Sunday, March 7, 2010

Vasaloppet Live Blog

(all times Central Standard Time, March 7, 2010)

3:45 a.m.: Having just passed through the 62 kilometer checkpoint at Oxberg, about two-thirds of the way through the race, two members of the Mora ski club - Rickard Andreasson and Lars Suther - are leading the race. A huge chase group, easily 25 men, is within sight, about 25 seconds back. This is fairly late for such a big breakaway to be working, though with 27k to go, there's still plenty of time for them to be reeled in. Still, they're giving the crowds in Mora, where the race ends, a nice thrill.

3:55 a.m.: And now the catch. The chasing group has swallowed up Andreasson and Suther on the rolling hills about halfway between Oxberg and the next checkpoint, Hökberg, at 71k. At least twenty men are now more or less together, though with spread along over fifty or a hundred meters of the track.

4:02 a.m.: Sandra Hansson has a good lead in the women's race, having just passed through the Oxberg checkpoint. She takes on a drink there, and then quickly shifts to a choppy stride that pulls her away from the men just behind. She's about 15 minutes behind the leading men, and has a 1:43 gap on Susanne Nyström in second.

Up front, all of the leading men are double-poling most of the time, but there is a surprising amount of striding. Someone is likely to be trying to duplicate the increasingly common feat of double-poling the whole race, but it's not obvious who that is yet - or if it will be an advantage. We could see a duplication of Jørgen Aukland's win a few years ago, when he was able to use some uphill striding to escape from Jerry Ahrlin and take the win. At any rate, most the favorites are in the lead group: Oskar Svärd, Daniel Tynell, Jørgen Aukland, even Jörgen Brink and Mathias Fredriksson. The only notable who's not in the lead group is Anders Aukland, who's a dangerous 43s behind the leaders.

4:10 a.m.: Just outside Hökberg, we might be seeing a real break! Burly Daniel Tynell and Fredrik Östberg have surged off the front of the group with some insanely strong double-poling. The move instantly shatters the group and only a couple racers were able to try to cover the move. As they cross the Hökberg checkpoint, a small group is at about +7s.

4:16 a.m.: A half-dozen racers have connected with Tynell and Östberg, but the two continue to lead the race. The bridging group includes Jørgen Aukland and perhaps Oskar Svärd, but visual IDs are tough to make. The group is seven strong. With 16k to go, this could be the decisive selection.

4:24 a.m.: Now the Czech Stanislav Rezac comes up to join Tynell and Östberg at the front. He's a notable, for sure, though he's never yet won the Vasaloppet. Swedish TV is providing the time gap between the leaders and Erik Eriksson, a Swedish racer who's a veteran Vasaloppet racer and the grandson of Nils 'Mora-Nisse' Karlsson, who won the Vasaloppet a record nine times in the 1940s and 1950s. Erisksson probably won't figure in this race, though, which is has now been definitely taken over by the seven men up front. They're eyeing each other and trying to arrange pulls, but nobody is trying anything crazy as they pass through the 14k checkpoint.

4:30 a.m.: The tension has got to be mounting! The lead group is about to be joined by a Mora skier, but everyone seems to be doing the skiing equivalent of softpedaling - conserving energy for the inevitable attack and counterattacks. Tynell is leading, looking like a bear on skis. Buit more like a whippet, Jørgen Aukland is just behind him. It looks like the seven leaders also include Jörgen Brink and, surprisingly, the Italian freestyle specialist Marco Cattaneo.

4:33 a.m.: At the Hökberg checkpoint, Susanne Nystrom has cut nearly 30s off of Sandra Hansson's lead, and now trails by 1:17. That's still a big gap, but one that can be closed in the subsequent 20k.

4:35 a.m.: Jørgen Aukland took a pull on the front, but the pace in the leading group is still fairly low. Everyone is doing plenty of looking at everyone else, and the lead changes frequently as one and then another takes a feed. As the group climbs a small rise, only Tynell appears to have any real snap to his kick douple pole; everyone else takes as small a kick as possible.

4:37 a.m.: Only 10k to go! This is turning out to be a chess match, not a ski race. The Mora IFK skier who's been dangling off the back - Erik Eriksson! - has now made it onto the group, making it eight: Rezac, J Aukland, Tynell, Brink, Cattaneo, Svärd, Östberg, and Eriksson. Tynell is doing most of the pulling, with Svärd notable as someone who's not up front at all.

4:41 a.m.: As they pass through a feed zone, Tynell attacks with ferocious double-poling! Lifting off his skis almost to the point of toppling, he pulls away momentarily, but Östberg and Aukland cover the move and bring Rezac and the rest along. No - someone has dropped off! 8,000 meters to go.

4:43 a.m.: Tynell takes a short rest, drifting to the middle of the group, and then attacks again! He nearly sneaks past Aukland, looking the wrong way, but others counter. Tynell still hasn't escaped, but he is hurting the group badly. This time only Rezac, Aukland, and Brink follow; the rest of the group falls back and out of the race.

4:45 a.m.: Now Rezac attacks at the 7k mark! He takes a 10-second turn, then Tynell comes through to continue it! Aukland and Brink look to be barely hanging on, though the surge-rest-surge-rest pattern isn't knocking them out, either.

4:47 a.m.: Barring a crash, three or these four racers should be on the podium. Tynell is visibly strongest, throwing in surges of powerful double-poling at will.

4:49 a.m.: The surge-rest pattern continues, this time with Rezac doing the damage. The gap back to the chasers is growing with every meter. Tynell takes a feed, bobbling the bottle but getting a few swallows. He's changing lanes almost as often as he poles. The sides of the track are now often lined with advertising boards, a sign they're nearly to Mora.

4:53 a.m.: With three hours and 53 minutes of racing under their skis, the four leaders now have just about 4,000 meters to go. Aukland, seeking his second Vasaloppet win, has just taken a pull on the front, but now Tynell and Rezac move back to the head of the race. Brink is studiously avoiding the lead. On a small rise just before 3k, Tynell and Rezac easily establish a gap, which they then relinquish. A few spectators are on the course now, cheering the leaders.

4:56 a.m.: It should be noted that Sweden has a 50/50 chance of getting a home-country winner this year, which always matters in Mora. Will it be Tynell or Brink? Tynell still looks to be the strongest, doing the vast majority of the work, but Brink could be saving himself for a superhuman sprint - or perhaps he's just not strong enough to move out of his fourth-place position.

4:59 a.m.: The leaders pass under the highway overpass, Tynell in the lead. They clouds above them look gorgeous, with just a few specks of blue sky visible. Rezac has moved into the trailing spot with 2k to go, meaning that the lead group is Tynell, Aukland, Brink, Rezac. More easy double-poling now, on the outskirts of Mora, but Tynell looks to me to simply be waiting to strike.

5:01 a.m.: Oh, almost some trouble as Rezac comes forward to try to attack - Aukland doesn't see him and almost steps on his ski tips. That attack falters, but now they're on the straightaway to the finish line! Tynell and Aukland are side by side, but Tynell pulls away, with Brink just behind! Brink jumps out and tries to come around! Tynell counters! Brink surges and wins the race!

5:06 a.m.: As Brink, sounding only slightly out of breath, does the requisite interview on Swedish TV, it's worth reflecting on his career. About ten years ago, he was a fine young skier on the Swedish World Cup team, along with Mathias Fredriksson and Per Elofsson. A versatile skier, Brink amassed a number of top-10 finishes, including a few appearances on the podium in sprints, relays, and distance events, including a win in 2003 in a 30k mass-start classic event at Otepää and three third places at the 2003 Val di Fiemme World Championships - where he also had the worst moment in his career: an inexplicable blackout while skiing the anchor leg of the relay. He nearly stopped on the track, allowing Thomas Alsgaard and Axel Teichman to pass him and fight for the win. Though he did take a bronze in the 50k skate just a few days later, Brink's results tailed off soon thereafter. He tried some biathlon for a year or two, then switched to the Marathon Cup series, where he has had some good results - though nothing so impressive as this win in the Vasalopppet.

5:22 a.m.: While the top men's finishers trickle under the famous arch at the finish line in Mora, the women's race is still being decided, about 5k down the course. Susanne Nystrom, skiing for IFK Mora, has overtaken Sandra Hansson, and looks to have quite a bit of power in reserve. The two skied together in a group with several men for a while, but then Nystrom upped her poling tempo slightly to pull away. She now has a substantial lead as she nears Mora and cuts through traffic. She's slipping a bit as she strides the uphills, but her rapid double-poling is very strong and her face is composed. I note that she's not looking behind her at all! She should carry this to the line...

5:34 a.m.: And Nystrom does! She wins in 4:33:07, about a half-minute up on Hansson. With her come-from-behind win, Nystrom is the first IFK Mora skier to win the race since Elin Ek in 2007.

All in all, the 2010 Vasaloppet was a great race, with lots of action, a surprising contender in the men's race, and of course Swedish winners of both events. Grattis to Brink and Nystrom! (And good luck to all the other 15,000 skiers still on course...)


Luke S said...

You got up at 3:30am to watch a ski race online? Thats dedication...

Colin R said...

If there was any doubt Chris is the most hardcore ski fan out there, it should be gone now. Great writeup, too!

Ari said...

Hmm—SVT had a live feed? Or did you find it on Eurosport. I was going to watch this—I even had a Swede ready to go, and then forgot or something. You win. (Although a couple years ago when SVT had the whole race up I did stay up until about 1:30 watching.) FWIW, the last 20 minutes of the 2009 race is up but to watch the 2010 race they have it blocked if you're not in Sweden. Oh wait, now it's up. There goes the evening.

Christopher Tassava said...

Yeah, I watched it on SVT. Just in case anyone else wants to sink a few hours into watching the race, you can see it here:

"Vasaloppet - del 3 av 3" is the key chunk - the last 45 minutes or so. It's only up for a month, so get it while it's available!