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Aiming for a New Double

John Kristian Dahl (NOR) won the Birkebeiner less than two weeks after winning Vasaloppet. Photo: Inge Scheve
John Kristian Dahl (NOR) won the Birkebeiner less than two weeks after winning Vasaloppet. Photo: Inge Scheve

John Kristian Dahl (NOR) won the 2016 Norwegian Birkebeiner, less than two weeks after winning the 90-kilometer Vasaloppet in Sweden. Photo: Inge Scheve

Defending Birkebeiner champion John Kristian Dahl (NOR) will double-pole the classic race on Saturday.

Hoping to repeat his double victory from last year when he won both the 90km Vasaloppet and the 54km Birkebeinerrennet back to back, the 35-year-old will take on two mountains without kick wax.

“I’m dreaming of a repeat of last year’s double win, although I think it will be harder to pull off this time, given the back injuries I have battled this season,” says Dahl.

“After Vasaloppet on March 5, I’ve had to cut back and go easier than I planned due to the back injury. But you never know, cutting back might be the perfect move to release peak performance on race day,” he says.

Just days before the Vasaloppet a week and a half ago, Dahl was in such pain that he feared he had to skip the 90-kilometer race in Sweden. But on race morning, he decided to give the race a shot, and made his move only 4 kilometers from the finish, winning by a fraction of a second. Read more: Dahl Defends Vasaloppet Title

Skate the Norwegian Birkebeiner in 2017!

Birkebeiner course. Photo: Birken AS
Birkebeiner course. Photo: Birken AS

The 54km Birkebeiner starts in Rena and finishes at the Birkebeiner stadium in Lillehammer. Photo: Geir Olsen

The Norwegian Birkebeiner introduces a skate event for the Friday race, starting with 2017.

It might just be the biggest Birkebeiner news since 1932. As a part of the anniversary celebration of the famous ski race between Rena and Lillehammer, which was first organized in 1932, Birken is launching a brand new event as a part of he Birkebeiner Ski Festival 2017: A free technique event on Friday, March 17, 2017.

This marks the very first time that skating will be allowed in the Norwegian Birkebeiner ski race, and the event is limited to 1,000 skiers. Online event registration opens on Tuesday, November 1.

The course is the same at the regular event, with the skate lane running parallel to the classic track. However, skaters are not allowed to ski on the classic tracks, and classic skiers may not ski in the skate lane.

The event is 54 kilometers, starting at Rena and finishing at the Birkebeiner stadium in Lillehammer.

From Rena at 280 meters above sea level, the course climbs steadily for more than 13 kilometer to the summit of Dølfjellet at 820 meters. From there, the course drops down to Kvarstad before climbing up to Midtfjellet, the high point of the course at 910 meters and 34 kilometers from the start. Having crested Midtfjellet, the course continues down and flat to Sjusjøen, then drops down through downhill and gently rolling terrain to the finish at Birkeneiner stadium at 490 meters.

Madshus is the official ski partner of the Birkebeiner Ski Festival. No matter what your goals and ambitions, skate of classic, Madshus has the perfect ski for your Birkebeiner adventure. Check out the selection of skis, boots, poles and accessories!

It’s a wrap!

Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg (NOR) and Heidi Weng at the FIS world cup relay in Nove Mesto (CZE). Photo: Nordic Focus
Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg (NOR) and Heidi Weng at the FIS world cup relay in Nove Mesto (CZE). Photo: Nordic Focus

Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg (NOR) and Heidi Weng at the FIS world cup relay in Nove Mesto (CZE). Photo: Nordic Focus

The elite skiers have already started the 2017 training season, making this a great time to look back at the 2016 achievements. And what a season it was for the Madshus racers!

Taking a look at some of the major highlights from the season, there is a lot to celebrate in the 2015-16 season. Just take a look at a random week in February: Dominating four sports 

The king of Biathlon, Ole Einar Bjørndalen, opened the IBU World Cup season with a podium at the first possible opportunity, in Östersund (SWE) the first week of December. But he reigned the grounds at the 2016 Holmenkollen World Championships, earning no less than four medals on home turf: gold in the relay, silver in the sprint and the pursuit and bronze in the mass start. At 42 years old. He now has over 40 World Championship medals, and he is not retiring any time soon, said the father to be, who is expecting a daughter in October.

Read more: The King Continues 

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Ole Einar Bjørndalen (NOR) won four medals during the 2016 IBU World Championships on home turf in Oslo. Photo: Nordic Focus

Ole Einar Bjørndalen (NOR) won four medals during the 2016 IBU World Championships on home turf in Oslo. Photo: Nordic Focus

Also at the 2016 Holmenkollen World Championships, Marte Olsbu (NOR) stepped up and earned her first World Championship medal as she anchored Norway to gold in the women’s 4x6km relay.

“This is the biggest I have ever experienced. I can’t believe it’s true,” Olsbu said after the relay.

Anaïs Bescond (FRA) took home two silver medals from Holmenkollen: the 15km normal competition and the relay.

Read the full recap of the Madshus podium party at the 2016 World Championships in Holmenkollen 

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Marte Olsbu anchored Norway to gold in the relay. Photo: Nordic Focus

Marte Olsbu anchored Norway to gold in the relay. Photo: Nordic Focus

In the Ski Classics, Madshus Marathon racer John Kristian Dahl (NOR) won both the 90-kilometer Vasaloppet in Sweden on March 6, and the 54-kilometer Birkebeinerrennet in Norway on March 19. In doing so, he made history: He was the first Norwegian and only the second racer to ever do so in the 93-year-long legacy of the Vasaloppet. The last to win both races back to back in the same season was Sven-Åke Lundbäck back in 1981.

Read more: Nailing the Double 

Two weeks later, Dahl was second in Årefjällsloppet on April 2, which was the Ski Classic Final. The Dahl capped the long-distance season with winning the world’s longest cross-country race: The 200-kilometer Nordenskiöldsloppet in Sweden, the longest ski marathon in the world, in 8 hours 35 minutes and 17 seconds.

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John Kristian Dahl (NOR) won Vasaloppet on March 6, then he won the Birkebeinerrennet on March 21, and is one of only 2 racers to win both in the same season. Photo: Ulf Palm

John Kristian Dahl (NOR) won Vasaloppet on March 6, then he won the Birkebeinerrennet on March 21, and is one of only 2 racers to win both in the same season. Photo: Ulf Palm

Also, Madshus Marathon racers Stian Hoelgaard (NOR) and Emilia Lindstedt (SWE) won the Ski Classic Youth bibs, awarded to the best racers age 26 and under.

Even in a year without any major championships for the FIS cross-country and Nordic Combined, Madshus racers, still brought home an impressive number of podium finishes. The highlights were many and bright, but Ingvild Flugstad Østberg (NOR) and Heidi Weng (NOR) really dominated the FIS World Cup this season. The duo brought in podium finishes and victories both in the Tour de Ski in January and the brand new Ski Tour Canada as well as the regular World Cup schedule, in sprints as well as distance races.

Read more: Tour de Podium 

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Heidi Weng (left) and Ingvild Flugstad Østberg after the final stage of Ski Tour Canada. Photo: Nordic Focus 

Heidi Weng (left) and Ingvild Flugstad Østberg after the final stage of Ski Tour Canada. Photo: Nordic Focus

In Nordic Combined, World Cup rookie Jarl Riiber (NOR) showed no respect for the established elite. He cleaned up the hardware at the 2015 FIS Junior World Championships in Kazakhstan taking home two individual gold medals and bronze in the team competition, and became a permanent member of the Norwegian World Cup team for the 2015-16 season. The 18-year-old stepped up to the challenge. He opened the season by winning the Norwegian national championships in November, and delivered podium finishes on the World Cup throughout the season.

 

Thriller on Tap

Årefjällsloppet is the last event in the 2016 Ski Classics. Photo: Ski Classics
Årefjällsloppet is the last event in the 2016 Ski Classics. Photo: Ski Classics

Årefjällsloppet is the last event in the 2016 Ski Classics. Photo: Ski Classics

The Ski Classics season finale on Saturday features tight fights for the overall titles.

Prior to the last race in the 2016 long-distance series John Kristian Dahl (NOR) is in third place overall, but made some giant steps toward the top after winning both Vasaloppet on March 6 and Birkebeinerrennet on March 19.

In doing so, Dahl made history: He is the first Norwegian to ever win both Vasaloppet and Birkebeinerrennet in the same season. The last and only other skier to do the same, was Sven-Åke Lundbäck (SWE) back in 1981. Dahl is in a position to advance on the overall podium and has a lot to race for in Åre (SWE) next weekend.

Related: Nailing the Double

Related: Vasaloppet Means Everything

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John Kristian Dahl at the 2015 Årefjällsloppet. Photo: Ski Classics

John Kristian Dahl at the 2015 Årefjällsloppet. Photo: Ski Classics

But the race for the overall Youth bib is going to be a real thriller: Madshus racer Stian Hoelgaard (NOR) has a 41-point lead over Anders Høst (NOR).

“As skiers, we are quite similar, so it will ultimately come down to who has the best legs and the most juice that day,” Hoelgaard notes.

“My advantage in the fight for the pink bib is that I have a few points lead,” Hoelgaard says, explaining that the mental benefit of being on top and having been so for the most of the season cannot be underrated.

“I took a few days easy after the Birkebeiner on March 19, but put in a good amount of training between Wednesday and Sunday. I feel fit now, so I hope to defend the bib that I’ve had all winter,” he says.

Related: Podium in Marcialonga 

But Hoelgaard leaves nothing to chance.

“Årefjällsloppet is a pretty tough course. It is 65 kilometers and quite hilly, and they have changed the course slightly every year to include something new and different, so it will be interesting to see how it is this time,” says Hoeldgaard, adding that with so many of the Ski Classics events coming down to a sprint finish, equipment is a large factor.

But the 24-year-old is confident that his skis will be solid.

“It is the end of a long season, so I am on top of my quiver. I know all my skis very well by now, but I still often have to test 6-10 pairs depending on conditions,” he says.

“I do most of the rough testing the day before the race, and generally only have 2-3 pairs to test the morning of the race.”

In the youth women category, Madshus racer Emilia Lindstedt (SWE) has a lead of nearly 500 points, and can already celebrate the victory.

The 65-kilometer classic technique Årefjällsloppet is the final race in the 2016 Ski Classics, and takes place in Åre (SWE) on April 2.

Stian Hoelgaard is leading the Youth Competition by 41 points going into the final race of the 2016 Ski Classics. Photo: Lars Krogsveen

Stian Hoelgaard is leading the Youth Competition by 41 points going into the final race of the 2016 Ski Classics. Photo: Lars Krogsveen

Nailing The Double

John Kristian Dahl (NOR) won the Birkebeiner less than two weeks after winning Vasaloppet. Photo: Inge Scheve
John Kristian Dahl (NOR) won the Birkebeiner less than two weeks after winning Vasaloppet. Photo: Inge Scheve

John Kristian Dahl (NOR) won the Birkebeiner less than two weeks after winning Vasaloppet. Photo: Inge Scheve

John Kristian Dahl (NOR) delivered what only one racer has done to date: Win both Vasaloppet and the Birkebeiner in one season.

“It’s really huge to nail ‘The Double’ – to first win Vasaloppet and then win this. It feels awesome,” Dahl said after winning the 54-kilometer classic race on Saturday.

Nobody has won both the legendary ski marathons in the same season since Sven-Åke Lundbäck did it back in 1981.

Related: Vasaloppet means everything 

No easy win
However, the victory wasn’t handed to him on a plate. At the finish line he was so exhausted he just lay in the snow for minutes. Race support crew and fellow competitors came up to him to check on him and help him get his skis and his backpack off, and give him the hard-earned laurel wreath.

“I was totally cooked when we got to the final stretch to the finish line. The last part of the race was all about positioning, because one of the tracks was hard and icy, the others were not. Anders (Aukland) chose that track. It cost a lot more energy to be in the other tracks that were suctiony,” Dahl explained.

“There were several racers who were eager to win the sprint finish, but I saw an opportunity. The inside turn was open, so I took it. But then Petter Eliassen jumped in right behind Anders. Luckily, I didn’t crash, but I also didn’t get the track that I wanted,” said Dahl, who didn’t give up despite the fatigue and the unfortunate turn.

“You never know, but I had a good feeling. I had really good skis,” he said, adding that he had chosen a white structure for the day.

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John Kristian Dahl did not hold anything back. Photo: Inge Scheve

John Kristian Dahl did not hold anything back. Photo: Inge Scheve

Skis matter
A white structure is a term describing grinds and structures that are optimized for conditions right around freezing, which he knew would be best for the latter part of the Birkie course. That proved a good decision.

While all the elite men were skiing without kick wax, glide was an even bigger factor, especially toward the end when fatigue becomes a major issue.

One of the main challenges with the Birkebeiner is the constantly changing conditons. Crossing two mountain ranges and covering a wide range of altitudes, temperatures, shaded and exposed areas, skis will always be a compromise over the 54-kilometer course. While the strongest racer wins, the strongest racer often also chooses the skis wisely.

Nailed the strategy
The elite men stayed together from the start and at the halfway point they were still a large field. Dahl wanted to better control the race development, and attacked at the 28-kilometer milepost.

“I wanted a smaller group to work with. I did a half-serious effort to attack early in the race, but I noticed there wasn’t a lot to be had,” Dahl said, adding that he spent a lot of energy on creating a gap.

Finally, a breakaway group of six formed: Petter Eliassen (Team Leaseplan Go), Sjur Røhte (Voss IL), Anders Aukland (Team Santander), Øyvind Moen Fjeld (Team Santander) and Tord Asle Gjerdalen (Team Santander).

“We raced hard up to Midtfjellet to see who would hang on, but then it mellowed out a bit. It was really hard to ski in front in the increasingly suctiony snow, so I dropped back from time to time to conserve energy,” Dahl said.

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John Kristian Dahl (yellow) had good skis for the finish. Photo: Inge Scheve

John Kristian Dahl (yellow) had good skis for the finish. Photo: Inge Scheve

The Birkie is unique
After winning Vasaloppet, Dahl had less than two weeks to reset and start prepping for the Birkie. Both races are part of the long-distance championship series Ski Classics, but the Birkie is vastly different from the Vasa.

“Well, for starters, I have to go on a diet and shed several kilos before the Birkie, and I should probably try to double-pole some uphills,” Dahl said only half-joking after the Vasaloppet victory.

“The Birkie is much shorter than Vasaloppet, but much more demanding in terms of engine and climbing capacity. At the same time, then you are done with the hills at Midtfjellet, which makes the Birkie a short race in terms of climbing,” he explained.

The last race of the 2016 Ski Classics is the 65-kilometer Årefjällsloppet on April 2. But first, Dahl is taking a break to enjoy his victories and spend time with his family.

“I will start my Easter break with a good feeling now,” Dahl said.

Top 3 men elite
1. John Kristian Dahl, Team United Bakeries, 2:27:34
2. Anders Aukland, Team Santander, 2:27:34
3. Petter Eliassen, Team Leaseplan Go, 2:27:34

The sweet rewards. Photo: Inge Scheve

The sweet rewards. Photo: Inge Scheve

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