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
After sprints and two 42-kilometer races, it was Chris Pappathopoulos and Natalia Naryshkina standing atop the overall podium. Although neither of them won both marathons, the combined times bested their respective fields.
The Hooigard Classic Marathon turned into a duel between CXC teammates Pappathopoulos and Nick Power. The two pushed each other to the line but it was Pappathopoulos who outlunged Power for the win. Kyle Bratrud made it another CXC sweep taking third (+3:19).
Although Bratrud took third in both the Finn Sisu sprints and the classic marathon, he did not compete on Sunday so was not scored in the Minnie Tour.
In contrast to the tight finish in the men’s race, Naryshkina continued to dominate classic distance events taking first by 6 1/2 minutes over Bonnie Weiskopf Albrecht of Stillwater, Minn. The next skier competing in the Minnie Tour was Alice Flanders who was edged out by Josie Nelson for the final podium placing (+9:07) and had to settle for fourth (+9:08).
In the Columbia Sportswear Skate race, an early lead group was formed including Pappathopoulos, Andrew Brown and Power. It looked to be another day of CXC domination, however, Alex Vanias from Traverse City caught the group after recovering from a pole mishap at the start line. Vanias attacked and Power went with him.
Although the chase pack reeled them back, Vanias attacked again and skied the second half solo for the win, 54 seconds ahead of Pappathopoulos. Pappathopoulos was able to put nearly three minutes on Power in third to secure his overall Minnie Tour win.
“I woke up Sunday morning feeling a little worse for the wear, but still excited to be starting another marathon in a few hours,” said Pappathopoulos in a CXC press release. “Once the cannon went off the aches and soreness vanished. It was a blast skiing in a train of CXC Craft suits at the start of the race.”
Despite the pole troubles, Vanias’s race went as had hoped.
“Skiing the open sections on the lakes I could see the gap to Chris behind me and I was confident I could hold the lead,” Vanias said.
Heading into the skate race, Naryshinka had a commanding lead in the overall standings after wins in the sprints and the classic marathon, but Flanders gave a valiant effort to make up the difference and fell just short. Flanders took a decisive win by over six minutes in the 42 k race. Kim Rudd finished 30 seconds behind Naryshkina, taking third.
“I am convinced that it takes a certain kind of crazy to be excited to race two marathons in two days,” Flanders said in a CXC press release. “It was surprisingly fun, yet adequately exhausting.”
Despite skate race victories from Vanias and Flanders, the margins wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit from the classic race and they held their positions in the overall standings.
Power and Vanias took second and third, respectively, in the Minnie Tour standings behind Pappathopoulos.
In the women’s overall standings, Kathleen Dewahl of Minneapolis claimed third behind Naryshkina and Flanders after taking fifth in both marathons.
In contrast to the snow windfall in Minneapolis, the Mora Vasaloppet on Feb. 13 was not so fortunate as the town of Mora just missed the snowstorm although it is just 70 miles north of Minneapolis. Despite the challenging conditions, race organizers managed to put together a 12 k loop in great condition utilizing manmade snow. Due to the alternate course, the race was shortened to 48 kilometers from the scheduled 58 k.
Although there was minimal snow, it was a frigid day with temperatures below zero degrees at race time.
Making his return to the CXC Marathon Circuit for the first time since the Seeley Classic, Matt Liebsch battled neck and neck with CXC skier Andy Brown. In the end, Liebsch pulled off the win by just 4.73 seconds. Pappathopoulos claimed third, 56 seconds back on Liebsch.
In the women’s race, Naryshkina won her fourth consecutive CXC Marathon Cup event, extending her lead in the overall standings. Her time of 2:10:30 stood as 16th overall and over ten minutes ahead of Melissa Lewis of Fairbanks, Alaska, (+10:33) and Naryshkina’s CXC Teammate Hilary Patzer (+11:58).
“Despite really cold weather, my skis had great glide,” Naryshkina said in a CXC press release. “I really liked the course and organizers did all they could to put together high quality event. There was very little snow in town, but great atmosphere at the event!”
Results: Mora Vasaloppet
Pappothopolous and Naryshkina currently sit atop the overall standings with two races to go. The overall standings will be updated on the CXC website.
The next race on the CXC Marathon Schedule is the American Birkebeiner, now part of the FIS Worldloppet circuit due to snow challenges for the Tartu Marathon in Estonia.
— Kaitlyn Patterson