The Vasaloppet was held Sunday despite fears that a snow shortage and warm temperatures could force the cancellation or shortening of the great race. A massive snow moving operation was put into place last week to prepare the course with trucks hauling snow and shovel teams working to distribute it to spotty areas. The organizers even had helicopters at the ready to dump snow on the trails just before the race, should the need arise. Luckily, the helicopters stayed grounded and the 14,611 skiers left the start at Sälen for Mora, 90 kilometers away.
As the race passed the town of Risberg, after 35 k, Norwegian Espen Harald Bjerke made a break from the leading group. Bjerke took the Hill Prize at the town of Evertsberg, some 12 k past Risberg, and just past the halfway point in the race, at Evertsberg, Bjerke was leading by 1:49. Bjerke was able to hold onto the lead for a considerable length of time, but was finally caught 3 hours and 44 minutes into the race by fellow Norwegian Audun Laugaland, who had himself broken away from the lead group by a few seconds.
Laugaland continued to put time on the leading group, and he had a 35 second margin at Eldris, nine kilometers from the finish line. As close a 1.5 k from the finish line the helicopter view showed that Laugaland had a visually impressive lead between himself and front pack of skiers, which was now in a frenzied state to try and catch what appeared to be an insurmountable amount of ground. Laugaland, though, didn’t seem him to have a final burst of energy left in him, and as the race dwindled to less than a kilometer, the yellow suits of Team United Bakeries John Kristian Dahl and Johan Kjölstad appeared baring down behind him and skiing hard.
Whether Laugaland knew that Dahl was about to overtake him or not wasn’t clear, he never turned to look behind him, and Dahl blew past him with around 500 meters to go. A few seconds behind him was Kjölstad, and then in the finishing stretch, Jörgen Brink, the three time Vasaloppet champion, overtook Laugaland, his teammate on Team Leaseplan Go. Dahl won with a time of 4:14:33, 2.8 seconds ahead of Kjölstad, and 4.6 over Brink.
“I made a real push and used my last reserves and got a few metres,” said Dahl at the finish. “Conditions were tough today. I tested roughed up skis before the start, but chose to ski with ‘smooth’ [skis], I was pretty worn out around 60-70 kilometers, but so were we all.”
“It was difficult conditions, soft tracks, very slow speed in the front, very hard, but in the end the course was fast, and the tracks were better, said Dahl to Swix Ski Classics. “With 2 kilometers left I decided to go all in and maybe I win and if it doesn’t work I’m thirtieth and far behind. But I tried and I won,” Dahl said laughing. When asked if he spoke to Kjölstad during the race he said, “At the end I tried to gather the team and I wanted our helpers to stay in the front and to have good speed, but the speed was difficult because there was only one track that we could go in, so it was very difficult. In the end I decided I needed to do this alone.”
“I heard the gap to Bjerke was very big,” continued Dahl, “over two minutes, and suddenly he was there in the front, and then Laugaland went ahead in the front and I thought, ‘we can’t make this.’ Then I heard 30 seconds [to Laugaland] with 3 kilometers left and it’s very hard in the end, you have to work all the time, and with 1.5 kilometers left, I saw Laugaland, maybe 25 seconds ahead and I decided to go for it.”
When asked what makes Team United Bakeries so strong Dahl replied, “We have been training very much and very hard. This is four hours and twenty minutes hard race, but we train five or six hours. Train hard, win easy.”
“I was aiming to win but it wasn’t quite enough. They’re strong, these boys in yellow!” Brink said, in reference to Dahl and Kjölstad’s United Bakeries uniforms. Brink had struggled with a fever early in the week, but decided he would start the race anyway. “I had a sort of dizziness during the week, everything wheeling around in my head, and I was in bed until Thursday. But I picked up and skied a bit yesterday. Today it felt very, very much better than I’d expected.”
In the women’s race, Britta Johansson Norgren and Laila Kveli took turns leading with Annika Löfström skiing behind them. Norgren took the Hill Prize in Evertsberg, eight seconds ahead of Kveli and with 42 kilometers of skiing left. Then, Kveli took over the lead. By the time they reached Oxberg, with 28 kilometers remaining, Kveli led by eleven seconds in front of Norgren, and 28 seconds ahead of Löfström. Kveli continued to increased her lead, and at Hökberg with less than 20 k to go, her lead had grown to 1:10 ahead of Norgren and Löfström, both teammates on the Team SkiProAm, an all women’s marathon team based in Sweden, and who were now skiing together. Towards the end of the race, Norgren went ahead of Löfström, having broken away from her teammate.
“After Evertsberg I had just gone ‘all in’ all the way, so I’m very happy that I made it,” said Kveli. Kveli is the first women to have won the Vasaloppet without grip wax. “I tried not to drive too hard on the start hill. Then I had good skis, good control over myself and the distance,” said Kveli, who won with a time of 4:31:57. Norgren chose go on roughed skis. “I think that was best for me today. The skis went a little heavier where there was fresh snow. But I felt some stomach cramp around Evertsberg. It would probably have been tough for me to pole the whole distance. I’ve done all I could today, so I’m very pleased about that,” said Norgren, who finished 1:06 behind Kveli.
Speaking to the Swix Ski Classics after the race Norgren said, “I had a good start and I was trying to stay with the guys, but from Evertsberg I had problems staying with Laila [Kveli] and then it was like 10-15 seconds, but I couldn’t take it, but I’m satisfied with second place. I wanted to win the race and we had 10 seconds to Laila [Kveli] but Annika [Löfström] was tired and thought it was too much to make it on her, so I stayed with Annika [Löfström ], so we could continue together.”
Löfström said after her race, “It was a very good race, I went with skate skis today, double pushing the whole race, so I’m very happy with third place. I was at the front doing very much the whole race and I was very tired. When there was 5 kilometers left I don’t have so much muscle in the arms.”
A full replay of the Vasaloppet with English commentary can be watched here.
Entry for the 2015 Vasaloppet will open on March 16th, 2014 at 9:00am CET on vasaloppet.se. The registration is expected to sell out fast, the 2014 race was filled just 10 minutes after registration opened.
1 John Kristian Dahl (NOR) 4.14.33
2 Johan Kjölstad (NOR) 4.14.36
3 Jörgen Brink (SWE) 4.14.38
4 Audun Laugaland (NOR) 4.14.42
5 Stanislav Rezac (CZE) 4.15.50
6 Andreas Nygaard (NOR) 4.14.50
7 Daniel Tynell (SWE) 4.14.52
8 Stian Hoelgaard (NOR) 4.14.52
9 Oskar Svärd (SWE) 4.14.52
10 Christoffer Callesen (NOR) 4.14.52
1 Laila Kveli (NOR) 4.31.57
2 Britta Johansson Norgren (SWE) 4.33.06
3 Annika Löfström (SWE) 4.33.48
4 Susanne Nyström (SWE) 4.37.22
5 Seraina Boner (SUI) 4.40.49
6 Liv Inger Bjerkreim Nilsen (NOR) 4.41.10
7 Kristina Roberto (SWE) 4.42.24
8 Maria Gräfnings (SWE) 4.43.15
9 Maria Nordström (SWE) 4.44.05
10 Nina Lintzén (SWE) 4.44.12
Pasha Kahn writes and coaches in Duluth, Minnesota.