By Teemu Virtanen
The new year has started, and the Visma Ski Classics Season X resumes to action with this Saturday’s Kaiser Maximilian Lauf in Seefeld, Austria. This 60 km race is the first event with a longer distance and the first one of the five-weekend stretch that ends with Jizerska Padesatka in the Czech Republic. The Pro Teams and their athletes have had a chance to prepare and train for the demanding “January Madness” over the holiday break, and they are now eager to show the results of their labor.
Speculating potential great performers is always a gamble, but it is safe to say that last year’s winners Petter Eliassen, Team Ragde Eiendom, and Britta Johansson Norgren, Lager 157 Ski Team, would be the strongest favorites, but Petter has fallen ill and is thus unable to race on Saturday. Britta is, on the other hand, ready to turn the tables and return to her usual winning mode. But to win at Kaiser Maximilian Lauf is no easy feat to anyone, and there are several opponents who have set their sights on the highest spot on the podium.
In the men’s race, the winner of the last race Ermil Vokuev, Russian Winter Team, said after his victory that Kaiser Maximilian Lauf is his next goal, and he was really strong at La Venosta. It would be no surprise to see him on the podium. The same goes for Astrid Øyre Slind, Team Koteng, whose superior performance at La Venosta must have surprised Britta and the others quite a bit.
However, Britta was really strong at Craft Ski Marathon last weekend, and this weekend’s race takes place at lower altitude than the races before which suits her very well. The course is perfect for both Britta and Astrid, and we should expect to see a very tight fight between these two.
Team Ragde Eiendom has not performed as well as expected yet, but they will be much stronger this Saturday. The reigning Champion Andreas Nygaard and his teammates Tord Asle Gjerdalen and Oskar Kardin are strong candidates for the podium. If Andreas keeps up with possible breakaway skiers, he will be hard to beat in a sprint finish.
Speaking of breakaways, a potential one is likely to take place after the flat section in the Leutasch valley when the course goes back to the forest. This attack could possibly be achieved by the Team Kaffebryggeriet duo Morten Eide Pedersen and Vetle Thyli. These two guys have shown their capacity and have been extremely strong this season. Morten has been on the podium in both races but the number one spot has escaped him while Vetle is craving for his first podium place.
In addition, we can anticipate some great performances from Max Novak, Team Ramudden, Alexandr Grebenko, Russian Winter Team, Ari Luusua, Vltava Fund Team, Øyvind Moen Fjeld, Team Serneke, Stian Hoelgaard, Team Koteng, and anyone from Lager 157 Ski Team; Marcus Johansson, Emil Persson and Andreas Holmberg. And we should not count out the winners of last weekend’s Challengers events; Bob Impola, Team Serneke, and Vinjar Skogsholm, Team ParkettPartner Sjusjøen. But how well has Vinjar recovered from the jet lag and his travel to Vasaloppet China?
On the women’s side of things, we should again expect to see a battle for the third place in the same vein as at La Venosta. There are many capable skiers to join the fight, and among them are Katerina Smutná, ED System Bauer Team, Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes, Team Koteng, Emilie Fleten, Team Ragde Eiendom and three athletes from Team Ramudden; Lina Korsgren, Ida Dahl and Jenny Larsson. It will be interesting to see which one of these athletes is going to use kick-wax if any and who is brave enough to double-pole through the challenging course.
As always, Visma Ski Classics comes with unforeseen surprises and unexpected dark horses, and most likely Kaiser Maximilian Lauf is no exception. Who knows – maybe we will see another new face on the podium as we have seen in the first two individual races earlier this season.