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

The elite men's 51 k skate podium at the 2016 American Birkebeiner, with winner David Norris (APU), runner-up Ivan Perrillat Boiteux (France) and Benoit Chauvet (France) in third. (Photo: Vince Rosetta)

The elite men’s 51 k skate podium at the 2016 American Birkebeiner, with winner David Norris (APU), runner-up Ivan Perrillat Boiteux (France) and Benoit Chauvet (France) in third. (Photo: Vince Rosetta)

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 USSA’s Tom Kelly after winning in 2:22:44.5 hours, holding off Dabudyk by 5.1 seconds.

The overall Worldloppet Cup leader, Dabudyk secured second, and a regular on the U.S. SuperTour circuit, Erika Flowers of the Stratton Mountain School T2 Team placed third (+1:51.1). A Montana native, Flowers held off Italy’s Elisa Brocard (Haute-Savoie) and Klara Moravcova of the Czech Republic for the third spot on the podium. An early race leader, Brocard placed fourth (+1:52.5), and Moravcova finished fifth (+1:54.2). Italy’s Antonella Confortola was in the money in sixth (+2:00.7), Switzerland’s Rahel Imoberdorf and Nicole Donzallaz placed seventh (+2:55.8) and eighth (+2:56.8), Rosie Frankowski of Alaska Pacific University (APU) was ninth (+3:09.5), and CXC’s Alice Flanders 10th (+5:55.1).

In the men’s race, APU’s 25-year-old Norris outlasted three Frenchmen at the finish, winning his first Birkie title in his first try in 2:05:35.4. France’s Ivan Perrillat Boiteux (Haute-Savoie) placed second, 1 second back, Benoit Chauvet (Gel Interem Rossignol) was third (+1.3) after pushing the pace to break up the pack with about 8 k remaining, and France’s Adrein Mougel (Gel Interem Rossignol) finished fourth (+4.7).

“Benoit took off the front and he had a gap and I went and closed that,” Norris explained of Chauvet’s move. “Only five other people went with us so a pack of 20 broke down to five. … Across the lake, we were doing cat and dog and no one was really pushing. I’m not confident in my sprint generally, so I was just like, ‘I need to be first off the lake and that will at least give me a shot for the podium.’ And then I came off the bridge and I just went as hard as I could and I was blown away that no one was coming up on my sides.”

Switzerland’s Candide Pralong (Gel Interem Rossignol) placed fifth (+6.6), France’s Mathias Wibault was sixth (+8.7), and last year’s winner Sergio Bonaldi (Team Salomon Italia) of Italy was seventh (+12.9). Cracking the top 10, Kris Freeman (Team Freebird) was the second American in eighth (+33.7), Canada’s Ivan Babikov was ninth (+34.9), and Tad Elliott (Ski & Snowboard Club Vail) 10th (+38.9).

In the 55 k classic Birkie, Welly Ramsey (Maine Winter Sports Center) won the men’s race and former Michigan Tech skier Deedra Irwin of Wisconsin claimed the women’s title.

Stay tuned for a more in-depth recap.

Results (top 25): Skate | Classic

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

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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…

Gjerdalen Bests Eliassen, Johansson-Norgren Wins Again at Manmade Marcialonga

Two kilometers of manmade snow is one thing, but covering 70 k with artificial snow is another story. Yet, despite no natural snow, the organizers of Italy’s Marcialonga, the fifth event in the Visma Ski Classics, managed to pull-off the classical-style Worldloppet race event on Sunday with complete snow coverage over the 70 k course. Testing the tracks first were the women marathoners, who started 10 minutes prior to the men. At the 18 k mark, Sweden’s Britta Johansson-Norgren and Austrian Katerina Smutna broke away from the other 937 female competitors and skied together until the infamously most difficult part of the course, the Cascata climb. With 2.5 k of uphill to the finish in Cavalese, the real battle for first between Norgren and Smutna began. In the end, Norgren bested Smutna by 1.4 seconds, claiming her first Marcialonga win in a time of 3:13:50.7. It was her third-consecutive Ski Classics…

Eliassen, Johansson-Norgren Top La Diagonela for 2nd Ski Classics Win

Sunshine and a full race course made for happy racers at La Diagonela, the fourth Visma Ski Classics event on Saturday and the first to be held on a single-lap course this season. Petter Eliassen of Team LeasePlan Go and Britta Johansson-Norgren of the Lager 157 Ski Team both won the second-consecutive Ski Classics this season after taking titles at the Jizerská 50 two weeks ago. Instead of 15 laps of a 3.3 k course at Jizerska, skiers traversed a 55-kilometer course along the beautiful Engadine Valley in the classic-only race. Contained within the valley, the course is relatively flat but features a significant climb just after 20 k to bring racers to the highest point of the course at 1800 meters above sea level. Although the second half features a net descent, skiers are challenged by undulating hills and a final climb into Zouz, Switzerland. Although it was initially planned as a 65 k event, minor changes had to…

CXC Team Dominates Noquemanon Ski Marathon

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Treinen Defends Qaniq Challenge Title; Frankowski Tops Brooks in Two-Day Event

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