With temperatures in the morning around freezing, and then quickly rising, the conditions were soft and slow for this year’s Mora Vasaloppet. Matt Liebsch powered through, using smart race strategy to get clear of his competitors for the win in the 58km freestyle, while Johanna Winters waited until the very end to make her move for the women’s title.
In the men’s 58km freestyle race it was the 27-year-old Liebsch of Orono, MN who continued his Vasa-winning ways, finishing in a time of 2:38.20. Liebsch broke away from his competitors when the course joined back on to the 35km racecourse to capture his third consecutive Mora Vassaloppet titles. Much to the delite of Liebsch his teammate Santiago Ocariz (CXC Elite) came across the line in second place in a time of 2:39:09, with Adam Swank (Duluth, MN) capturing third place in 2:39:20.
As Liebsch described the conditions were very difficult. “Slow was the name of the game. I’ve never skied in anything slower. It was the wettest sharpest snow I’ve ever seen. It was a death march. The difference in speed between going L2 and L5 was almost zero.”
Liebsch’s strategy changed very quickly early in the race after a few attempts to get away. “The 58km race merges with the 35km course with 8km to go. I knew that the trail would be skied in and I was hoping that my skis would begin to glide. As soon as we hit the skied in snow I made an attack but my teammate, Santi and strong man, Adam Swank had none of it.”
Liebsch still had another move left in his legs though and after taking a quick feed “made one last attempt to break the rubber band.”
“This time it stuck, but I had to endure 2km of slow snow as the 58km diverges from the 35km race with 5km to go. At 3km to go the trails join again and I was able to glide again and hold onto first place.”
In the women’s event, Winters of Minneapolis, MN out kicked Carolyn Bramante (Minneapolis, MN) to earn the crown. Winters finished in a time of 2:58:34 with Bramante crossing the line just eleven seconds later. Kristina Owen (Houghton, MI) climbed the third step on the podium in a time of 3:00:40.
Similarly to the men, the women battled through slow conditions as the temperatures climbed, but remained relaxed for much of the race. “Carolyn [Bramante], Kristina [Owen], and I took turns pulling, and switching off the lead with some of the other men skiing with us. Obviously once the conditions changed the effort became harder, and so we switched positioning more frequently” recalled Winters after the race.
Although nervous that her fitness was not there, Winters proved otherwise as she charge to the line over the final kilometers.
“As we approached the last 10k or so I kept getting anxious because I felt I didn’t have the energy to make any kind of significant move, so I was anticipating a down-to-the-line sprint finish. When we hit the lake in the final stretch of the race I was in front, and fretting over leading into the wind, but I realized there was no time left to think! I started sprinting toward the finish line and I could tell my technique was falling apart, but I was in survival mode by that point!”
As Winters crossed the line to don the wreath as Mora champion, she realized what makes this race so special. “This certainly was an exciting race for me because it’s not everyday that one gets to cross the finish line in front, and to be greeted by folks dressed in traditional Swedish attire! I’m grateful to the race organizers, volunteers, and Mora community for making this race possible.”
The men’s 42km classic race was won by Eugeny Beletskiy of Minneapolis, MN in a time of 2:06:46 just four seconds ahead of the second place finisher, Piotr Bednarski (Minneapolis, MN). Evan Pengelly of Plymouth, MN crossed the line in third with a time of 2:07:26.
The women’s race was won by the 20-year-old Molly Watkins of Minneapolis, MN in a time of 2:19:55, over five minutes fasters than Josie Nilsson (Medicine Lake, MN), who claimed second. Jen Pearson (Duluth, MN) rounded out the top three.
In the men’s 35km freestyle race it was Nathan Porath from Red Wing, MN who claimed top honors with a winning time of 1:28:42. Derek Wallen (Apple Valley, MN) and Andrew Brown (St. Paul, MN) finished second and third with times of 1:30:12 and 1:31:23 respectively.
In the women’s field it was Angie Robinson (Roseville, MN) that posted the fastest time of 1:37:34. Elaine Nelson (Duluth, MN) and Sara Kylander-Johnson (Duluth, MN) had a duel to the line with Nelson coming across the finish in a time of 1:38:34 just four seconds better than Kylander-Johnson.
Seventeen-year-old Thomas Egger of Edina, MN took home the top prize in the 13km freestyle race in a time of 40:19, while the fifteen-year-old pair of Andrew Egger and Scott Harrison finished second and third respectively.
The girl’s race was won by fourteen-year-old Mattie Watts of New Brighton, MN in 45:47 with Courtney Spies (Anoka, MN) and Maggie Anderson (Bigfork, MN) rounding out the top three in second and third respectively.
The 58km relay was won by the team of Clown Town in a time of 2:55:30. They bested U M D Nordic by over eight minutes, while The Snowballs finished third in 3:32:38.