The 46th annual Engadin Ski Marathon took place this past Sunday, March 9. The 42-kilometer skate race, which is part of the Worldloppet series, and included some 13,395 competitors, begins in Maloja, in south-eastern Switzerland, and ends in S-chanf. Though the course follows a valley downhill, losing a total of 150 meters (nearly 500 feet), that fact alone did not guarantee an easy race — on the contrary, most top finishers claimed this marathon to be one of their toughest.
On the men’s side, Anders Glørsen of Norway won in 1:35:05 hours.
“I am really happy,” Glørsen said after the race, according to a Worldloppet press release. “The Olympics were up and down for me, but afterwards I felt very good … I skied from St. Moritz to the finish [Saturday] to get familiar with the course, which I knew already from rollerskiing in the summer.”
Glørsen says he looked up all the results of the last 10 years and saw that nearly every year at least 10 people came in with the same time.
“So I knew that it would be a tight race and that I should be saving some energy for the finish sprint,” he explained. “I got a gap at around 5 k to go but a kilometer later, Jean-Marc [Gaillard of France] caught me and I was almost sure that he would be beating me in the finish as I was already pretty tired. But somehow he was tired too I guess, and so I could cross the finish line as first.”
Gaillard placed second, just 0.7 seconds later. This was Gaillard’s first Engadin, and he said that overall he is happy with his performance, “even though I was so close to winning.”
“Anders is a good sprinter and I was already pretty tired in the end, I didn’t really believe in my possibility to win,” Gaillard said. “Maybe that was what cost me the victory as apparently Anders was pretty tired, too. But it was a really nice race and I enjoyed skiing in this beautiful weather. I had a broken pole right before the uphill in St. Moritz, which was really a bad place for such a thing, but these things happen.
“Around 5 k before the finish, Anders got away from the group and got a gap,” he added. “I gave it a go and tried to catch him, which I did soon after. Somehow the others couldn’t follow, but I knew that we weren’t allowed to drop the pace as they weren’t far away. Unfortunately it didn’t work out with the first place in the end, but I am satisfied nevertheless.”
In third was Switzerland’s Toni Livers, who broke a pole shortly out of the start and had to change two or three more times before finding a suitable replacement.
“I lost faith,” Livers said. “I didn’t really believe in a podium place anymore, but I had a good position when it came to the last kilometers. I knew that only from Zuoz on, the race would really start, so I prepared for that. I pushed really hard as I was eighth when we came into the finish area, then fifth and then there was an open spot, I took it and pushed into first position. It was a tight fight with Romain Vandel [who finished 4th] and I am really happy that I could get my foot over the line in front of him in the end!”
On the women’s side, Finland’s Riita-Liisa Roponen won in 1:38.39.1, nearly 19 seconds ahead of Switzerland’s Bettina Gruber in second.
For Roponen, it was her second Engadin victory and third in the FIS Marathon Cup this season.
“Winning the cup with these three wins as well is really enormous,” Roponen said. “I had the goal to beat my record time from last year, but this didn’t work out, but I am nevertheless satisfied with my race. It was a really hard one, but mostly because I didn’t feel so good. I wasn’t even sure if I won when I crossed the finish line.”
Roponen hopes to be able to do more long-distance races next season, but would also like to take part in the World Cup if she is given the opportunity to do so. Roponen expects more competition in the women’s field next year and therefore suspects that it will become more difficult to gain the overall victory again.
Gruber said she was happy with second, considering how tough the mass start was.
“I was skiing a lot with Katrin [Zeller of Germany, who finished third] and we tried to catch Riita-Liisa, but she was already too far gone,” she said. “In the end I was able to out-ski Katrin in the finish sprint, so I am really satisfied. The Engadin Ski Marathon is a really nice race, but also a tough one, especially for the women who are skiing with all the men around and it’s so easy to break a pole or to fall.”
Zeller took third despite an early tangle. She didn’t start in the first line and got caught up in a crash from the get-go, consequently losing several places early on.
“Just getting back to the group again, somebody crashed right in front of me and I got a pole between my legs and got a big cut which hurt a lot,” she said. “Again, I tried to find the other girls, I moved left when the big group went right and visa versa in order to have more space and to move faster. I really felt good.”
Zeller said she believed a victory would have been possible for her and that she was disappointed with her result. She won the Engadin six years ago and was hoping to win again as the final of her career.
“A victory here would have been a really nice end,” she said. “I was skiing together with Bettina in the end and I knew that she was the better sprinter. I tried to pass her, but I was squeezed in and so I finished third.”
Zeller will go on to compete in the World Cup final in Falun, Sweden, later this week, which will act as the replacement “finale” she was looking for.
Holly Brooks of the U.S. Ski Team was the fourth female, 2:25 behind Roponen.
“Took myself out of podium contention w/big crash but happy w/wooden medal,” Brooks tweeted after the race. “Fun times at the Engadin.”
Matt Gelso (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation) place 16th overall, just 11.7 seconds back from the winner, and Torin Koos (Bridger Ski Foundation/Rossignol) finished 87th (+4:21.1). Matt Briggs of Bend, Ore., finished 95th (+5:57), and Eric Packer (Stratton Mountain School T2 Team) finished 126th (+7:59.7). According to a report by Fast Big Dog, 80 Americans entered the race.
Among other top U.S. women, Katja Heinicke of Dallas placed 139th, and Robin McGee of Jackson, Wyo., was 170th.