really tired after Leutasch when we reached the steep climb about 28 km into the race. I had a small gap, but Astrid was able to catch me, but I knew that I had a better glide since I didn’t have any kick wax. When I passed her again about 6 km before the finish, I just focused on my technique and keeping her behind in the final climbs. This was a tough race, and I’m expecting to see another tight fight with Astrid in Switzerland next weekend.”

The following weekend in Switzerland with La Diagonela had a different kind of fight as Katerina Smutná and Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes, Team Ragde Eiendom, presented some great entertainment in the form of a fierce battle in the final climb to the center of Zuoz where the Czech skier showed her sprinting abilities and won the race.

Katerina Smutná:

“This was a tough and cold race with slow snow. But I’m super happy to win again. Now I’m going back to St. Ulrich to prepare for next weekends event, Marcialonga. This victory gave me boost and confidence I’ve been waiting for. It’ll be fun to do the legendary race in Italy.”

On the last Sunday of January, Britta returned to the highest position on the podium in the legendary Marcialonga in Italy. She arrived in Cavalase alone well ahead of her rivals.

Britta Johansson Norgren:

“I had amazing skis and felt so strong. It was a bit back and forth with Lina Korsgren, but I think I did a great tactical race and I felt strong all the way through. Overall it was a great day for me.”

As Toblach-Cortina was canceled, Jizerska 50 was the next event in the pro tour, and again the Jizera Mountains became a great scene for some captivating action as Korsgren, Johansson Norgren and Smutná broke away from the pack and had their own game of chess until the finish. Last year’s Vasaloppet winner was really strong at the end and she managed to get a gap before Smutná and win the race.

Lina Korsgren:

“It’s really cool to win again. It was a tough race, and the snow wasn’t that fast. I noticed that Britta didn’t have good skis and I knew that I could use it for my advantage. About 10 km before the finish, Katerina took a drink and I realized that my moment had come. I increased my speed, and I noticed that she was really tired. It was still a bit nerve-wrecking to ski by myself as I didn’t know how far behind the others were. Now, I’m finally able to go home after five weeks of being on the road and get ready for Vasaloppet.”

After a three-week break, the pro teams and their athletes returned to action in Sweden where the legendary Vasaloppet took place. Britta Johansson Norgren was able to find some suitable male skiers to follow and she skied away from her opponents early on and won the race by almost four minutes before Lina Korsgren.

Britta Johansson Norgren:

“My second win is even better than the first one. I was so tired after Evertsberg, and I was afraid that the other women could eventually catch up. Only about a kilometer before the finish, I realized that I was going to be the winner. It was a tough race, and I’m really worn out right now, both physically and emotionally. But at the same time, I’m so happy!”

A week after Vasaloppet, the first ever skating race in Visma Ski Classics, Engadin Skimarathon in Switzerland, presented a new winner when the Swiss World Cup athlete Nathalie von Siebenthal broke away from Astrid Øyre Slind and Britta Johansson Norgren.

Nathalie von Siebenthal:

“It was a tough race and the pace was high all the time. I’ve got the gap after St. Moritz and I was able to get some help from fast-going male skiers, but I knew that Astrid was chasing me. I’ve got a bit more energy towards the end, and I was able to push hard and win this race.”

The biggest race in Norway, Birkebeinerrennet, was next in the Visma Ski Classics pro tour, and Justyna Kowalczyk pulled off an amazing feat by winning the race for the third consecutive year. She left everyone behind in the second long climb and reached the Lillehammer stadium without anyone in sight.

Justyna Kowalczyk:

“I didn’t expect this to happen. I felt tired after 12 kilometers of skiing, but my skies were so fast. So, I decided to push harder and it worked. I told my coach in the morning that I didn’t feel that strong, but he said that I’m strong and I should just go. It means so much to have this hat trick, three consecutive wins, here at Birken, which is so important to all Norwegians. About my next race, I may do Ylläs-Levi in Finland.”

After Birken, there was again a three-week break until Reistadløpet came about in Northern Norway. The Team Koteng skiers, Astrid Øyre Slind and Masako Ishida managed to get a gap, and they continued their own fight until the end where the former showed us that she is again, like last year, in great shape in the latter part of the season.

Astrid Øyre Slind:

“It was a dream race, I felt fresh and it is fun to be a skier when it is like that. Britta will still be so tough to beat for the climb competition, but I want that bib!”

Astrid got her climb bib and continued her winning streak in Finland where the final race, Ylläs-Levi, of the season took place. She broke away in the last long climb and skied solo to the finish much like she did a year ago.

Astrid Øyre Slind:

“Last year I broke away in a downhill, this year I had to do it in an uphill. It’s tough to ski by yourself for the last 10 km, but luckily I was so pumped up with adrenaline. I’m super-happy with this victory and it’s a really good end of the season. It was very much copy-paste from last year. For next year, my goal is the win the yellow jersey!”

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