In and around Scandinavia on Friday morning, several nordic races kicked off the season. While the International Ski Federation (FIS) events in Bruksvallarna, Sweden, were among some of the shortest, few likely complained about a 5- and 10-kilometer classic race at this point in the year.
It’s November. The World Cup races start in a week. Let’s just get the kinks out.
Several skiers across Europe tweeted about their legs feeling a little syrupy, which essentially translates to mean slow. The winners of Friday’s races in Bruksvallarna, Sweden’s Daniel Richardsson and Emma Wikén, were pleased with how their bodies responded for the tune up – the first of three races on the western edge of Sweden (near Norway) this weekend.
Richardsson topped more than 140 competitors in the men’s 10 k, winning in 22:15.3. Seeing how most of the field was Swedish, he led his nation’s sweep of the top three, with Marcus Hellner finishing 5.2 seconds behind in second and Lars Nelson placing third (+6.3).
Canadian Alex Harvey ended Sweden’s run by beating out Calle Halfvarsson for fourth and was the only non-Swede in the top 17. Harvey finished 8.7 seconds back, about 8 seconds ahead of Halfvarsson, who started fast and remained strong through 7.5 k.
In an email, Harvey wrote that he felt good about the race despite losing some time over the first two or three kilometers. He wasn’t entirely confident in his choice of skis and had better pair he could’ve used, but the Canadians always race on new skis in Bruksvallarna, he added. It’s just tradition.
“I didn’t have much expectations, just wanted to get the race feeling back and ski well technically in classic,” Harvey wrote. “I’ve been doing quite a bit of training lately so I knew I wasn’t gonna be 100% but I’m happy to be that close to the lead.”
Snow conditions were fast and “the tracks were bomber,” he wrote. “It was actually fairly easy for the ‘not so good’ classic skiers to kick their skis. The first half of the loop was pretty much all climbing, then a long downhill and some short ups and downs toward the end of the lap.”
Canadian head coach Justin Wadsworth said on the phone that he was happy with the team’s performances, which included Chandra Crawford placing eighth and Perianne Jones finishing 14th out of 77 in the women’s 5 k. The only other Canadian man who raced, Kevin Sandau was 34th.
“It always takes me a hard race or two before the body gets comfortable racing,” Sandau wrote in an email. “I was happy with today’s race, hard effort and looking especially forward to tomorrow’s 15km (a bit longer which I like).”
“It’s always good when you’ve only been here a week and can have some solid distance results,” Wadsworth said, “and a good sign that everyone’s base level fitness is there.”
He said the field wasn’t quite as competitive as it was there last year, when the Norwegians and other international skiers came to Bruksvallarna to get on snow (for one race; the others were canceled). So the middle of the pack was a bit weaker, but the top men and women remained as strong as ever, he added.
“It’s the first real race of the year, you have to know that it’s big in that sense,” he said. “Everyone’s trained for it all summer and now you want to see where you are. For sure, there’s more nervousness probably than there is the rest of the season because of all the unknowns. Everyone trained hard this last week, too.”
For Richardsson, 30, the win was a positive outcome after a rollerski accident derailed some of his training. According to Langd.se, he fell rollerskiing this summer and ran as an alternative. Leading up to Friday’s race, he had mostly eased back into skate skiing.
“This was the first substantial speed [test] in classic for a long time,” Richardsson said in the translated interview. “Glad it went so well, but it was hard.” Hellner and Nelson challenged him to the finish.
In the women’s race, the 23-year-old Wikén, who recently made Sweden’s A-team, edged teammate and Bruksvallarna’s defending champ Charlotte Kalla by 2.4 seconds in 12:33.1. Another national-team member, Ida Ingemarsdotter was third (+9.3), and Sweden filled up the top seven. Crawford was eighth (+33.7) and Jones 14th (+37.5).
Somewhat surprised after beating Kalla for the first time, Wikén told op.se she felt great.
“I do not think I have gone as fast as the 5 km classic before,” she said in the translated interview. “That’s really the biggest race I had hoped for before the weekend.”
Teammates and coaches noted Wikén’s progress in training, but Friday’s race confirmed it. ”I’ve seen her work so it is no surprise,” Ingemarsdotter said.
Kalla said Wikén must have come on strong at the finish, yet was pleased with her own performance considering she’s still training hard.
Another notable top finisher, Sofia Bleckur struggled with a rheumatic disease, which primarily affects the body’s joints and bones, this summer and fall. She pulled off fourth ahead of Anna Haag and Stina Nilsson, who were two tenths of a second apart in fifth and sixth. Sara Lindborg was seventh, 5.9 seconds ahead of Crawford.
Before the start, Crawford wasn’t sure what to expect. She came down with a cold nearly two weeks ago just before flying to Sweden. As she started to feel better, she ramped up the training, which didn’t feel great.
“I felt pretty rough going into it,” she said on the phone. “I had a lot of process goals for today, not results-based, that I wanted to accomplish. I wanted to cross finish line and say to myself and coaches, ‘I did all these things really well,’ all the technical goals and effort goals. That’s what I focused on because I’ve been feeling pretty stiff.”
At the same time, her skis felt great and it was good to get racing again, she said. “It’s been a long hard training season,” she said.
While she probably wouldn’t do Saturday’s 10 k skate, she was looking forward to Sunday’s skate sprint. Most of the Canadians planned to do one or two of the three races, she said.
“Ida [Ingemarsdotter] is the one to watch for Sunday so [I'm] looking to bomb around with her,” she said. “Having done that Swedish camp with the Americans, it’s good to be back in Sweden.”
Jones was the only other Canadian woman to race Friday, and was pleased with placing 14th. Wadsworth said she had been coping with some fatigue leading up to it.
“I just wanted to put out a solid effort and ski well,” Jones wrote in an email. “I haven’t done much for the last few weeks so I was really happy with how it went. It was a really fun feeling to put that bib on and race again, the body felt good, our skis were amazing, it was nice to get things rolling today!”
In future races, she’s going to try to start faster and attack the downhills more.
“I wanted to start hard because most of the uphills were in the first half of the race,” she wrote. “I guess I didn’t quite start as hard as I thought!”
Alysson Marshall was supposed to start for Canada, but stayed back in Östersund, Sweden, to recover from a cold. Wadsworth said Devon Kershaw and Ivan Babikov would race Saturday’s 15 k skate, and Dasha Gaiazova, Crawford, Jones and Harvey would race Sunday’s sprint.
– Audrey Mangan contributed reporting