Rosie Brennan had one of the most active vernal race periods among American skiers, taking second and fifth in a 50km and a 70km (!) in far northern Norway on successive days in early April, then winning the Alyeska Hill Climb on April 15 to close out the North American race season.
Four months and a lot of training later Brennan was back in action, contesting the 54-kilometer classic mass start race, the opening contest in the Toppidrettsveka race series in the Trondheim region of western Norway, earlier Wednesday. Brennan finished third in the classic marathon, in 2:21:59. Astrid Øyre Slind took the win in 2:20:35, distancing herself from fellow Norwegian Tiril Udnes Weng in the closing few kilometers. Udnes Weng finished 14.3 seconds back of Slind; Brennan was 1:24.1 back in third.
Brennan pushed hard into the finish to distance herself from Maja Dahlqvist of Sweden and Anikken Gjerde Alnæs of Norway, both of whom finished within four seconds of her for fourth and fifth overall.
Slind took a flier off the front midway through the 54-kilometer race; at the 28km mark she was 13 seconds up on a large chase pack led by Udnes Weng, with Brennan leading the second chase pack another five seconds in arrears. But 54 kilometers is a long way to (mostly) doublepole, and by the 36km mark the top dozen athletes were all back together again. Seven kilometers later, however, it was Slind and Udnes Weng at the front, and no one else, with Brennan chilling in what was now a five-athlete chase pack nearly a minute back.
Notably, Slind paused and waited for Udnes Weng at one point over the final quarter of the race after the latter fell, giving her rival the chance to return to her feet and continue skiing.
Roughly 2km from the finish, on I believe precisely the same small uphill that saw Max Novak’s winning move in last year’s men’s race, Slind doublepoled hard to open up a small gap on Udnes Weng. She made it stick, with the Norwegian quickly falling back several meters. (In part, I would posit, because Slind is a strong skier who made a strong move, but also in part because Udnes Weng knew she had a minute-plus gap back to third and had a strong incentive to hold onto second once she knew that the win was out of reach. No shame in racing for position when the difference between second and third is 10,000 kroner.)
Behind the pair, Brennan adroitly moved to the front of her chase pack over the race’s final six or seven kilometers, getting some screen time for her summer training affiliation, Team Robinson Trentino, in the process. As noted, she slightly gapped Dahlqvist and Alnæs approaching the finish, finishing 3.5 seconds ahead of the pair.
Brennan took home 10,000 Norwegian kroner, slightly under $1,000 USD, for the final spot on the podium.
In the men’s race, things were all set up for Johannes Høsflot Klæbo to win, until he didn’t. There he was gliding up to the front on a long downhill with roughly 2km to go, after chilling in the two-dozen-large lead pack for much of the race and conserving energy. There he was striding coolly up a short uphill while much of the field around him doublepoled, saving his arms, it seemed, for the final explosive acceleration for which he is justly famed. There he was still in near-perfect position with roughly a kilometer to go.
And then, suddenly, he… wasn’t. Amund Hopstock Riege of Norway led out the group sprint with aplomb, perfectly positioning himself to take the win in what seems to be the largest win of the 22-year-old marathon specialist’s young career by a goodly margin. Riege crossed the line in 2:02:05.9, a time recorded in the live results as 0.1 seconds ahead of Thomas Joly of France, although it looked closer than that live as both men threw a remarkably serviceable lunge on rollerskis.
Even Northug was third (+0.7), with Mikael Gunnulfsen fourth (+0.8) and Eirik Sverdrup Augdal fifth (+1.7). It was a large and close group finish, to put it mildly; 25th place overall, Didrik Tønseth, was less than six seconds off the win.
“I think it was fine. I got into a slightly wrong position at the end there, and then you have no chance,” Klæbo told NRK afterwards, according to an auto-translation.
One American man raced Wednesday. Kevin Bolger (Sun Valley), long known as more of a sprint specialist, finished 85th, 12:51 back.
Racing continues in the general area through Saturday as the Toppidrettsveka series brings many big names to the Trondheim area. Tomorrow sees a classic sprint; Friday, a skiathlon (15km for women and 20km for men); and Saturday a 12km skate pursuit.
You can easily view all races on NRK if you live in Norway, or can convince a host computer that you do. Races are available on replay as well as live, although for anyone tuning in from American time zones this will be your most humane World Cup–adjacent viewing experience until the Canmore and Wirth World Cups this winter. Hopefully you don’t have to work.
Here is the link to NRK coverage of all four days of racing in this year’s Toppidrettsveka festival, and here is a suggestion of one VPN service that has a proxy in Norway and that lets you stream up to 10GB of content per month for free, although what you do with this information is up to you. German viewers can stream the races here. The Toppidrettsveka Facebook page had free live streaming last year, if memory serves; I don’t think I see that available there this year, but here is the relevant page in case I am wrong about that.
Racing resumes tomorrow at 5:05 p.m. local time (7:05 a.m. Alaska time, 11:05 a.m. East Coast time) with sprint quals, with heats beginning at 7:20 p.m. (9:20 a.m. Alaska/1:20 p.m. East Coast). Tonight’s race began at 6:15 p.m. local time in Norway, for the women, and 6:40 p.m. local time, for the men. I am far, far from an internationally competitive rollerski racer, by any metric, but if there is one thing I have learned from the past decade of doing intensity on Thursday nights at 7:00 p.m. for APU Masters evening practice, it is that no one in that field is getting to bed too early tonight.
— Gavin Kentch