Sophia Laukli Returns to Lysebotn Opp Hill Climb for Second Podium Finish
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7.5 kilometers, 27 hairpin turns, up a fjord. For the better part of two decades, the climb up the Lysebotn Opp has marked the high point, figurative and literal, of cross-country skiing’s summer calendar.
Last year, that point was reached first by an American, Sophia Laukli, and foreshadowed her arrival as one of the world’s best climbers, no matter the season. In the intervening year between then and now, Laukli won her first podium on the Tour de Ski’s Alpe Cermis climb, and rose to the fore of the Trail running world, capped by a win at the Marathon du Mont Blanc. It’s been, for lack of a better phrase, quite the ascent, all leading back to the Lysebotn Opp again this week.
On the start line with the defending champion Laukli, was a group filled with athletes familiar to World Cup audiences, Eva Urevc (SLO), Helene Marie Fossesholm (NOR), Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg (NOR) among them. The most notable though, was another skier that has taken on new heights and new titles over the past year, 30 k and Relay World Champion Ebba Andersson (SWE).
It was Andersson who was the most notable presence as the race wound through the kilometer approach to the Opp in this year’s race. Andersson marked Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg, as they formed a steady pace-line ahead the race’s main pack. Laukli, for her part, began this year’s Lysebotn Opp the way she had began last year’s ascent, preferring to stay in the pack rather than stamp out the pace at the front.
That Laukli planned on being there to defend her win became quickly apparent as soon as the race hit the climb’s base. As the pace drove up from the front from Andersson, Oestberg, Urevc (SLO) and Katarina Janatova (CZE), Laukli quickly wound through the pack to find the front of the race. As Laukli moved through the pack, Andersson moved out from the wheel of Oestberg that she had followed to the climb to lead the pack for the first time. Rather than an explosive burst, the move met the now steep road, and that little kick up in the pace led to quick separation throughout. By the time that Andersson emerged from the tunnel that led to the hairpin-rich bulk of the climb, she had two skiers on her wheel. Eva Urevc, and Sophia Laukli.
The trio drove a steady V2, until one continued to drive on more. Ebba Andersson kept power and pace in her climb that would see her leave Laukli and Urevc down the road, and her alone at the top of the climb as the winner on the Lysebotn Opp.
Laukli was the first to fall off Andersson’s wheel, with Urevc coming soon after. The few following moments where Laukli and Urevc found themselves in the limbo of the race, though, were some of the most revealing to the nature of the athletes involved. Far from a fade, Laukli soon kicked her tempo up, and started to surge towards the line. The move reiterated all that observers have come to know about Laukli as an athlete in the space between her ascents of the Opp. She can climb. She can do so better than nearly anyone. A year’s worth of racing and results have only reiterated the fact. And yet, watching a remarkable athlete handle one of the sporting world’s hardest prospects wasn’t any less remarkable.
Laukli crossed the line in second place, 34 seconds off Andersson, with Urevc rounding out the podium in third place at 1 minute 4 seconds off the winner. With her second place finish, Laukli pulled alongside Liz Stephen as the only two American women to have multiple podiums on the Lysebotn Opp climb, with Stephen’s having taken third place in 2011, and winning in 2014. Back on skis for a brief moment in a summer full of trail racing and mountain climbs, Laukli gave an indication that there’s plenty to look forward to once the snow falls.
Lysebotn Opp Results
Ben Theyerl was born into a family now three-generations into nordic ski racing in the US. He grew up skiing for Chippewa Valley Nordic in his native Eau Claire, Wisconsin, before spending four years racing for Colby College in Maine. He currently mixes writing and skiing while based out of Crested Butte, CO, where he coaches the best group of high schoolers one could hope to find.
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