This past weekend was once again the time of the year for the Toppidrettsveka ski festival, a three-day rollerski mini tour held annually since 2005 in the region of Trondheim, Norway. In addition to the individual stages, points for the top-30 finishers were awarded to compile an overall ranking similar to the Tour de Ski.
The elite field of athletes was mostly comprised of Norwegian and other Scandinavian skiers active on the International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup and European Continental Cup level, as well as a handful of international starters, including two Americans: U.S. Ski Team member Andy Newell, who raced at last month’s Blink Ski Festival in Norway, and Kevin Bolger, who is coming off his senior season at the University of Utah.
Day 1: Aure Sprint
The festival started last Thursday with a classic sprint in the small town of Aure, on a fairly long course with a steep downhill and a roundabout at the bottom, after which the athletes had to ski up the same hill toward the finish.
In the men’s race, Norway’s Aune Pål Trøan took the win in the final with a time of 2:46.46, narrowly edging Norwegian World Cup skiers Johannes Høsflot Klæbo by 0.41 seconds and Eirik Brandsdal by 0.43 seconds. Just another tenth of a second back, Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson placed fourth (+0.44).
Newell’s run ended in the quarterfinals, where he finished sixth in his heat, just half a second from advancing. His heat was a tight race that featured the eventual winner Trøan, who along with World Cup regular Emil Iversen, advanced as a lucky loser behind Brandsdal and his teammate Aleksander Ek. Bolger did not reach the quarterfinals.
In the women’s final, Sweden’s Linn Sömskar prevailed with a time of 3:03.94, edging out five Norwegians, including Kathrine Rolsted Harsem in second and 2016 Toppidrettsveka title-defender Heidi Weng in third. Earlier in the day, Sömskar also won her quarterfinal and semifinal heats decisively.
Two weeks ago, Sömskar won three races at the 2017 rollerski world championships in Solleftea, Sweden — the 18-kilometer freestyle, 16 k classic, and team sprint with Maja Dahlqvist.
Day 2: Brekka Mass Start and Trondheim Sprint
On Friday, athletes competed in two events: a mass start followed by a sprint later in the evening.
Switzerland’s Dario Cologna topped the men’s 24 k mass start, a point-to-point race from Aure to Brekka, finishing in 59:11.3 after breaking away on the long final climb. Halfvarsson claimed second (+10.8), followed by Finland’s Iivo Niskanen in third (+17.2) ahead of Norway’s Niklas Dyrhaug in fourth (+27.4).
“Great to win here,” Cologna told Norwegian broadcaster NRK in an interview in the finish. “Many good skiers, the best in the world, so it’s a good feeling. Good to see that everything is working well [in preparation] for this important season.”
Bolger finished 51st (+4:48.6) and Newell crossed 15 seconds later in 54th (+5:03.9) in the large field of 124 finishers.
In the women’s mass start over the same 24 k course, the race was even closer and came down to a finishing sprint. Weng took the win in 1:07.30.3, just 3.5 seconds ahead of her teammate Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen, while Sweden’s Anna Haag finished 7.8 seconds back in third. Another Swede, Ebba Anderson placed fourth (+22.0), while the rest of the field crossed the line more than four minutes later. Haag and Anderson are just coming off a training camp in Sweden, where they were joined by U.S. Ski Team members Liz Stephen and Kikkan Randall.
For Stage 3 on the same day, athletes raced a 1 k sprint in the center of Trondheim, Norway’s third-largest city. There, Klæbo won the men’s final after a decisive attack on the finishing stretch in a time of 2:19.56 minutes, ahead of fellow Norwegian Ragnar-Kristoffer Braqvin Andresen in second (+0.23) and Even Northug in third (+2.85), the younger brother of 2016 Toppidrettsveka winner Petter Northug Jr. Halfvarsson finished fourth (+2.94), thereby taking the lead in the intermediate tour standings on Day 2, ahead of Klæbo, Cologna and Trøan.
Both Newell and Bolger missed qualifying for the sprint heats and did not score additional points.
The women’s sprint final went to Norway’s Barbro Kvåle in a time of 2:46.04, who placed sixth in the final the day before. She edged Sömskar by just 0.08 seconds and Weng was another hundredth of a second back in third (+0.09). Harsem placed fourth (+0.25), and Switzerland’s Laurien Van Der Graaff, who led until the final meters of the race, finished fifth (+0.37). In the overall standings, Weng spent the night in the lead, ahead of Sömskar, Jacobsen and Harsem.
Day 3: Trondheim Pursuit/Mass Start
The mini tour concluded Saturday with classic races in Trondheim. However, with a smaller field of 37 athletes for the last women’s race, the points collected in the prior three events were not converted into time gaps before the final stage. Instead, athletes started together for a 12-kilometer mass start and the overall results and time back from the winner were computed after the race.
In rainy weather (with many of the spectators sporting ponchos), the short-sleeved athletes persistently circled their laps around the city course. The top group got smaller and smaller, and after 7.5 k, only 10 women remained within three seconds of the lead. That group dwindled to six by the finishing stretch, where Haag outlunged Jacobsen by 0.2 seconds for the win and Sömskar crossed another 0.4 seconds back in third (+0.6). Three Norwegians followed, with Harsem in fourth (+1.2), Weng in fifth (+1.5) and Lovise Hemdal in sixth (+2.0). Fifteen seconds later, Kvåle in seventh (+16.7) led the next four finishers across the line.
After computing the overall Toppidrettsveka standings, Weng was deemed the winner for the second-straight year. Sömskar placed second, 34.1 seconds back (she only had one weaker stage in the long mass start where she finished 11th, almost six minutes behind Weng), and Jacobsen was just another 1.6 seconds back in third (+35.7). Harsem finished the tour in fourth (+46.7), and Haag placed fifth (+59.5).
“I was impressed with myself actually,” Weng told NRK in a finish-line interview, according to a translation. “That I managed to keep up so well despite some very stiff arms … I don’t know if I am on a better way than last year, but yes, I feel really quite good.”
On the conditions, which Jacobsen called “dangerous“, Weng was pleased everyone played it safe.
“We took it very easy, and it was good that we all kept it a bit safe, there were some very slippery spots, but it went well,” Weng said.
With more in the men’s field, the men raced a 15 k pursuit, with Halfvarsson starting first, 12 seconds ahead of Klæbo in second, and 50 seconds ahead of Cologna in third. Trøan left the gate 1 minute back and Brandsdal started 2 seconds later.
Despite the heavy rain, which had worsened since the women’s race, Halfvarsson increased his lead on Klæbo. By 5.1 k, the Swede was more than 40 seconds clear of Klæbo, and Cologna came through the checkpoint 1:13 back. Having to ski through puddles of standing water at times, Halfvarsson extended his lead on Klæbo to over a minute by 11.2 k. Another 30 seconds behind Klæbo, Northug led a large chase group of about 20 racers after the pack had caught Cologna.
Halfvarsson held his comfortable lead through the finish, completing the final stage in a time of 34:08.4 for the overall victory. Klæbo had to fight a lot harder to hold onto second place, crossing the line 1:14.7 back and only a few meters ahead of the chase group. Northug outlasted the pack in a finishing sprint for third place (+1:18.5), while Bransdal missed the podium by half a second in fourth (+1:19.0), as did Niskanen in fifth (+1:19.0) and Trøan in sixth (+1:20.0).
“Today, it was pretty easy,” Halfvarsson told NRK, according to a translation. “I had the goal to go out hard, and knew I was going to get it when Johannes had problems to follow.”
“[My] days are over, there is a new kid in town,” 13-time world champion Northug said in English in a finish-line interview with NRK, referencing Klæbo standing next to him.
“He is the one who is absolutely the fastest of all of us,” Halfvarsson agreed in his interview with NRK when asked about the upcoming season. “Petter will be strong if he can find the shape for the winter, but it’s Johannes who I fear the most.”
“He is just saying that,” Klæbo told NRK. “I think there are many Norwegians that are going to go fast this winter.”
The best time of the final stage was posted by Great Britain’s Andrew Musgrave in 33:33.8, while Halfvarsson’s time ranked 25th. Musgrave finished eighth overall (+1:20.4).
For the stage, Newell placed 53rd and Bolger 64th. Overall, Newell finished the tour in 56th (+2:28.7) and Bolger placed 67th (+3:01.2).