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Alaska’s Collegiate Skiers Dominate Oosik Classic Podiums

By Gavin Kentch

A host of collegiate skiers from Alaska’s two NCAA ski programs dominated the top of the results sheet in the 16th annual Oosik Classic, a 50-kilometer classic race held on the rivers and woods near Talkeetna, Alaska, last Saturday, March 19.  Skiers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) took the top six spots in the men’s race, while the women’s podium featured representatives of the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), UAF and a speedy citizen racer among the top three.

The Oosik Classic was founded in 2001, and aims to put the “country” back into “cross-country skiing.”  The race is notorious and beloved in the Alaska ski community for its unorthodox courses, distances that may charitably be described as approximate, and festive party atmosphere that characterizes at least three fourths of the field, as well as a number of unsanctioned aid stations.  This year’s race saw relatively cool conditions, even for Alaska in spring, as temperatures were still in the teens at the noon start of the race, and never rose much above 20 degrees Fahrenheit.  A light snow fell during the afternoon.  The cool temps and firm trails were a marked departure from the bright sun and klister skiing that have characterized the last several editions of this race.

Amidst the snowfall, the men were led by Michael Fehrenbach, a UAF senior, who completed the two-lap, approximately 50 k course in 1:55:38.  He was followed by Jan Cech, also a senior, 1:23 back in 1:57:01.  Another UAF skier, redshirt sophomore Nick Lovett, finished third in 1:57:48.  UAF, which sent the lion’s share of its men’s nordic ski program down to Talkeetna for the weekend after the recent NCAA Championships, also saw Alexander Eckert, Seiji Takagi, and Conner Truskowski finish fourth through sixth among the men.

The women’s podium was less homogenous.  Shalane Frost, previously described as an “unaffiliated dark horse and Fairbanks local” when she finished third in the inaugural Qaniq Challenge in January 2015, took the win in 2:20:13, good for eleventh overall.  Hanna Slotte, a senior who recently finished her collegiate ski career with UAA, followed 1:47 back in an even 2:22:00.  Third place went to Martina Himma, a sophomore member of the UAF team.  Himma was some distance back from second, finishing in 2:29:12, though she did edge out teammate Ann-Cathrin Uhl by one second in the battle for third.

UAF was back on top of the women’s podium for the one-lap 25 k race, which started 30 minutes after the 50 k.  Christina Turman, an assistant coach for the UAF team (and former collegiate racer for Northern Michigan University), was first in 1:30:23.  Citizen racer Krista Heeringa took second, and first master by a healthy margin, three seconds back in 1:30:26.  Sadie Fox, a freshman skier for UAA, was third in 1:35:53.

The top three in the men’s 25 k race were likewise a mixture of youth and experience.  First place went to Gus Schumacher, who claimed two U16 national titles at Junior Nationals in Cable, Wis., earlier this month, in 1:19:19.  He was followed less than a minute back by high school junior Andrew Hull in 1:20:12.  Third place went to 40-something Anchorage skier Gary Snyder, who finished another 54 seconds back in 1:21:06.

This year’s race had 519 official finishers, including 61 racers in the 50 k and 458 in the shorter race.

The 17th Oosik Classic will be held in Talkeetna in March 2017.  Registration has historically opened on Feb. 1.

Results

Dahl, Boner Tops in Birkebeiner; Ski Classics Titles All-But-Decided

Fantastic race by Seraina Boner, winning @birken_no for the fourth time! Read more at our Facebook page! #teamexspirit #w #årefjällsloppet @trimtex @swix_sport #toko @valadalensfjallstation @skipnutrition #omoaktivsport @falke #Wathletes @skiclassics #langrenn A photo posted by Team Exspirit (@teamexspirit) on Mar 19, 2016 at 9:02am PDT Both the men’s and women’s editions of the 2016 Birkebeiner finished in dramatic style: the men’s in a four-way sprint for the line, and the women’s in a come-from-behind victory. After 54 kilometers from Rena to Lillehammer, Norway, that belonged to Seraina Boner of Switzerland, who started the race well behind the leaders. The 2011-2013 champion of the race, Boner began to feel better as the race went on. When she passed Visma Ski Classics overall leader and Swede Britta Johansson Norgren going up the course’s big climb, she realized that things might be going better than she had thought. With just 14 kilometers to go, Justyna Kowalczyk of…

Furger Edges Swiss Teammates; Faivre Picon Wins Third Engadin

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Weekend Roundup: Vasaloppet’s Tight Finish; Big Margins at Bieg Piastow

Vasaloppet Comes Down to a Field Sprint  Challenging conditions made for tight races at the Vasaloppet held last Sunday, March 6, in Sweden.  The historical race from Sälen to Mora is the oldest and biggest cross country ski race in the world, with the inaugural race held 94 years ago in 1922. It features a mass start with a field of 15,800 skiers including the elite racers participating in the Visma Ski Classics series. After 90 kilometers of classic skiing, the first 25 men finished less than 9 seconds apart. Two seconds separated the top two females who finished just ten minutes behind the men. The new snow on the course prevented the field from stringing out early and the lead group of 300 skiers remained intact for the first 30 kilometers. Although the lead pack thinned as the pace picked up, the title was ultimately determined in a field sprint of the top pack of 19 men. Norwegians managed to…

Caitlin Gregg Wins Unprecedented Fourth Birkie; Norris Tops Men’s Race

Caitlin Gregg and David Norris are 2016 American Birkebeiner champions, each outlasting a competitive international field in the 51-kilometer freestyle race on Saturday to claim their fourth and first Birkie victories, respectively, in Hayward, Wis. A U.S. Ski Team member and perennial Birkie favorite, Gregg, of Team Gregg, skied a strategic race to drop all but one competitor in the women’s elite race, Aurelie Dabudyk of Team Haute-Savoie and Le Grand Bornad, France, with more than 10 kilometers to go. Gregg attacked slightly after Mosquito Brook at the 38 k mark, Dabudyk went with her and the two went head-to-head to the Main Street finish, with Gregg leading across the Hayward Lake and all the way across the line. For Gregg, 35, it was her fourth Birkie victory, making her the winningmost skier in the event’s history. “It always feels great after you win a race like that,” she told…

Old and New, Many Contenders in the Hunt at 2016 American Birkie

HAYWARD, Wis. — Despite rain, wintery mix and above-freezing temperatures in the 48 hours leading up to race time, the excitement for the 43rd American Birkebeiner is high. With the late decision to change the Birkie to a Worldloppet event, the fields are deep and promise some dramatic racing. In the women’s field, France’s Aurelie Dabudyk wears the red bib leading the FIS Worldloppet Cup. Dabudyk battled American Holly Brooks for the win last year but couldn’t match Brooks’ attack over Lake Hayward. Brooks will not return to defend her title this year as she has dialed down her racing schedule after a demanding marathon schedule last season and a rollerski injury this fall. Dabudyk will be challenged by three-time Birkie champion Caitlin Gregg, who, in her first season as U.S. Ski Team member, returned to the U.S. last month after racing on the World Cup. Last year Gregg did not race the Birkie as she…

El Niño Tests Birkie Organizers and Racers: Thunder in Hayward on Thursday

HAYWARD, Wis. — A steady rain and rumbles of thunder could be heard at Hayward High School Thursday evening, spiking the anxiety of hundreds of skiers claiming their bibs at the Birkie Expo. Nothing gets skiers riled up quite like an unusual or unpredictable race conditions and this year’s 43rd American Birkebeiner on Saturday is shaping up to be the perfect storm. The weather for the first half of race week was seasonable with pristine skiing conditions. Two to five inches of new snow fell on the course Monday overnight and temperatures plummeted below zero degrees Fahrenheit. However, northern Wisconsin would not be spared the wrath of El Niño for the annual congregation of skiers in Hayward. It was going warm up and it was going to rain. Temperatures were forecasted to rise above freezing by midday Thursday and not fall below the magic 32 degrees until long after the last racers crossed the finish…

City of Lakes and Mora: CXC Marathon Cup Roundup

February was the month of Minnesota racing on the CXC Marathon Cup series as the state hosted City of the Lakes Loppet and Mora Vasaloppet on consecutive weekends. Although both sites struggled with low snow leading up to the races, Minneapolis won the last minute snow lottery and Mora made the best with what they had with the help of some new snowmaking equipment. Although conditions looked dire leading into the City of the Lakes Loppet (Feb. 5-7), Minneapolis received 9-13 inches of snow the week of the race allowing them to pull off the full race schedule. The events included the Finn Sisu sprints in downtown Minneapolis on Friday, the Hoigaard’s Classic Marathon on Saturday, and The Columbia Skate Marathon on Sunday. To earn points for the overall CXC Marathon Cup, racers had to compete in the Minnie Tour which required competing in all three races. City of the Lakes Loppet…

Johansson-Norgren Back on Top, Gjerdalen Edges Eliassen at Toblach/Dobbiaco Cortina

The 39th Toblach/Dobbiaco Cortina made its debut on the Visma Ski Classics Circuit this year. Although the course had to be shortened to a 32 kilometer event, the course still offered its share of climbing between the start in Prags/Braies and the finish in Toblach.  Both the men’s and women’s races were determined in the final meters in some of the closest finishes of the Classics this year. In the women’s race, Seraina Boner of Switzerland pushed the pace on a lead group of seven with 15 kilometers to go. She was matched by Sweden’s Johansson-Norgren and Masako Ishida of Japan.  The three women raced the second half together and the title was decided in a sprint finish and Johansson-Norgren bested Boner (+1.34) and Ishida (+1.58) for her fifth Classics victory of the season. Johansson-Norgren recovered from a fourth place finish last weekend at Kaiser Maximilian Lauf where Boner took a convincing win….

Warm Weather Shakes Up International Schedule; Birkie Becomes 5th Worldloppet

Eliassen, Boner Win Relocated Ski Classic at Kaiser Maximilian Lauf Poor snow conditions in Oberammergau, Germany, leading up to the König Ludwig Lauf, forced the cancellation of the sixth Visma Ski Classics race. However, thanks to some quick organizing from Seefeld resort, the professional race was decided to be relocated to the Kaiser Maximilian Lauf in Tirol, Austria, just four days before the event. Seefeld has hosted cross-country ski events twice for the Winter Olympics and features 200 kilometers of groomed ski trails. Initially a 50 k event, the Kaiser Maximilian Lauf extended the course for the Ski Classics event making a challenging three-lap, 65 k event while also offering a 22 k citizens race. Petter Eliassen took his third Ski Classics win of the season just beating Johan Kjølstad in a sprint finish. Seraina Boner of Team Exspirit took her first win of the season on the women’s race. Eliassen (Team LeasePlan Go) and Kjølstad (Team…