The 2016 Ski Classics kicks off with a doubleheader in Italy on Saturday and Sunday, and the marathon regulars are chomping at the bit to get started with the long-distance race series.
The 15-kilometer Proteam Prologue in Livigno, Italy, on Saturday opens the show for the marathon series, now called the Visma Ski Classics (with a new title sponsor in place of Swix), which has been extended to nine venues this season.
On the women’s side, last season’s Ski Classics champion Katerina Smutna of the Czech Republic will be on the start line for the first races this weekend, but she will face plenty of competition. Team Exspirit’s Seraina Boner of Switzerland is eager to take back the overall title, which she has earned three times (2011, 2013 and 2014), beginning with La Sgambeda.
Poland’s World Cup star and the queen of the FIS Tour de Ski, Justyna Kowalczyk, will be doing several of the Ski Classics long-distance events this season with the Norwegian Team Santander headed by the Aukland brothers. And Britta Johansson Norgren of Sweden, who was on the podium at several of the Ski Classics events last season, is one to keep an eye on. Last season, she raced with the all women’s team Ski Pro Am, and this year she is a part of Sweden’s Lager 157 Ski Team, with teammates such as three-time Vasaloppet champion Jörgen Brink of Sweden.
Among the men, 2015 Ski Classics overall champion Petter Eliassen of Norway makes his season debut in Italy this weekend. He will have to fend off a large and deep field of competitors such as Norway’s 43-year-old marathon veteran Anders Aukland and his Santander teammates, including younger brother Jørgen Aukland, and former World Cup skiers Tord Asle Gjerdalen of Norway and Johan Olsson of Sweden.
Norwegian stayers such as Johan Kjölstad, Øystein Pettersen, Eldar Rønning, and John Kristian Dahl of Team United Bakeries, as well as Ski Classics veterans of Team Exspirit, including Daniel Richardsson, Anders Södergren and Jimmie Johnsson of Sweden and Norway’s Morten Eide Pedersen, will certainly do their best to make it a tough season opener from Day 1.
Two unique competitions in Livigno
The Prologue, in which the teams must field at least three racers to compete, was added last year, and is a team effort where the third person’s time determines the team result. The next day, on Sunday, the skiers embark on the first distance event, the now-24-kilometer classic technique La Sgambeda.
Team Exspirit (previously known as Team Coop) won the prologue last year and is aiming to defend the title this year.
“We have had great preparations here in Livigno, skiing on the race course and acclimatizing to the high altitude,” team member Jimmie Johnsson said in a press release on Friday. “Of course, we’re aiming to defend our victory and we’re faster this season than ever before.”
Team Exspirit’s Seraina Boner won La Sgambeda last year after breaking away from the field on the hard climb at the turning point of the course. This year, the course is shortened to from 35 k to 24 k due to lack of snow and is also flatter. While Boner prefers more elevation gain, she was still optimistic before the race.
“The tougher course fits me better than the flatter one we have now,” she said. “But I will do my best, and I am really excited to finally start the long distance season together with my teammates.”
While the Team Prologue is only open to professional teams registered with the 2016 Ski Classics, La Sgambeda on Sunday is open to amateurs and pros alike.
Saturday’s Prologue will be held on the original course, but due to lack of snow in Livigno, the classic marathon on Sunday will be run on 6 k loops.
“Last season, seven of the nine Ski Classics events had to change their courses due to weather issues,” Ski Classics CEO David Nilsson in a press release earlier this week. “We can just cross our fingers that the political leaders at the environmental summit in Paris this week are able to make the right decision.”
For the 2016 season, there are 28 pro teams registered for the Ski Classics series.
After the season opener in Italy, the Ski Classics takes a break until the Jizerská Padesatka in Liberec, Czech Republic, on January 10, 2016. The race series concludes April 2 with Årefjällsloppet in Sweden as the season finale, as it has been for years. New this year is the Toblach/Dobbiaco Cortina, a 50 k classic race in Italy on Feb. 13.
Vasaloppet matters most
For Madshus racer John Kristian Dahl of Norway, who won the Vasaloppet two years ago, the 90 k race from Sälen to Mora in Sweden is the main goal for the 2016 season.
“It’s the longest and one of the oldest races in the circuit, and very special with the flats. That package makes it very unique, and difficult to win, too. In our world, it’s the championships in marathon skiing, and I’m happy that we have it every year,” Dahl said in an interview with Ski Classics earlier this fall.
Live streaming in English
In order for fans to follow the action live, Visma Ski Classics has launched the Live Streaming “Season Pass” available with English commentary on the app or the Tour Live Center at Visma skiclassics.com.
- Dec. 5, 2015: Proteam Tempo Prologue, 15 k classic, Italy
- Dec. 6, 2015: La Sgambeda, 24 k classic, Italy
- Jan. 10, 2016: Jizerská Padesatka, 50 k classic, Czech Republic
- Jan. 23, 2016: La Diagonela, 65 k classic, Switzerland
- Jan. 31, 2016: Marcialonga, 70 k classic, Italy
- Feb. 7, 2016: König Ludwig Lauf, 50 k classic, Germany
- Feb. 13, 2016: Toblach/Dobbiaco Cortina, 50 k classic, Italy
- March 6, 2016: Vasaloppet, 90 k classic, Sweden
- March 19, 2016: Birkebeinerrennet, 54 k classic, Norway
- April 2, 2016: Årefjällsloppet, 65 k classic, Sweden
For race recaps, follow FasterSkier’s marathon blog.