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Three Birkie Scenarios: Shortened One-Way Race, Untimed Event or Party

(Press release)

HAYWARD, Wis. (February 21, 2017) – With unseasonable weather again today, the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) has announced that Birkie Week events previously scheduled for Friday, February 24 have been moved to Saturday, February 25. These events include the Kortelopet and Prince Haakon races. In addition, ABSF officials have determined there are three possible scenarios for Saturday, February 25 events.

  • Scenario #1 – With some snow remaining on the trails from the American Birkebeiner Trailhead to the OO Trailhead (at Highway OO), Birkie staff are monitoring trail conditions. With hopes of measurable snow on Friday, there is a very slim chance that a one-way, timed race could be held (American Birkebeiner, Kortelopet and Prince Haakon races).
  • Scenario #2 – If there is enough snow and conditions are such that 10,000 plus participants can safely ski, however unsafe for a competitive race, there is a possibility of an untimed, open-track, looped-event on the Birkie Trail (north of OO) for the American Birkebeiner, Kortelopet and Prince Haakon events.
  • Scenario #3 – If snow is unavailable, 2017 will be a Birkie, Korte & Prince Haakon like none other. Participants will be part of a first-ever winter Birkie run and street party celebration in downtown Hayward. Live music, Birkie Brew-Ski, food vendors, and a festival atmosphere!

As always, the safety of event participants is first and foremost in the minds of ABSF officials, followed by a goal of creating the best possible participant experience for all. Both things are weighed and considered with each and every decision the ABSF makes.

“The Birkie staff and board are hard at work and pulling out all the stops to make sure that every participant and visitor to the Hayward area has a Birkie experience to remember,” said Ben Popp, ABSF Executive Director. “While this may not look like a typical week, it will be absolutely one to remember! We’ll have a 2017 Birkie celebration like no other with or without snow!”

Thursday, February 23

  • 10:00am – Barkie Birkie Canicross (Running Skijor Race) – Hatchery Creek Park
  • 12:00pm – Barnebirkie Adventure Fun Run – Hatchery Creek Park
  • 1:00pm – 8:00pm – Slumberland American Birkebeiner Expo – Hayward High School
  • 2:00pm – Junior Birkie Run! – Hatchery Creek Park
  • 5:30pm – Birkie Bash Pasta & Salad Buffet – Steakhouse & Lodge

Friday, February 24

  • 8:00am – Worldloppet Breakfast – Flat Creek Inn & Suites
  • 9:00am – 8:00pm – Slumberland American Birkebeiner Expo – Hayward High School
    Saturday, February 25
  • Time TBD – Slumberland American Birkebeiner Event – Location TBD
  • Time TBD – Kortelopet Event – Location TBD
  • Time TBD – Prince Haakon Event – Location TBD
  • Time TBD – Birkie Giant Ski Event– Location TBD
  • 7:00pm – Birkebeinerne (The Last King) – Park Center Theater

Sunday, February 26

  • 9:00am – Birchleggings Club Breakfast – Steakhouse & Lodge
  • 9:00am – Birkie Ski & Fat Bike Demo Event – Location TBD
  • 9:30am – Fast & Female Champ Chat – Hayward High School
  • 12:00pm – Birkebeinerne (The Last King) – Park Center Theater

Cancellations:

While much to our dismay, the following events have been canceled due to weather conditions:

  • Nikkerbeiner and Opening Ceremonies
  • Elite Sprints
  • Birkie Adaptive Ski

As conditions or plans change, we will post the latest updates on www.Birkie.com.

Birkie Announces Schedule Changes, Continues to Work on Contingency Plans

(Press release)

Hayward, WI (February 21, 2017) – The American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) today announced that after yesterday’s unseasonable rain, Duffy’s Field just outside of Hayward, WI, and the Birkie Trail south of Highway OO are no longer feasible for Slumberland American Birkebeiner, Kortelopet and Prince Haakon Events. Even with snow in the forecast, a downtown or Hayward area finish will not be reinstated. The ABSF team is working on contingency plans for Friday and Saturday events with a focus on the Birkie Trails north of Highway OO.

The safety of our participants is first and foremost in our minds, followed by our goal of creating the best possible participant experience for all. Both things are weighed and considered with each and every decision we make. With that in mind, while Thursday’s events, normally held on Hayward’s snow-covered Main Street, may not look the same they are infused with #BirkieFever and provide an opportunity for participants to experience and continue to be a part of Birkie week events.

Thursday, February 23 – Revised Event Schedule:

10:00am – Barkie Birkie Canicross (Running Skijor Race)

  • Runners and their furry friends will don their skijor harnesses and bibs, then set out on Hatchery Creek ski trails for either a 5K and 3K Canicross run.
  • Runners and their pups will be timed.
  • Medals, awards and more to follow the Canicross races in the tent at Rosie’s Field.
  • Register until midnight tonight or on site.
  • Runners and their dogs will take buses from the Wesleyan Church (see below) to Hatchery Creek and back.
  • Get your Barkie Fever ready for a day of Canicross fun!
  • Presented by Northern Lakes Co-Op Feed Mill

12:00pm – Barnebirkie Adventure Fun Run!

  • Imagine hundreds of kids, ages 3-13, on an adventure to remember as they take to the Birkie Trail at Hatchery Creek!
  • With 1K and 3K options, there is something for every age group!
    After the run, more fun! Kids can jump, run, and have a good-old-time while conquering an obstacle course in Rosie’s Field!
  • Cocoa, cookies, and medals to follow in the tent at Hatchery Creek!
  • Sponsored by Johnson Bank and Swiss Miss

2:00pm – Junior Birkie Run!

  • The next generation of passionate athletes, between 6 and 19-years of age, charge their way down the Birkie Trail in a competitive run.
  • 2:00pm – U8 & U10 – 1K run
  • 2:30pm – U12 & U14 – 3K run
  • 3:00pm – U16 & High School 4.5K run
  • 3:30pm – Sprint Relays
  • Elite athletes will be on site and working with Junior Birkie participants!
  • Refreshments & awards to follow races in the tent at Hatchery Creek!
  • Presented by Gear West

Busing for Barkie Birkie Canicross, Barnebirkie and Junior Birkie Participants & Spectators

  • Buses for both the Barnebirkie & the Junior Birkie will run continuously from the Wesleyan Church Parking lot, located 10655 Nyman Ave, Hayward, WI, from 9:00am to 4:00pm. The Wesleyan Church is found at the intersection of Highway 77 and Nyman Avenue.

Birkie Giant Ski

  • Hold on to your hats!  An announcement will be made regarding details surrounding the Birkie Giant Ski.  This event will be held on Saturday, the time, location and details are in the works!
  • Presented by Hayward Lakes Chamber of Commerce

Cancellations:

While much to our dismay, we must announce that the following events have been canceled due to weather conditions.

  • Nikkerbeiner and Opening Ceremonies
  • Elite Sprints
  • Birkie Adaptive Ski

Details on Birkie, Korte, and Prince Haakon events will likely be determined later today.  As conditions or plans change, we’ll notify all participants through Birkie Alert emails, Facebook posts, Twitter (@birkie), and will post the latest updates on www.Birkie.com.

Pedersen, Smutná Victorious at Jizerská Padesatka

Morton Eide Pedersen (l) outstretches Petter Eliassen for the win in the 2017 Jizerská Padesatka on Feb. 19 in Liberec, Czech Republic.(Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

The eighth stage of the Ski Classics took place on Sunday, Feb. 19, with the 50-kilometer Jizerská Padesatka in Liberec, Czech Republic. There, Morton Eide Pedersen (Team BN Bank) and Petter Eliassen (Team Leaseplan) prevented Tord Asle Gjerdalen (Team Santander) from claiming his fourth victory of the series after the two broke away on the long uphill about 19 k before the finish and dropped Gjerdalen. Pedersen was able to claim the victory after winning this race back in 2015, finishing Sunday in 1:55:53.1 hours, by just 0.5 seconds ahead of Eliassen (+0.5). Gjerdalen took third, 1:13.6 minutes back, with the help of his teammate Anders Aukland, who helped Gjerdalen after the breakaway. Aukland finished fifth (+1:17.1), behind Ermil Vokuev (Russian Marathon Team) in fourth (+1:13.8). Gjerdalen said that he felt that he had some lactic acid built up in his muscles.

“I had a good day today,” Pedersen said, according to a Ski Classics press release. ”I saved some energy in the beginning and wanted to make sure that I have enough power in the long climb where Eliassen did his breakaway. I just tried to keep up with him and once we got the gap, we worked well together ensuring that the chasing group couldn’t catch us. It was about time that we pushed Gjerdalen away from the top podium place!”

The women’s podium at the Jizerska Padesatka in Liberec, Czech Republic, the eighth event of the 2016/2017 Ski Classics series, with Katerina Smutná (c) in first, Britta Johansson Norgren (l) in second, and Astrid Øyre Slind (r) in third. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

In the women’s race, Katerina Smutná (Team Santander), Britta Johansson Norgren (Lager 157 Ski Team), and Astrid Øyre Slind (Team United Bakeries) separated themselves from the pack early and remained together for most of the race. With a few kilometers to go, Norgren and Smutná dropped Slind on the final downhill section. Smutná was able to increase her speed on the last climb and gap Norgren. Smutná ultimately finished first in 2:17:34.7 for her fifth victory in a row, making her the first skier to ever have five consecutive Ski Classics victories. Norgren placed second, 9.5 seconds later, and Slind was third (+40.5) for the last spot on the podium.

“I felt really strong in my double poling,” Smutná said, according to the press release. ”I hope that I can keep this up come Vasaloppet in two weeks. This was a tough race as we expected, but I did what I had planned beforehand and it worked out perfectly. Now, I have some time before Vasaloppet where Britta will be tough to beat. It’s her home soil and she really wants to win that race.”

Even with Gjerdalen finishing third, he still is wearing the yellow Ski Classics leader bib with a significant lead over Pedersen and Stian Hoelgaard (Team LeasePlan), who finished ninth (+3:17.7) on Sunday. On the women’s side, Norgren still holds the overall lead by 15 points over Smutná, who has closed the gap over the last five races. Slind is currently third in the standings.

The next race is the 90 k Vasaloppet on March 5 from Sälen to Mora, Sweden. Jizerská Padesatka was the last race in central Europe, as the next five races will take place in northern Europe, with the last of them being the Ylläs-Levi in Finland on April 8.

Results: Men | Women

— Ian Tovell

Anxiety, Forecast Temps High as Birkie Approaches

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

By Gavin Kentch

With just over a week to go until the first marathon event of the 2017 American Birkebeiner, race officials are measuring ice thickness on Lake Hayward, groomers are taking protective action, and 13,000 skiers around the country are becoming amateur meteorologists.

First, the facts. The 29-kilometer Kortelopet race is currently scheduled for next Friday, Feb. 24. The 15 k Prince Haakon is set for that afternoon. The main event, the 44th American Birkebeiner, a 50 k freestyle or 55 k classic point-to-point race from Cable to Hayward, starts at 8:15 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25.

The Birkie trail “is currently in good condition with a 4-8 [inch] solid base,” Nancy Knutson, marketing and communications director at the Birkie, wrote to FasterSkier on Thursday afternoon. (That’s closer to eight inches north of OO, at roughly the midway point of the trail, and closer to four inches at points south, Birkie officials wrote on Facebook earlier this week.) The entire Birkie trail closes to skiers effective midnight tonight until further notice. Lake ice at the end of the course is currently a healthy 16 to 20 inches.

Oh, and the weather is going to get somewhat warm between now and race day.

Here’s the extended forecast for Cable from the Weather Underground site:

Weather Underground extended forecast screenshot for Cable.

Here’s the comparable forecast for Hayward from the ECMWF European model, showing predicted weather and precipitation for the afternoon of each day:

ECMWF European model extended forecast screenshot for Hayward.

While forecasts that far in advance are notoriously unreliable, skiers nonetheless have good reason to be concerned about the potential viability of racing in northern Wisconsin on either or both of next Thursday or Friday.

“Hayward, we have a problem” Birkie aficionado Ari Ofsevit titled a post on his blog on Wednesday of this week. (Ofsevit’s blog, http://birkieguide.com/, promises to be required reading over the next week. Ofsevit is an enthusiastic elite-wave skier and Birkie supporter whose site has no official affiliation with the race.)

Ofsevit explained some of his predictions, and the models he was looking at, in a Thursday email to FasterSkier. “It’s going to be real warm,” he wrote. “There’s some base, but it’s not as much as most years.” He continued, “I fear for south-facing hills. It’s still better than rain, though. That’s what sunk the Birkie in 2000: two-foot deep puddles at low points on the trail.”

Summarizing hours spent poring over weather models, Ofsevit wrote, “The good news: the models have a strong signal for a snowstorm next Friday. 6 of the past 8 model runs have shown a strong (6″+) snowstorm next Thursday into Friday. That would be nothing short of a miracle. This will be what to watch.”

So what does he predict? “All in all, I’d say there’s a 40% chance that there’s enough snow on the course for a full race, and a 60% chance there’s enough at least to OO (and maybe back). I think there’s a 50% chance that there’s a snowstorm on Friday. Assuming these are independent (that warmth doesn’t mean snow or not) there’s a 20% chance the race is canceled, a 10% chance the race is significantly shortened and a 70% chance the race is able to run the full course. This is mostly dependent on the snowstorm. And I’m pulling these numbers out of my behind.”

For those of you wanting to play with the data yourselves, Ofsevit explains that “there are a lot” of weather models out there. “The three big ones are the GFS (American model), ECMWF (European model) and CMC (Canadian model) which go out 10-16 days. The GFS and CMC have output here. The Euro is much more proprietary, but you can see model output here. They come out twice a day (4x per day for the GFS) and I’ll be tracking them very frequently in the next week.”

Ofsevit promises frequent updates on this topic over the next week.

Speaking on behalf of the Birkie, Knutson wrote that, “With warmer weather forecast for the coming days, we’re continually monitoring conditions and taking necessary actions to preserve the trail as best we can for race week.” The closure of the entire Birkie Trail at midnight tonight is the most obvious such response. (The Birkie Ridge loop trails will remain open, as well as myriad other trails in the greater Cable area. Those trails are not hoping to host thousands of skiers next week.)

As of Thursday afternoon, race officials “have not made any changes to our Birkie Week plans,” Knutson wrote. But they are “discussing possible contingencies should they be needed. There are any number of contingencies potentially in play depending on what situation, if any, presents itself. For now, it’s full steam ahead!”

(Ofsevit has speculated about alternate possibilities, including a scenario in which “the trail will be skiable north of OO and not to the south. The new Classic trail gives the option of turning the race back at OO and finishing it in Cable, although this would be operationally difficult, it may be an option. We’d certainly miss out on the Hayward finish, but if it’s not skiable and the ice isn’t safe.”)

So what’s next? Knutson concluded, “As always, the safety of our participants is first and foremost in our minds, followed by our goal of creating the best possible participant experience for all. … We hope Mother nature has good things in store for us and we will address changing weather conditions and what that means to Birkie events, if anything, as Birkie week draws nearer. Given the infrastructure it takes to prepare for 13,000 skiers, including the construction of the International Bridge, we need about 4 days to make it all happen. If we find ourselves in a position where we need to adjust event plans, we will share the update by Tuesday afternoon at the latest.”

Knutson promised “daily briefings” at the main Birkie webpage, the event’s Facebook page, and their Twitter feed for interested skiers. Which probably includes around 13,000 people right about now.

Gjerdalen, Smutná Win Dobbiaco-Cortina; Duvillard, Gräfnings Top La Transjurassienne

The start of the 2017 Gran Fondo Dobbiaco-Cortina, the seventh event of the 2016/2017 Ski Classics series, in Dobbiaco, Italy. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

— The seventh event of the Ski Classics tour took place last Saturday, Feb. 11, at the Gran Fondo Dobbiaco-Cortina in Italy. In the men’s 50-kilometer classic race, Petter Eliassen (Team Leaseplan) returned to racing and set a fast pace from the start. Joining Eliassen in the lead pack were Tord Asle Gjerdalen (Team Santander) and Morten Eide Pedersen (Team BN Bank). After the longest climb on the course, Eliassen and Gjerdalen were able to break away to battle for the victory. The last 10 k of the course were downhill, which led straight into the stadium at Fiames. At the finish line, Gjerdalen was able to outstretch Eliassen by 0.4 seconds to claim his third victory of the 2016/2017 Ski Classics season with a time of 2:04:59.3 hours.

Pedersen (+1:43.1) was able to beat out his surging teammate Øystein Pettersen (+1:44.3) for third place on the podium. Gjerdalen continues to hold the yellow bib as the Ski Classics overall leader, 79 points ahead of Andreas Nygaard (Team Santander) who finished fifth (+2:36.3) on Saturday. Nygaard leads the overall sprint competition by more than 100 points.

Tord Asle Gjerdalen (l) edging Petter Eliassen for the win in the 50 k Gran Fondo Dobbiaco-Cortina in Italy last Saturday, Feb. 11. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

“I’m glad that Eliassen is back and he helped me a lot,” Gjerdalen said after the race, according to a Ski Classics press release. “He made sure that we had a real breakaway and the really good sprinters were far behind us. He got very close in the end and I think he’ll be strong for the rest of the season. I try to focus on the remaining races and keep up my good shape, but it will be different from now on.”

In the women’s 50 k race, the race for first was between eight skiers halfway through. By the time they reached the top of the last climb, the pack had dwindled down to six. Astrid Øyre Slind (Team United Bakeries) started to break away but was quickly followed by Katerina Smutná (Team Santander) and Britta Johansson Norgren (Lager 157 Ski Team). All three entered the stadium together, where Smutná was able claim the victory in 2:30:32 for her fourth consecutive win. Norgren (+3.7) came in second while Slind (+7.3) finished third. Despite Smutná’s victory, Norgren was able to hold on to the yellow bib, with a 45-point lead over Smutná. Norgren is leading the sprint competition as well.

“I felt strong today and I’m overly happy to have the fourth victory in a row,” Smutná said at the finish. “I don’t know why I’m so strong and why I’ve been able to win so many races back-to-back. I hope my luck and good shape will continue as we are now halfway through the season. There are still many tough races left.”

The next race is Jizerská Padesatka in the Czech Rebuplic on Saturday, Feb. 18, followed by the Vasaloppet on March 5 in Sweden. The Vassaloppet is start of another competition within the tour called the Nordic Trophy.

Results: Men | Women

***

France’s Robin Duvillard celebrates after beating four others by less than a second for the win in the 2017 La Transjurassienne in France last Sunday, Feb. 12. (Photo: Worldloppet.com)

— The fifth stage of the FIS Worldloppet Cup took place last Sunday, Feb. 12, with the La Transjurassienne 48 k freestyle race in Morez, France. In the men’s race, a pack of 15 skiers stuck together for most of the race. At the front,  Robin Duvillard (Armées/EMHM-Villard de Lans), Toni Livers (Team Gel Rossignol), Jean-Marc Gaillard (Haute-Savoie Nordic Team) and Ivan Perrillat-Boiteux (Haute-Savoie Nordic Team) led the charge. Duvillard was able to claim the victory in 1:53:38.68 hours, beating out four others by less than a second, including fellow Frenchmen Gaillard and Perrillat-Boiteux, who finished second (+0.22) and third (+0.32), respectively, and Livers in fourth (+0.43) and Candide Pralong (Team Gel Rossignol) in fifth (+0.97). Not far behind were Gerard Agnellet (Haute-Savoie Nordic Team) in sixth (+1.34) and Adrien Backscheider in seventh (+1.7).

“I came here to test myself for the World Championships in Lahti, so I was not sure how my body would react in the race,” French World Cup skier Robin Duvillard said according to FIS Worldloppet press release. “But the pace was not too high, so it was good for me. I am happy to win here, for a French it is big to win La Transjurassienne!”

Maria Gräfnings after winning the 2017 La Transjurassienne on Feb. 12 in France. (Photo: Wordloppet.com)

The women’s race came down to Maria Gräfnings (SAS & TG Hütten Team) dominating the field. She was alone at the 10 k mark and started to work together with some of the men until the finish, where she crossed in 2:05:43.35. She beat local favorite Aurelie Dabudyk (Haute-Savoie Nordic Team), who was apparently was not feeling like herself, by 2 minutes and 18 seconds. Third place went to Aurore Jéan (Douanes SC Grandvaux), who was with Dabudyk for a while before getting dropped near the finish. She finished another 54 seconds back for the final spot on the podium. Dabduyk remains on top of the overall standings.

“After a few kilometers, I felt strong and got rid of my chasers,” Gräfnings said, according to the press release. “From that moment on I decided to never look back again and started to rush to the finish.”

“It is simple. Maria was very strong today and I wasn’t. I was not feeling so well today, so I am very happy to be second!” Dabudyk said, according to the press release.

The next FIS Marathon Cup stage will be the Tartu Maraton from Otepää to Elva, Estonia, on Feb. 26.

Results: Men | Women

–Ian Tovell

Olex Ends 30-Year German Drought at König Ludwig Lauf

Germany's Max Olex, of the Adidas XCS-Team (l) celebrates his victory in the König Ludwig Lauf on Feb. 5 in Oberammergau, Germany. Olex, who previously skied for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, became the race's first German winner in 30 years. (Photo: Worldloppet.com)

Germany’s Max Olex, of the Adidas XCS-Team (l) celebrates his victory in the König Ludwig Lauf on Feb. 5 in Oberammergau, Germany. Olex, who previously skied for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, became the race’s first German winner in 30 years. (Photo: Worldloppet.com)

After warmer than usual temperatures and rain it was uncertain if the fourth stop of the Worldloppet circuit would happen or not on Sunday, Feb. 5. The organizers of the 44th König Ludwig Lauf in Oberammergau, Germany, able to work all night in order to get the conditions ready for the classic and freestyle races, which were shortened from 50 kilometers to 38 k. After Germany had been without a homegrown winner in the race for 30 years, Max Olex, of the Adidas XCS-Team (who previously raced at the University of Alaska Fairbanks), was able to end the drought in the elite men’s freestyle race, outlasting Damien Tarantola (Haute-Savoie Nordic Team) and Buttin Bastien (Haute-Savoie Nordic Team) in a photo finish. Olex (1:26:20.6) was able to outlunge Tarantola (+0.1) and Bastien (+0.8). Toni Livers (Team Gel Rossignol) was leading on the final uphill in front of the pack of 20 men, but a crash on the downhill forced him to slow down, allowing Olex and company to overtake him before the finish. Livers ended up finishing sixth (+1.8), just ahead two Americans, Tyler Kornfield in seventh (+2.4) and David Norris in eighth (+2.9), teammates at Alaska Pacific University.

“There are those days where you know, you can do it!” Olex said, according to a press release. “It was always one of my biggest dreams to win the König Ludwig Lauf, since here is my home and today was the day. I woke up at 5:00 this morning and couldn’t sleep anymore, so I went outside to see the conditions and saw that they are perfect for me. My words are still missing about this victory!”

In the women’s 38 k classic race, Aurelie Dabudyk (Haute-Savoie Nordic Team) the current overall Worldloppet leader was challenged by Maria Gräfnings (SAS & TG Hütten Team). It was a close race until the final stretch where Dabudyk (1:36:34.4) was able to hold off Gräfnings by seven-tenths of a second. Gräfnings’s teammate Tatjana Mannima rounded out the podium in third (+39.2).

“Today it was a very hard race for me,” Dabudyk said, according to the press release. “I didn’t feel so great after the Marcialonga, but fortunately, I was strong enough to win. Now I need some days break and then preparations for our home race, the Transjurasienne!”

The next Worldloppet race will be the 68 k freestyle La Transjurassienne on Feb. 12 in Morez, France.

Results: Men | Women

— Ian Tovell

Smutná Holds Off Norgren; Gjerdalen Wins Third Marcialonga

Norway's Tord Asle Gjerdalen (l) and the Czech Republic's Katerina Smutná after winning the 2017 Marcialonga. (Photo: Marcialonga.it)

Norway’s Tord Asle Gjerdalen (l) and the Czech Republic’s Katerina Smutná after winning the 2017 Marcialonga. (Photo: Marcialonga.it)

The sixth race in the Ski Classic series took place on Sunday, Jan. 29, with the 44th annual Marcialonga, a 57-kilometer classic race (this year from Mozzin to Cavalese, Italy).  The race was orginally suppoed to be 70k, but was shortened due to low snow.

In the women’s race, Britta Johansson Norgen of Team Lager 157, and Katerina Smutná (Team Santander) broke away from the group early and were able to keep up the pace until the finish. Smutná was able to outlast Norgen at the finish to beat her by 0.8 seconds, taking the win in 2:22:46.4 hours. Sara Lindborg (+4:22.2) of Team Serneke rounded out the podium.

Norgren had a game plan to keep a fast pace throughout the whole race so the only person that would be able to follow her was Smutná. She was able to achieve that goal, but just didn’t have enough power at the end to defend her 2016 Marcialonga title. Norgren remains the overall women’s leader with a 75-point lead over Smutná.

“I respected Britta’s past victories in this race and the pace was high in the beginning when she was leading,” Smutná said, according to a Ski Classics press release. “The battle between Britta and I continues after this and the next step is in Toblach-Cortina. Luckily, we have a two-week break before that.”

On the men’s side, a few different skiers attempted breakaways. Thomas Gifstad of Team Forever Nordic broke away from the lead pack, but eventually was caught by the chase group and ultimately finished 46th. Andreas Nygaard (Team Santander) made the other move, which lasted almost to the finish, but was caught right before the Cascata climb.

The race then came down to Tord Asle Gjerdalen (Team Santander), Johan Kjölstad (Team United Bakeries), and Morten Eide Pedersen (Team BN Bank). Gjerdalen was able to finish strong and win his third-straight Marcialonga in 2:08:36, becoming the first man to claim three-consecutive wins in that race. Kjölstad (+2.6) finished second with Pedersen (+2.9) following in third. Gjerdalen leads the men’s overall standings with 824 points, 174 points over Nygaard in second place.

“I wasn’t nervous about my teammates’ breakaway,” Gjerdalen said, according to the press release. “It was part of our team tactics. I broke my pole in the beginning, that’s why I was a bit behind in the first control point. It was an easy race for me as I let Petter Eliassen and John Kristian Dahl and the guys do all the work when we were catching up with Andreas. I had a free ride until the last hill and then I knew it was my time again.”

Eliassen ended up 10th and Dahl placed 19th.

Americans Tyler Kornfield and David Norris of Alaska Pacific University (APU) finished 43rd (+5:03.8) and 66th (+10:43.1). Canadian Paralympian Brian McKeever finished 57th (+9:13.5) and guide Graham Nishikawa 81st (+12:56.5), followed by Ian Murray in 85th (+13:37.5) and McKeever’s other Paralympic guide Erik Carleton in 111th (+17:50.2).

The next Ski Classics race will be a 50 k in Toblach-Cortina, Italy, on Feb. 11.

Results: Men | Women

— Ian Tovell

France Dominates Dolomitenlauf, FIS Worldloppet Cup Opener

22.01.2017, Loipe Obertilliach, AUT, 43. Dolomitenlauf, Freestyle, im Bild Gruppenbild // during the 43rd Dolomitenlauf Freestyle race at Obertilliach, Austria on 2017/01/22, EXPA Pictures © 2017 PhotoCredit: EXPA/ Michael Gruber

Men’s and women’s top six at the 43rd Dolomitenlauf on Jan. 22 in Obertilliach, Austria. (Photo: EXPA/ Michael Gruber)

The 43rd Dolomitenlauf opened the FIS Worldloppet Cup season last weekend in Obertilliach, Austria. This was originally scheduled to be the second stage of the International Ski Federation (FIS) marathon circuit, however the first stage at La Foulée Blanche in France was canceled earlier this month. Conditions were reported as ideal with sunshine.

Ivan Perrillat Boiteux of France racing to the win in front of Switzerland's Candide Pralong at the 43rd Dolomitenlauf 42 k skate race on Jan. 22 in Obertilliach, Austria. (Photo: EXPA/ Michael Gruber)

Ivan Perrillat Boiteux of France racing to the win in front of Switzerland’s Candide Pralong at the 43rd Dolomitenlauf 42 k skate race on Jan. 22 in Obertilliach, Austria. (Photo: EXPA/ Michael Gruber)

On the men’s side, eight out of the top 10 places all went to French skiers, with the top 10 consisting of four teams and the 10th place finisher just 30 seconds behind the winner.  Ivan Perrillat-Boiteux of the Haute-Savoie Nordic Team took the overall win in 1:39:02.8, outlasting Candide Pralong (Team GEL Interim Rossignol) by 2.2 seconds.  Perillat-Boiteux’s teammate, Loïc Guigonnet finished third (+9.9), before first-time FIS Marathon Cup competitor Kari Varis of Finland (+11.2).

“Our team is very strong this season and I am happy to have this team,” Perrillat-Boiteux said, according to a FIS Worldloppet Cup press release. “I also love the competition with the Rossignol team. Of course, I am happy about my victory today and about wearing the red bib now, but this was only the first race of a long and hard season.”

On the women’s side, it was another dominant performance from last season’s overall winner Aurélie Dabudyk, of France and the Haute-Savoie Nordic Team, who won the race in 1:49:57.4 by 53.5 seconds over runner-up Rahel Imoberdorf of Switzerland. Seraina Boner (GEL Interim Rossignol) rounded out the podium in third, 1 minute and 51.4 seconds out of first. Tatjana Mannima of Estonia made her comeback debut after having a baby and finished fourth (+5:06.3).

I am very happy today. It was just a perfect race for me,” Dabudyk said. “The conditions were great and also my shape. At the beginning of the final lap I attacked Rahel for the first time but it didn`t work out, so I tried it again and again and finally I got away from her.”

The FIS Marathon Cup/Wordloppet series continues Jan. 29 with the Marcialonga in Trentino in Italy.

Results: Men | Women

— Ian Tovell

Nygaard, Rocheva Take Vasaloppet China; Fritz Top American

Andreas Nygaard (Team Santander) (green bib) crosses the finish line ahead of Jens Eriksson (Team Santander) (bib 11) to win the Vasaloppet China in Changchun, China, on Wednesday. (Photo: China Tour de Ski/tourdeskichina.com)

Andreas Nygaard (Team Santander) (green bib) crosses the finish line ahead of Jens Eriksson (Team Santander) (11) to win the Vasaloppet China in Changchun, China, on Wednesday. (Photo: China Tour de Ski/tourdeskichina.com)

Andreas Nygaard (Team Santander) and Olga Rocheva (Russian Marathon Team) took the overall victories in the Vasaloppet China, a 50-kilometer classic mass start race that covered two 25 k laps through Jingyuetan Park in Changchun, China, earlier Wednesday. The race also doubled as Stage 3 of the six-stage China Tour de Ski. Lauren Fritz (APU) placed 18th to lead the four American skiers competing in the Tour.

At the front of the pack the women’s race was all Rocheva, who won in 2:29:01, nearly two minutes over Swedish skier Britta Johansson Norgren (Team Lager 157). The two were together through a halfway sprint at 25 k, according to a Visma Ski Classics press release, at which point Rocheva sped up to take the sprint, then continued her acceleration to open a gap that she kept all the way to the finish. Norgren ultimately crossed the line 1:43 back of Rocheva. There was another sizeable gap to Japanese skier Masako Ishida (Team United Bakeries) in third (+4:14).

Competition was much tighter in the men’s field, with the top eight skiers all finishing within six seconds of each other. Nygaard, from Norway, won the group sprint, crossing the line in 2:11:36. Jens Eriksson (Team Santander), from Sweden, and Norwegian Stian Hoelgaard (Team LeasePlan) were credited with the same time in second and third.

“The first lap was really easy and everyone was just waiting to see what’s going to happen,” Nygaard said in a Visma Ski Classics press release. “After the sprint” at 25 k, “we increased the pace and the second lap was quite fast skiing until the last five kilometers when we started to prepare ourselves for the sprint. I was so tired in the end and expected others to pass me but they didn’t. I’m so happy to win this race. Now I will go back home and get some sleep.”

The Visma Ski Classics marathon skiers at the top of the standings largely flew in from Europe relatively recently, and were all dealing with some degree of jetlag.

But Fritz and the American men have been in China for close to a week now. Fritz, as noted, was 18th in the women’s race, finishing in just over three hours, 33:33 back from Rocheva.

In the men’s race, Jack Novak (APU) was the top American for the first time in this year’s China Tour de Ski, finishing 25th in 2:34:00 (+22:24). Nick Hendrickson (now University of Utah, former U.S. Nordic Combined) was right behind him in 26th (+26:19). And Skyler Kenna (APU) was 29th (+29:44).

None of the four victors from the opening two sprint stages earned any points today. Norway’s Haakon Hjelstuen (formerly of Michigan Tech) finished 40th in a leisurely 4:42, outside the points. China’s Zhu Mingliang, Man Dandan, and Li Xin did not complete the race. It is not necessary to finish all stages to be eligible for the overall victory in the China Tour de Ski.

Results (both genders)

— Gavin Kentch

Gjerdalen, Norgren Win La Sgambeda

Tord Ashe Gjerdalen crosses the finish line during the Ski Classics Series in Livigno, Italy in front of Ilya Chernousov on December 3, 2016. (Photo Credit: Visma Ski Classics)

Norway’s Tord Asle Gjerdalen crosses the finish line in first at La Sgambeda last Saturday, Dec. 3, in Livigno, Italy, in front of Russia’s Ilya Chernousov. (Photo\: Visma Ski Classics)

The Visma Ski Classics series continued this past weekend in Livigno, Italy, with the first marathon of the season, La Sgambeda. The conditions were perfect as a cold night before ensured a hard surface for skiers and the sunshine on race day guaranteed for a great 30-kilometer classic race. Both the men’s and women’s races ended with a sprint to the line.

In the men’s competition, the lead group stayed together until the final climb. There, Norway’s Tord Asle Gjerdalen (Team Santander) and Russia’s Ilya Chernousov (Team Pioneer Investment) passed Norway’s Petter Eliassen (Team LeasePlan Go), who had led most of the race. Gjerdalen and Chernousov came to the finish neck and neck, but Gjerdalen was able to take the win by 1.3 seconds. Eliassen, who won last week, finished third, 2.7 seconds behind the winner.

“It was a tough race and I just tried to stay behind John Kristian Dahl and let Petter do all the work,” Gjerdalen said, according to a Ski Classics press release. “I felt strong in the last hill, but I wasn’t sure if I could beat Ilya in the end.”

Eliassen could not overcome the Livigno burden and said that he will probably never win La Sgambeda. Chernousov was quite happy with his performance behind Gjerdalen and said he will be focusing on long-distance races this season as well as continuing to podium.

“I tried to maintain a high speed over the first lap to wear out the others. But when I saw that the field was still large I gave up, ” Eliassen said in an interview with Altaposten. “This course is a little too fast for me, so I was never going to win this race. That’s why I’m happy.”

“I felt tired during the start and fought to stay behind Petter Eliassen,” Gjerdalen said in a finish-line interview. “During the end, I had the most energy and better skis than Chernousov. It was perfect for me.”

Like the men’s race, the women’s race came down to the last climb. Britta Johansson Norgren (Lager 157) and Katerina Smutná (Team Santander) were able to break away from Sara Lindborg (Team Serneke) on the last hill. Norgen tried to pull away from Smutná, but it came down to the finish, where Norgren was able to increase her double-pole tempo. Norgen was able to beat Smutná by 1.3 seconds, while Lindborg placed third, 17.4 seconds out of first.  Norgren finished as the fastest female as well as the best sprinter on the day making her a double jersey holder.

“The last climb was really hard and I was nervous seeing Katerina right behind me,” Norgren said with a smile on her face, according to the press release. “I felt strong today and this was a great race. I was freezing while skiing the first lap, but once the sun got up it was fine.”

Smutná said that Norgren was simply stronger on Saturday and she did all she could the last 100 meter, but was not able to match her attack. Lindberg said that she felt strong from the start, but couldn’t match the intensity of the two other skiers.

Norgren and Gjerdalen are now leading the individual standings, while Team Santander is the top team after two races. Norgren and Andreas Nygaard (Team Santander) are leading in the sprint standings. The next Ski Classics race, the Vasaloppet China 50 k classic, will be held Jan. 4 in Changchun, China.

Results

— Ian Tovell (Aleks Tangen contributed translating)

Eliassen, Smutná Kick Off Ski Classics with Prologue Win

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Team Gel Intérim/Rossignol celebrate their win in Sunday’s 8 k team prologue on the first day of another Ski Classics season. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

The seventh season of the Visma Ski Classics officially began this past weekend with the 8-kilometer prologue on Sunday in Pontresina, Switzerland. The starting order was reversed so the winners of last season’s prologue started first. This time around, last year’s last-place finishers Team Gel Intérim/Rossignol took first.

The individual races both on the men and women side came down to the wire. In the men’s race, last year’s overall Ski Classics champion Petter Eliasson of Team LeasePlan Go started off slow and was 12 seconds out of first at the first timing point, but was able to pick it up the second half and claim the overall victory in 19:42.66 minutes. He beat Bastien Poirrier (Team Gel Intérim/Rossignol) by 8.53 seconds for the win.

“The plan was to start off easy so I would have more energy for the final two laps,” he said in a TV interview with NRK. “I hoped that my conditioning would be better this weekend and I didn’t think I would win this weekend because the distance was so short. I’m actually surprised.”

“It was a bit hard to double pole because my poles kept sinking into soft snow,” he said, according to a Ski Classic press release. “Other than that, I had no problems on the course.”

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Top 3 men from Sunday’s Ski Classics prologue. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

About 16 seconds out of first, Morten Eide Pedersen (Team BN Bank) took third. Both he and Poirrier said they were satisfied with their results and that the podium is their goal every race in the Ski Classics series.

In the women’s prologue. Katerina Smutná (Team Santander) edged out last season’s overall champion Britta Johansson Norgen (Lager 157 Ski Team) by 0.66 seconds. Sara Linborg (Team Serene) finished third (+20.66)..

“It was a hard race and the course was getting really soft,” Smutná said after the race while suffering from stomach cramps, according to a press release. “But this was a great start for the season and I’m off to Livigno and ready for the next race on Saturday.”

Displaying

The three women’s bib winners after Sunday’s Ski Classics prologue. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

Norgen was pleased with her finish, but said that Sunday was not her best race day, citing trouble double poling up the course’s steepest hill.

Since there are no sprint points awarded for the prologue, Andreas Nygaard (Team Santander) currently retains the green bib race since he won the category winner last season. This will be the first year that women have a sprint completion in the Ski Classics series and Norgen, last year’s second-fastest woman, will keep the green bib until the next race.

The next race, the 25 k La Sgambeda, is set for Saturday, Dec. 3, in Livigno, Italy.

Prologue results

– By Ian Tovell (Aleks Tangen contributed translation)

Announcing Inaugural CXC Marathon Cup Winners

Women's overall CXC Marathon Cup winner Natalia Naryshkina (Photo: CXC)

Women’s overall CXC Marathon Cup winner Natalia Naryshkina (Photo: CXC)

(Press release)

Six marathon events across three states, with grueling courses, made up the inaugural CXC Marathon Cup series.

Weekend after weekend skiers were challenged not only by the length and terrain of each marathon, but everything in between, including: frigid and warm temperatures, challenging snow conditions, and the fatigue of skiing six marathons in a little over two months.

With strength, determination and endless endurance, two skiers persevered through the challenges of the marathon series to claim the coveted CXC Marathon Cup overall title, CXC Team athletes Chris Pappathopoulos and Natalia Naryshkina.

The inaugural year of the CXC Marathon Cup could not have been possible, without the hundreds of event organizers who worked hard to run these great events. We want to recognize them for their efforts and crown these events with the CXC Marathon Cup Event Awards which include: Best Overall Event, Best Grooming, Most Heroic Effort and Best Website.

Chris Pappathopoulos, winner of the men's overall CXC Marathon Cup. (Photo: CXC)

Chris Pappathopoulos, winner of the men’s overall CXC Marathon Cup. (Photo: CXC)

“The marathon season was a whirlwind of eight marathons, one sprint, and one 24K skiathlon in 9 weekends,” said Chris Pappathopoulos. “Achieving my goal of winning the CXC Marathon Cup involved practicing what I preach to my athletes, set a goal and make a plan to achieve the goal. Then adjust the plan as necessary for the unexpected circumstances that arise. Being a working dad there were plenty of deviations from the training I wanted to do this year. These challenges just provided opportunity to focus on what I had control over and not worry about the other things.”

Pappathopoulos had an outstanding season and was the only athlete who competed in all of the CXC Marathon Cup races, which earned him the Viking Award. Five podium finishes and a victory in the 42k Hoigaard’s Classic Marathon which was part of the City of Lakes Loppet, Minne Tour highlighted his season.

Looking back at Pappathopoulos’ results in the CXC Marathon Cup Season:

Chris Pappathopoulos with his overall CXC Marathon Cup "trophy" (Photo: CXC)

Chris Pappathopoulos with his overall CXC Marathon Cup “trophy” (Photo: CXC)

“Winning the CXC Marathon Cup boiled down to three things: training, recovery and equipment,” Pappathopoulos said. “Skiers are made in the summer. I log a lot of long workouts in the summer and fall to adapt to racing a marathon almost every weekend. Recovery is the aspect of training and competing that gets far less attention than it should. Often times recovery is one of the hardest things for someone who loves training and races. I’ll admit I may have taken some liberties from sound recovery practice with activities like the Night Noque, but it was worth it.”

“Finally, skiing is an equipment sport. Everyday there is an opportunity to test something whether it be wax, skis, pole length, different feeds etc. Much of this doesn’t cost anything. I put a lot of effort into dialing in my Rossignol skis with Boulder Nordic Sportgrinds that complemented the skis and Start poles.”

Naryshkina dominated several of the CXC Marathon Cup events this season, earning five victories and seven podium finishes.

Looking Back on Naryshkina’s Marathon Cup season:

  • 42k Seeley Hills Classic: First
  • Noquemanon 50k Classic: First
  • City of Lakes Loppet/Minne Tour: Sprints first, 42k classic first, 42k Skate, second.
  • Vasaloppet USA 58k Freestyle: First
  • The Great Bear Chase 50k Skiathlon: Second

The final points have been updated for each category: Overall Champions, Overall Age-Indexed Champions and Age Group Champions.

Don’t forget about all of the great prizes for the Overall Age-Indexed Champions as well as the Age Group Champions!

Age-Indexed Champions:

  • 1st Place – CXC Gold Membership – $5,000 value
  • 2nd Place – CXC Silver Membership – $2,500 value
  • 3rd Place – CXC Bronze Membership – $1,000 value

Top Three Men’s Overall Age-Index:

  • 1st: Chris Pappathopoulos
  • 2nd: Michael Mandli
  • 3rd: Nick Power

Top Three Women’s Overall Age-Index:

Naryshkina (c) atop the City of Lakes Loppet podium. (Photo: CXC)

Naryshkina (c) atop the City of Lakes Loppet podium. (Photo: CXC)

  • 1st: Natalia Naryshkina
  • 2nd: Jan Guenther
  • 3rd: Alice Flanders

First, second and third place in each age group receive an exclusive invitation to a Masters Fantasy Camp, October 7-9 2016 in Cable, WI (more details to come)! 

Participants will enjoy three days of structured training, complemented with technique sessions and video analysis by professional coaching and Birkie winners. Experience an environment as it would be at the National Team camp!

Men’s Top Three Overall Age Class 

  • 0-29: Nick Power, Andrew Brown, Alex Vanias
  • 30-39: Chris Pappathopoulos, Matt Liebsch, Craig Cardinal
  • 40-49: Craig Stolen, John Munger, Adam Swank
  • 50-59: Milan Baic, Drew Holbrook, Thomas Krenz
  • 60-69: Jonathan Schupp, Dan Berntson, Gregory Worsnop
  • 70+: Charles Duede, Peter Dorsen, Donn Christensen

Women’s Top Three Overall Age Class 

  • 0-29: Alice Flanders, Rosie Frankowski, Ingrid Leask
  • 30-39: Natalia Naryshkina, Erica Ohearn, Caitlin Gregg
  • 40-49: Kim Rudd, Melissa Lewis, Kim Hughes
  • 50-59: Jan Guenther, Sandra Pera, Joan Rundman
  • 60-69: Karen Manske, Ann Pollock, Margaret Meincke
  • 70+: Elizabeth Schluter, Ethel Morse, Judith Karshna

CXC Marathon Cup Event Awards

Marathon Cup Event Awards categories include:

Best Overall Event: The Great Bear Chase

Best Grooming: Seeley Hills Classic (Grooming provided by: American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation)

Most Heroic Effort: Mora Vasaloppet

Best Website: Birkie

Most Scenic Course: Noquemanon

FIS Worldloppet Cup and Visma Ski Classics Conclude

The Visma Ski Classics series wrapped up on Saturday with the 63 k Årefjällsloppet in Sweden, which had to be partially relocated due to snow conditions; the finish line was moved from Åre to Edsåsdalen.

In the men’s race a group of eight were together almost to the finish, when Johan Kjølstad and John Kristian Dahl of Team United Bakeries were able to pull away. Kjølstad took the win 5.79 seconds ahead of Dahl, with Petter Eliassen of Team LeasePlan Go taking third +8.87. Daniel Richardsson of Team Exspirit was the top Swede in fourth, +12.91.

That was it hard work in the mountains and I [was bouncing around] in the peloton,” Richardsson told Langd.se, according to a translation. “Too bad I was not a little more alert.”

It was Kjølstad’s first win of the season, but he didn’t stop there. The very next day, some of the field headed to Norway for the Flyktningerennet, a point-to-point 42 k classic race. Kjølstad won that, too, by over three and half minutes – 15:41 ahead of 11th place Petter Northug.

“It’s fun for me to take two straight wins at the end of the season,” Kjølstad told Aftenposten. “It means a lot. It helps a lot for my part toward next season… it’s hard to keep the shape an entire season. Actually, it’s a little surprising that I have succeeded so well at the end here.”

Now Kjølstad has his sights on one man: Martin Johnsrud Sundby, the winner of the Tour de Ski, the Ski Tour Canada, and the overall World Cup. He also won the 50 k at Norwegian national championships over the weekend. Kjølstad looks forward to racing against him next season, he told Aftenposten.

Despite Dahl winning the previous two races (the Vasaloppet and the Birkebeiner), it was Eliassen who took home the overall Ski Classics title by 211 points over Tord Asle Gjerdalen of Team Santander. Dahl and Kjølstad were third and fourth, respectively.

In the women’s race at Årefjällsloppet, Polish star Justyna Kowalczyk, skiing for Team Santander, won by 15.89 seconds over Seraina Boner of Team Exspirit. Masako Ishida of Team United Bakeries was third, +1:17.28, holding off Katerina Smutna of Team Santander by just over ten seconds.

“This victory means a lot to me, because the season was far from ideal,” Kowalczyk told the Polish press. “I knew I had to attack Seraina on the final climb.”

Kowalczyk said that although she loved racing some ski marathons this winter – she did La Sgambeda in Italy, La Diagonela in Switzerland, the Marcialonga in Italy, and the Birkebeiner in Norway – she still plans to focus primarily on FIS World Championships in Lahti, Finland, next season.

Despite the results of the women’s race on Saturday, it was Britta Johansson Norgren of Team Lager 157 who took the season title on the back of big wins earlier in the season. She finished just seventh on the day in Åre but still ended with a 130 point lead over Boner, with Smutna sliding into third, just 20 more points back.

Norgren was exhausted at the end of this season, after double-poling all of the races in the series, but was already looking forward to 2017.

It feels great to win overall,” she told the Swedish media. “But today I’m disappointed. The head wanted it more than the body. Double-poling has been my strength in the winter, but today there was not there… It is difficult to keep fit an entire season. But I’m very eager to do this again next year. The other girls will improve and I also hope to get better.”

Team Santander bested Team United Bakeries in the overall standings by 666 points. The team announced to Langrenn.com that athlete members Anders and Jørgen Aukland would move into roles as team managers.

Årefjällsloppet results: men / women

Visma Ski Classics final standings

The FIS Worldloppet Cup also wrapped up on Saturday, in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. Toni Livers of Switzerland and Aurelie Dabudyk of France earned overall titles.

Dabudyk had already had the win wrapped up, so the women’s race carried no season-title drama. But Livers led the Worldloppet Cup by just 20 points going into the 50 k skate Ugra Ski Marathon, and had to win or at least beat key competitors if he wanted the title.

It wouldn’t be easy: the star-studded field featured not only the usual long-distance suspects but also Sergey Ustiugov of Russia, most recently seen winning stages and finishing second overall in the Ski Tour Canada World Cup series.

Ustiugov attacked over and over again in Khanty-Mansiysk, but in the end Livers was able to overtake him and ski to the win just half a second ahead of Yurij Shopin of Russia. Bastien Poirrier of France took third just a tenth of a second behind Shopin, with teammate Candide Pralong another tenth of a second back and Ustiugov landing in fifth another two-tenths of a second back.

“Ustiugov was very strong today,” Livers said in a FIS press release. “He attacked all the time and opened gaps, so I thought I will fight for the second place today. But on the last 3 km the race became a hectic one and I felt strong enough, so I tried my luck!”

Dabudyk treated the race like a training session, and instead it was Yulia Tikhonova of Belarus who claimed the win by 45 seconds over Olga Rotcheva of Russia. Elisa Brocard of Italy was third, +3:51.

In the end Dabudyk bested Brocard in the overall standings by 431 points to 370, with Klara Moravcova of the Czech Republic third with 330 points. Livers landed 60 points ahead of Poirrier, with Pralong another 36 points back in third.

Ugra Ski Marathon results: men / women

FIS Worldloppet Cup rankings: men / women

Dabudyk (left) and Livers on the start line in Khanty-Mansiysk. (Photo: FIS Worldloppet Cup.)

Dabudyk (left) and Livers on the start line in Khanty-Mansiysk. (Photo: FIS Worldloppet Cup.)

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

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 Poland, one of the pre-race favorites, and Japan’s Masako Ishida were leading the race by 45 seconds. But both women were tiring, Kowalczyk partly from the Ski Tour Canada, a brutal set of races completed just a week before. Boner managed to catch them in the final kilometers.

While Ishida fell off the group, Kowalczyk shadowed Boner to the finish but wasn’t able to make the final sprint.

“It’s not over until you reach Lillehammer,” Boner – who won by ten seconds over Kowalczyk – told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

Boner’s time of 2:55:04 was slightly slower than her own times from the several previous years; Norway’s Therese Johaug won the 2015 edition in 2:41:46.

Ishida held onto third, +1:57, and Johansson Norgren to fourth, +2:53. Katerina Smutna of Austria was  fifth, +4:53.

In the men’s race, it came down to a field sprint between four tired men, and John Kristian Dahl of Norway – who had won Sweden’s 90 k  Vasaloppet the previous weekend – came out on top in 2:27:34.

“That was amazing, to somehow get the double,” he told NRK.

43-year-old Anders Aukland took second, Petter Eliassen third, and Sjur Røthe fourth, all finishing with the same time as Dahl. Just off the pace was Tord Asle Gjerdalen, 20 seconds back. That gave Norway a clean sweep of the top five places.

Despite finishing fourth, Johansson Norgren held onto the Visma Ski Classics overall lead; 200 points are awarded for each win, and she has a 180-point lead over Smutna going into the final competition, the Årefjällsloppet in Sweden. Eliassen has almost as big of a lead: 161 points over Gjerdalen.

In the team standings, Team Santander – the team of Smutna, Kowalczyk, Gjerdalen and Aukland – has a 686-point lead over Team United Bakeries.

University of Utah alum Snorri Einarsson finished in 2:32:14, good for 25th in the men’s elite field. Tyler DeAngelis of Lynx Nordic crossed in 3:05:03, the top American, followed by Jackson Bloch of Sonic Hedgehog in 3:10:29. Graham Longford of Canada brought it home in 4:44:43.

Emily Stitt of the Mansfield Nordic Club finished in 3:37:32, good for 59th in the elite field and the title of top American.

This year’s edition was also a royal competition, with Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon finishing in in 4:10:10 to best his Danish counterpart, Crown Prince Frederik, by 55 minutes.

He has never lived in a country where there is cross-country skiing on a daily basis, but that he still is here is super impressive,” Haakon said of Frederik in gracious royal-family style, according to a translation. “He is much fitter than me and beats me in everything. He bikes, swims and runs, so he’s a beast.”

Pippa Middleton, sister of Britain’s Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, finished in 5:58:34.

“I was nervous at the start,” Middleton told the UK’s Daily Mail. “It’s a tough race with plenty of uphill and a strong headwind but I enjoyed every minute of it and the fine weather lifted everyone’s spirits. The course was beautiful and the atmosphere amazing between competitors and supporters along the way.”

Results

Birkebeinnerrennet

Visma Ski Classics standings

Furger Edges Swiss Teammates; Faivre Picon Wins Third Engadin

Thirteen thousand skiers line up for the 48th Engadin Ski Marathon on March 13 in Switzerland. The event is the seventh and second-to-last race on the Worldloppet Cup calendar. (Photo: Worldloppet)

Thirteen thousand skiers line up for the 48th Engadin Ski Marathon on March 13 in Switzerland. The event is the seventh and second-to-last race on the Worldloppet Cup calendar. (Photo: Worldloppet)

Thirteen thousand skiers lined up for the penultimate event of the FIS Worldloppet Cup of the season – the 48th running of the Engadin Ski Marathon in Graubünden, Switzerland.

In a scene similar to the Vasaloppet two weeks ago, the men’s field stayed largely intact for the duration of the 42-kilometer freestyle race. The wind and difficult conditions discouraged racers from leading or pushing the pace and a group of about 50 skiers arrived at the final kilometers together.

Adrien Mougel of France was the first to push the pace and string out the field, but a trio of Swiss skiers asserted themselves in the front in the final kilometer. The Swiss ended up sweeping the podium as Roman Furger edged Toni Livers by 0.8 seconds and Jöri Kindschi (+1.4) for the win in 1:48:08.3.

Roman Ferger of Switzerland takes the win at the 2016 Engadin Ski Marathon on March 13, leading a Swiss podium sweep. Toni Livers and Jöri Kindschi took second and third, respectively (Photo: Worldloppet)

Roman Ferger of Switzerland takes the win at the 2016 Engadin Ski Marathon on March 13, leading a Swiss podium sweep. Toni Livers and Jöri Kindschi took second and third, respectively (Photo: Worldloppet)

A pair of Frenchmen trailed the three Swiss skiers as Bastien Poirrier took fourth (+1.5) and Benoit Chauvet (+3.5) fifth. The rest of the field finished in close pursuit, as only 10 seconds separated the first 14 skiers and the top 30 skiers finished within 77 seconds.

The Engadin was Furger’s first Worldloppet race of the season after racing on the World Cup and posting a win at the Alpen Cup in Campra, Switzerland, in February.

“Nobody wanted to lead today,” Furger said in a post-race press release. “The wind made it very hard, everybody wanted to ski in the slipstream, so I did. But at some key points you have to be in the front and I managed to do it and in the end I was the strongest. I am very happy about my victory.”

Livers’ runner-up finish and victory at Bieg Piastow two weeks ago catapulted him to the top of the Worldloppet standings heading into the final Worldloppet race: the Ugra Ski Marathon in Russia. Livers’ 276 points stands 20 points ahead of Bastien Poirrier and France’s Ivan Perrillat Bouitex both with 256 points.

Livers is looking forward to the Ugra. “I have had great experiences at the FIS Worldloppet Cup stage in Russia,” Livers said in an FIS press release. “I am looking forward to it and I think I can make a very good race there and hope that also my team will be as strong in Russia as we have been today.”

Although the finish may not have been as dramatic as the men’s race, Anouk Faivre Picon of France made history by becoming the first competitor to win three Engadin titles. Fairvre Picon took the win in 1:54:07.1, 14.1 seconds ahead of Seraina Boner of Switzerland.

Klara Moravcova of the Czech Republic continued her consistent season, placing third (+2:19.3). Elisa Brocard of Italy (+3:47.5) edged Aurelie Dabudyk of France (+3.48.6) after Dabudyk recovered from a broken pole early in the race.

Although she was pleased with her victory, Faivre Picon credited Boner with a stronger race.

“I had great skis, better skis than Seraina,” Faivre Picon said in an FIS press release. “But in fact, she had a better race than me. In the beginning she was very fast, only in the middle of the race I was able to catch her and than she had a crash on the last kilometers, so I could win. But yes, I am glad to have my third ‘Steinbockgehörn’ [trophy] here and I have to win it another two times because I promised them to friends!”

In contrast to the tight men’s overall standings, Dabudyk maintains a 121-point lead heading into the last stage and has unofficially won the 2016 Worldloppet Cup. The runner-up position will be determined in the final stage as Brocard currently sits in second, just 35 points ahead of Moravcova.

Shaw Skis Second Worldloppet

U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President and CEO Tiger Shaw smiles at the Engadin Ski Marathon. Shaw finished in three hours, 20 minutes at his second Worldloppet race cross country ski race this season after completing the American Birkebeiner in February. (Photo: USSA)

U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President and CEO Tiger Shaw smiles at the Engadin Ski Marathon. Shaw finished in three hours, 20 minutes at his second Worldloppet race cross country ski race this season after completing the American Birkebeiner in February. (Photo: USSA)

While the U.S. Ski Team was posting strong performances at the Ski Tour Canada, it was also represented across the world as U.S. Ski and Snowboard (USSA) President and CEO Tiger Shaw completed the Engadin on Sunday.

Nearly one month after USSA CEO Tiger Shaw took on the American Birkebeiner, he checked off another Worldloppet event finishing the race in 3:20:42.

Men’s ResultsMen’s Worldloppet standings

Women’s ResultsWomen’s Worldloppet standings

— Kaitlyn Patterson

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

John Kristian Dahl of Norway and Katerina Smutna of Austria claim titles at the historical 90 kilometer Vasaloppet on Sunday (Photo: Magnus Östh/Visma Ski Classics)

John Kristian Dahl of Norway and Katerina Smutna of Austria claim titles at the historical 90 kilometer Vasaloppet on Sunday (Photo: Magnus Östh/Visma Ski Classics)

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.

The men's field remained compact as 25 men finished within nine seconds after the 90 kilometer race (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

The men’s field remained compact as 25 men finished within nine seconds after the 90 kilometer race (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

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 claim the top four places as John Kristian Dahl claimed the victory by 0.4 seconds over Stian Hoelgaard. They were closely followed by Anders Høst (+1.1) and Øyvind Moen Fjeld (+1.3). The first non-Norwegian was Swiss World Cup skier Dario Cologna in fifth (+1.5).

Despite finishing just six seconds behind the winner,  overall leader of the Ski Classics Petter Eliassen finished in 21st. Despite his placing, Eliassen retains the Ski Classics lead over Tord Asle Gjerdalen.  The Vasaloppet was the first race since La Sgambeda in December that Eliassan finished outside of the top two in a Ski Classics race.  Johan Kjolstad held onto third, just four points ahead of John Kristian Dahl. Dahl has claimed two previous Ski Classics podiums this season, winning La Sgambeda and taking third at Toblach-Cortina.

A field of 15,800 skiers participated in the historical Vasaloppet event from Sälen to Mora, Sweden (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

A field of 15,800 skiers participated in the historical Vasaloppet event from Sälen to Mora, Sweden (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

The women’s race turned into a duel between Austrian Katerina Smutna and Swedish Britta Johansson- Norgren. Despite Norgren’s impressive record of double poling to four Ski Classics wins this season, Smutna managed to edge Norgren on the final stretch to take her first Vasaloppet title. Swedish Lina Korsgren took the last podium place seven seconds behind Smutna.  Her finish moved Korsgren to seventh in the overall standings after posting a win in the Prologue and runner-up finish at Jizerská padesátka.

The women’s overall standings remained stable as Nogren maintains a strong lead over Smutna and Seraina Boner.

Men’s Results | Women’s Results 

Overall Ski Classics Standings

 

Worldloppet Returns to Europe at Bieg Piastow

A field of 1500 skiers line up for the 40th Bieg Piastow on Saturday, March 5 in Poland. The race was the sixth FIS Worldloppet Cup Stage (Photo: Marcin Oliva Soto Photography)

A field of 1500 skiers line up for the 40th Bieg Piastow on Saturday, March 5 in Poland. The race was the sixth FIS Worldloppet Cup Stage (Photo: Marcin Oliva Soto Photography)

In stark contrast to the close finishes of the American Birkebeiner, the margins of victory at Bieg Piastow were measured by minutes instead of seconds. The Bieg Piastow in Poland was the sixth FIS Worldloppet Cup stage and both the male and female victors dominated their competition.

In the women’s race, the top two finishers double poled the 54 kilometer classic technique race. Czech skier Adela Boudikova dropped French skier Aurelie Dabudyk with 20 kilometers to go to win in 2:35:02, over five minutes ahead of Dabudyk. The Bieg Piastow was Boudikova’s second Worldloppet marathon this season after finishing 11th at Marcialonga.

Toni Livers of Switzerland en route to a commanding victory at Bieg Piastow 54 kilometer classic event (photo credit: Marcin Oliva Soto Photography)

Czech skier Adela Boudikova celebrates her victory at Bieg Piastow (photo credit: Marcin Oliva Soto Photography)

“It was a very nice race for me and I am really satisfied with this victory,” said Boudikova in a FIS press release. “It was a very tough race because I decided to take the skating skies, so in the beginning it was flat and fast but then in the end, the uphills were very hard,”

Although she couldn’t match Boudikova, Dadubyk was pleased with her race as she strives for a Worldloppet Marathon Cup victory.

“I also tried to double pole the race, so it was hard but I am glad about the second place,” Dadubyk said in an FIS press release. “There are still two races to go, so it is very important to get points at every race.”

Czech skier Klara Maracova was 34 seconds back from Dabudyk, claiming third. Elisa Brocard of Italy was a distant fourth, over 11 minutes back from the leader.

Dabudyk still retains the Worldloppet leader’s bib but has been denied victories since Dolomitenlauf in January. However, she is the only female to complete every race of the circuit, allowing her to maintain her lead in the overall standings- 126 points ahead of Italian Elisa Brocard in second and 161 ahead of Klara Moravcova.

Despite the recent French domination of the Worldloppet races, they were shut out of the first two places in the men’s race as Swiss Toni Livers and Czech Rocarek Jiri broke away from the field at 25 kilometers. They skied together until grueling hill at 43km where Livers dropped a decisive attack to win in 2:18:42 by 90 seconds. Benoit Chauvet was the first Frenchman, taking third (+2:14).

Toni Livers of Switzerland en route to a commanding victory at Bieg Piastow.

Toni Livers of Switzerland en route to a commanding victory at Bieg Piastow 54 kilometer classic event (photo credit: Marcin Oliva Soto Photography)

“It was the first time for me here at Bieg Piastow and I like the course, it is quite demanding,” Livers said in an FIS press release.

Ivan Perrillat Boiteaux retains the FIS leader’s bib despite finishing 11th at Bieg Piastow. He maintains a 36 point lead over Bastien Poirrier in second and 48 points ahead of Benoit Chauvet and Toni Livers who are now tied for third.

The Worldloppet Calendar includes two more races- the Engadin Skimarathon in Switzerland on March 13 and UgraSki marathon in Russia on April 2nd.

Men’s results      |    Men’s overall standings

Women’s results |  Women’s overall standings

— Kaitlyn Patterson

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

About 200 men and 60 women will line up in the elite waves of the 43rd American Birkebeiner on Saturday at Telemark Resort in Cable, Wis.

About 200 men and 60 women will line up in the elite waves of the 43rd American Birkebeiner on Saturday at Telemark Resort in Cable, Wis.

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 was racing in Europe, but this year she will be aiming to become the winningest athlete in Birkie history. She is currently tied with Manfred Nagel of Austria for the most Birkie wins with three apiece.

Holly Brooks after winning the 42 k Dolomitenlauf on Sunday in Lienz, Austria, with second-place finisher Aurelie Dabudyk of France (left) and third-place finisher Antonella Confortola (right). (Photo: FIS/Dolomitenlauf)

Holly Brooks (c) after winning last year’s Dolomitenlauf in Lienz, Austria, with second-place finisher Aurelie Dabudyk of France (left) and third-place finisher Antonella Confortola (right). (Photo: FIS/Dolomitenlauf)

The women’s race features a deep international field with eight seeded starters hailing from outside the U.S.  This includes the top four in the FIS Worldloppet Cup overall standings including Dabudyk and her Haute-Savoie teammate Elisa Brocart of Italy in second.

Although they are newcomers to the Birkie, Czech Klara Moravcova and Switzerland’s Rahel Imoberdorf currently rank third and fourth in the Worldloppet standings, respectively. The runner-up in the 2014 Birkie and 2006 Olympic bronze medalist Antonella Confortola of Italy will also be on the hunt for the Birkie title.

Although many top-10 finishers from last year are missing from the 2016 start list, the field has significant domestic depth. For the Stratton Mountain School T2 team, Erika Flowers will take her first crack at the Birkie fresh off a win at the Craftsbury Supertour and fifth place in the 20 k freestyle mass start at 2016 U.S. nationals.

“I hear the fans are pretty amazing so I am looking forward to skiing by some of the more iconic spots on the course …I’ve heard a lot about Powerline, OO, Bitch Hill, shotskis, drummers, hecklers…the whole scene should be pretty exciting!” Flowers wrote in an email.

Other domestic talent includes Mary Rose of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, as well as Rosie Frankowski (who won the Qaniq Challenge last month in Valdez, Alaska) and Lauren Fritz of Alaska Pacific University.

Caitlin Patterson of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project is notably missing from the start list as she is currently representing the U.S. on the World Cup. SuperTour skiers Annie Hart and Chelsea Holmes are listed on the start list but will not be racing.

Bonaldi is Back, Along with Babikov

Italy’s Sergio Bonaldi (r) outlasts three Frenchmen en route to his second American Birkebeiner victory on Saturday in the 42nd annual Birkie in Hayward, Wis. (Photo: Darlene Prois/ABSF)

Italy’s Sergio Bonaldi (r) outlasts three Frenchmen en route to his second American Birkebeiner victory at last year’s 42nd American Birkebeiner in Hayward, Wis. (Photo: Darlene Prois/ABSF)

The men’s race also features a talented field, including last year’s champion Sergey Bonaldi of France. As a two-time Birkie champion, he returns as a favorite, however, this year he will be missing the support of any Team Salomon Italia racers who helped landed him on the top step last year.

The most well-represented international team is French team Gel Interim Rossignol fielding four racers including current Marathon Cup leader Bastien Poirrier and consistent Birkie contender Benoit Chauvet. Another French athlete Ivan Perrillat Boiteux of team Houte-Savoie currently sits second in the Worldloppet Cup and will be looking to break up the Gel Interim Rossignol contingent.

Another contender will be Canadian World Cup skier Ivan Babikov. Although he decided last minute to compete, Babikov is no stranger to the Birkie as he has three races and one win in 2008 under his belt.

2012 American Birkebeiner men's 50 k skate podium: (left to right) Matt Liebsch in second, Tad Elliott in first, and Brian Gregg in third.

2012 American Birkebeiner men’s 50 k skate podium: (left to right) Matt Liebsch in second, Tad Elliott in first, and Brian Gregg in third.

For the Americans, Tad Elliott, Matt Liebsch and Brian Gregg have a strong history at the Birkie as the trio swept the podium in 2012, with Elliott leading the charge and Liebsch claimed a victory in 2009. Elliot has come back strong from illness to claim the 30 k freestyle title at 2016 U.S. nationals and poses a threat if the race comes down to closing tactics.  Kris Freeman is another mainstay of American distance skiing and will bring his extensive international race experience to his first Birkie appearance.

Although the weather is disconcerting to many Midwesterners, it hasn’t phased Liebsch.

“I am pumped!” Liebsch wrote in an email. “Bigger euro field so it will be deeper but I am excited for a ‘warm’ birkie.  I think skis could play a big factor in the race and I am excited that it could be a very fast race.”

Lex Treinen of Alaska Pacific University looks to repeat his feat as the top American finisher, after placing fifth last year. He is joined by APU teammates David Norris and Tyler Kornfield, both coming off strong recent results on the SuperTour circuit.

The race can be followed live on Xcountry live starting at 8 a.m. Central on Saturday.

Men’s seeded elite start list | Women’s seeded elite start list

— Kaitlyn Patterson

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

The International Bridge leading onto Hayward's Main Street in the final meters of the American Birkebeiner.

The International Ski Bridge, leading onto Hayward’s Main Street in the final meters of the American Birkebeiner, is complete a couple days out from the 43rd American Birkebeiner from Cable to Hayward, Wis.

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.

They said it would rain, and rain it did. A steady rain pelted Highway 63 between Cable and Hayward Thursday evening with more rain in the forecast Friday.

They said it would rain, and rain it did. A steady rain pelted Highway 63 between Cable and Hayward Thursday evening with more rain in the forecast Friday.

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 line on Saturday.

With temperatures forecasted to top out in the low 40s with rain on Friday, organizers decided not to groom the new snow on the course that fell early in the week to protect the base underneath. To further preserve the trail, the ungroomed Birkie course was closed to all skiers starting 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday. It will not be groomed until Friday night.

An illustration of the rain and wintry mix (and thunder and lightning) that graced the Birkie Trail Thursday evening.

An illustration of the rain and wintry mix (and thunder and lightning) that graced the Birkie Trail Thursday evening.

Thursday brought wind and spring-like air that warmed to the mid-30s as forecasted. The skiing on the groomed Korte and Birkie Ridge Loop trails was superb before the rain and mixed precipitation started in the late afternoon.

Despite the great skiing, race week has proven to be of limited value for ski and wax testing due to the dramatically changing conditions and the ungroomed, closed course. Although race wax recommendations have been released, the elite skiers’ fleets will be whittled down Saturday morning after the course is groomed Friday night.

Although the skaters have enough variables to consider, the conditions are proving to be a nightmare for classic skiers. Skins or zeros just might be the ticket and Gear West is offering gift cards for the first male and female finishers on skin skis.

Year after year, each Birkie has its own story and the variables this year are just adding a bit more intrigue. Updated trail conditions can be found on the Birkie Trail website. A live stream of the race can be followed on Saturday at Xcountry Live.

— Kaitlyn Patterson