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How do you beat this lot over 90km?

The Vasaloppet is the world's oldest and most prestigious cross-country ski race. Record-holder Jörgen Brink explains how to beat 15,800 racers

How do you beat this lot over 90km?

The Vasaloppet (Vasa Race) is a very big deal in Sweden - watched by almost 2 million viewers, and with 15,800 competitors, the 90km race in Dalarna, central Sweden, ranks with the world's great marathons, except with skis and more history.

First run in 1922, it's inspired by an even older trip - that of Gustav Vasa in 1520. The rebel nobleman was fleeing to Norway, chased by the troops of the despotic King Christian II ("Christian the Tyrant"), who had massacred his parents in the Stockholm Bloodbath. Having failed to start a rebellion at Mora, he was heading to the border when two brothers on skis caught up with him at Sälen and said the rebels had had a change of heart. They eventually won and Vasa became king in 1523, ending feudalism and ushering in the Swedish Reformation.

It's that route from Mora to Sälen that forms today's Vasaloppet, which most people treat as a fitness challenge - in last year's race, British royal-in-law Pippa Middleton came 412th out of 1,734 women. But one man will be thinking differently when he lines up on 3 March. Swede Jörgen Brink, from Hudiksvall, is aiming for a fourth consecutive win in the race, having last year set the record in the event - his time of 3h38m41s took 16 seconds off the mark established in 1998.

"Vasaloppet is the focus of my entire season. I plan all my training around it," says the 38 year old, who is a professional cross-country skier and biathlete, but is best known for his Vasaloppet performances. "The main tactic is to hang onto a good position throughout the race and stay in the front pack. Then it's all about the finishing straight - if you're first up on top of the new bridge near the finish line, you're in a good position to win it. Of last year's race, Brink says, "I felt stronger as the race went on and knew I still had some power left in my arms. I'd trained hard and also know that I'm traditionally a strong finisher; it all came together on the day. It's an unbelievable feeling to win a race that is so historic and so important."

www.vasaloppet.se

Three More Snow Events To Catch

Arctic Challenge

Oslo, Norway 9 March

Snowboard legend Terje Håkonsen started this event in 1999 as an alternative to big-brand, pro snowboarding competitions. Expect the world's 24 best halfpipe riders, including American star Shaun White - but, with speculation about whether the event would go ahead, check the website to confirm.

www.thearcticchallenge.com

Saami Ski Race

Enontekiö, Finland, to Kautokeino, Norway 7 April

Another 90km cross-country race, this one starts in Finland and ends in Kautokeino, a Norwe-gian town where 90 per cent of the population speaks Saami.

www.saamiskirace.com

Scandinavian Big Mountain Championships

Riksgränsen, Sweden 14-16 May

Up to 150 skiers and snowboarders take on a steep, rocky stretch of mountain that drops 300m. Look out for last year's winners in the ski events, Swedes Wille Lindberg and Evelina Nilsson.

www.playground.se/bigmountain


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