Earlier this month, Andrew Musgrave, a 23-year-old World Cup skier from Great Britain, met one of the greatest cross-country racers of all time: Thomas Alsgaard. What was more, they were going to be teammates on the newly formed Team LeasePlan Go.
Musgrave could hardly contain himself as he trained with the 41-year-old Norwegian near the Oslo airport. He also worked out alongside Swedish superstars Anders Södergren and Jørgen Brink at the training camp in Gardermoen, Norway.
“They’re probably getting annoyed with me,” Musgrave said with a laugh on the phone from Trondheim, Norway, where he’s studying engineering at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).
A part-time student and full-time racer, Musgrave has been there since last autumn and in Norway for the last four years. Conveniently and perhaps essentially, he speaks Norwegian.
“I always ask them what they do when they’re training and how they normally do this and that, all sorts of questions so they’re probably getting quite bored of me,” he said. “But for me, it’s definitely good being on the team with these guys. I think I’ve learned a lot from training with them just the one-week camp we’ve had now.”
Lucky for him, there are more camps to come. According to Team LeasePlan’s manager, Emil Søbak Gundersen, the privately sponsored, 12-man squad will meet for two camps at Alsgaard’s home in Nannestad, Norway, and also in Austria or Italy this summer.
With athletes scattered throughout Norway and Sweden, the team is Alsgaard’s brainchild and means of getting back into full-time racing full time after more or less retiring 10 years ago.
A couple questions come to mind; first – what’s Alsgaard’s plan?
In an email, Gundersen explained that Alsgaard approached him in December. Alsgaard had his own marathon team at the time, Team United Bakeries, but he wanted to do less paperwork and more skiing, maybe even win the Vasaloppet.
Formerly of Team Norgehus, Gundersen decided Alsgaard was worth the investment and helped him launch a new concept – Team LeasePlan Go – pulling racers from the now-defunct Norgehus and United Bakeries.
Alsgaard quit his job commentating for the Norwegian Broadcasting Company, telling VG, “I want to give myself a year off, get back the shape,” according to a translation. “I will follow the team and be more present … I will be fighting for the win in the Vasaloppet, Birkie, Marcialonga and other races.” He could not be reached for additional comment.
Of the 12 handpicked skiers on LeasePlan (a car-leasing company), six make up its marathon team: Alsgaard, Södergren, Brink, Christoffer Callessen, Kjetil Hagvedt Dammen and Audun Laugaland. Gundersen stated their goal is to win all of the Swix Ski Classics, with an emphasis on the Vasaloppet, Norwegian Birkebeiner and Swedish Årefjellsloppet.
Six younger guys comprise the all-around team geared toward World Cup racing and specifically the Olympics this season. Musgrave joins Per Kristian Nygård, Ånund Lid Byggland, Simen Sveen, Torgeir Skare Thygesen, and Espen Udjus Frorud in this group after his old team, Norway’s Team Veidekke, lost its title sponsor this spring.
So how did Musgrave get involved in Alsgaard’s latest project? Once he found out Veidekke was going to be no longer, he started searching for a new affiliation.
“I was speaking to a few people and just finding out if there were any other teams interested in having me, and I heard there was this new team,” Musgrave said.
He contacted Søbak, who explained the breakdown of their long-distance and all-around teams. Musgrave could join the latter and train with peers while periodically working out with Alsgaard and veterans like Brink, 39, a three-time Vasaloppet winner, and Södergren, 36, a multiple Olympic medalist who won the Holmenkollen 50 k in 2006 and 2008.
Musgrave was thrilled and even more excited after their first training camp from May 9-15. He knew four of his teammates from Team Hovden in Lillehammer, where he lived and trained from 2010 to 2012. The next year, Musgrave and Nygård, another all-around teammate, skied for Veidekke.
“It’s really, really professional,” Musgrave said of Team LeasePlan. “I think it’s the best setup I’ve been with by far. … The distance team, it’s got all the well-known guys. Like three of the best skiers of the last 20 years are on that team.”
In Gardermoen, he met all-around coach Johanna Ojala and was immediately impressed with her extensive knowledge on technique.
“I’m possibly one of the ugliest skiers there are,” Musgrave said with a laugh. “Terrible technique at some times. … I think if I improve my technical skiing then hopefully I’ll be able to go a lot faster.”
Last year, Musgrave broke through with a career best 11th in the Tour de Ski freestyle sprint in Val Müstair, Switzerland. He was fourth at U23 World Championships in the 15 k skate.
“The season was pretty good, but I was quite inconsistent,” he said. “Under 23s was OK, although I was a bit disappointed to miss out on a medal. Next year, consistency is the important thing, to be at a high level throughout the whole season instead of being up and down and never quite knowing if I was gonna have a good race or not.”
Headed into his second Olympics, Musgrave is looking to break through the top 50 and finish in the top 10 of the freestyle sprint in Sochi, Russia.
“I really like the sprint course there ’cause it’s long and hard and it suits distance skiers,” he said. “I’m sort of a distance skier that can do OK at sprints sometimes, especially if it’s a long, hard course at altitude like it is.”
In the meantime, he’ll take every opportunity to absorb pointers from seasoned guys like Alsgaard. Chances are, he won’t mind.
“One thing that surprises me is how little people are curious,” Alsgaard told Dagbladet after placing fourth in the 15 k at 2012 Norwegian nationals. Musgrave was second in the event.
“Fast skiers live into their own world and their own bubble,” he added. “Nobody has come to me and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘Why do you do it?’ There has not been one question. No trainers, no skiers. … One should have faith in themselves and have confidence, but it is important to be curious, too.”
Alsgaard expressed a similar sentiment in a 2011 interview with FasterSkier.
“It’s always very important to be curious and always try to ask questions when you meet people, no matter if they have been good skiers or not,” he said. “That’s an area, I think, maybe [the Norwegian national team] could work harder.