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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/

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/

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.


— Ian Tovell (Aleks Tangen contributed translating)

Eliassen, Smutná Kick Off Ski Classics with Prologue Win


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.”


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.”


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, 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 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.


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.”



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

City of Lakes and Mora: CXC Marathon Cup Roundup

Kyle Bratrud leads CXC teammate Nick Power in the 42 k classic at the City of the Lakes Loppet. Power took second in the race to Chris Pappathopoulos, while Bratrud finished third. (Photo: CXC)

Kyle Bratrud leads CXC teammate Nick Power in the 42 k classic at the City of the Lakes Loppet. Power took second in the race to Chris Pappathopoulos, while Bratrud finished third. (Photo: CXC)

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).

Alex Vanias stands atop the podium after winning the Columbia Sportswear 42 k Skate as part of the City of the Lakes Loppet. Chris Pappathopoulos and Mark Johnson took second and third.

Alex Vanias stands atop the podium after winning the Columbia Sportswear 42 k Skate as part of the City of the Lakes Loppet. Chris Pappathopoulos and Mark Johnson took second and third.

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.

Results: Finn Sisu sprint | Hoigaard’s Classic | Columbia Sportswear Skate| Minnie Tour

Natalia Naryshkina takes her fourth-consecutive CXC Marathon Cup win at the 2016 Mora Vasaloppet. (Photo: CXC)

Natalia Naryshkina takes her fourth-consecutive CXC Marathon Cup win at the 2016 Mora Vasaloppet. (Photo: CXC)

Mora Vasaloppet

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

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

The 39th Toblach/Dobbiaco Cortina made its debut on the Visma Ski Classics Circuit this year. Although the course had to be shortened to a 32 kilometer event, the course still offered its share of climbing between the start in Prags/Braies and the finish in Toblach.  Both the men’s and women’s races were determined in the final meters in some of the closest finishes of the Classics this year.

In the women’s race, Seraina Boner of Switzerland pushed the pace on a lead group of seven with 15 kilometers to go. She was matched by Sweden’s Johansson-Norgren and Masako Ishida of Japan.  The three women raced the second half together and the title was decided in a sprint finish and Johansson-Norgren bested Boner (+1.34) and Ishida (+1.58) for her fifth Classics victory of the season. Johansson-Norgren recovered from a fourth place finish last weekend at Kaiser Maximilian Lauf where Boner took a convincing win.

Due to the shortened race course, the women were not caught by the men, a factor that can change the dynamics of the race. “I had a good race. It was fun to have a truly women’s competition when we didn’t get caught by the men,” Boner said in a press release.  “I tried everything I had in the uphills but the others managed to stay with me and Britta was just too strong in the finish.”

The men’s race turned into a duel between Norwegians Petter Eliassen and Tord Asle Gjerdalen. In a scene similiar to Marcialonga, Gjerdalen edged Eliassen on the final stretch, but today by an even smaller margin- just 0.17 seconds.  John Kristian Dahl made a Norwegian podium sweep, taking third  (+26.58) in his first podium since winning La Sgambeda.

Eliassen still has a 110 point lead in the overall standings over Gjerdalen and both are over 200 points clear of Johan Kjølstad in third place.

After posting a series of podium finishes, Boner approaches Smutna in the overall standings- 900 points to Smutna’s 950.  Johansson-Norgren continues to sit atop the overall standings with 1065 points.

The Vasaloppet is the next on the Classics schedule to be held March, 6th.

Results | Overall standings 

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

Eliassen, Boner Win Relocated Ski Classic at Kaiser Maximilian Lauf

Poor snow conditions in Oberammergau, Germany, leading up to the König Ludwig Lauf, forced the cancellation of the sixth Visma Ski Classics race. However, thanks to some quick organizing from Seefeld resort, the professional race was decided to be relocated to the Kaiser Maximilian Lauf in Tirol, Austria, just four days before the event.

Seefeld has hosted cross-country ski events twice for the Winter Olympics and features 200 kilometers of groomed ski trails. Initially a 50 k event, the Kaiser Maximilian Lauf extended the course for the Ski Classics event making a challenging three-lap, 65 k event while also offering a 22 k citizens race.

Petter Eliassen took his third Ski Classics win of the season just beating Johan Kjølstad in a sprint finish. Seraina Boner of Team Exspirit took her first win of the season on the women’s race.

Eliassen (Team LeasePlan Go) and Kjølstad (Team United Bakeries) were part of a group of four that broke away from the field on the final lap of the race.  However, Tore Bjørserth Berdal and Tord Asle Gjerdalen were unable to keep pace with the pair on the final steep climb. The title was determined on the homestretch where Eliassen edged Kjølstad by less than one second. Gjerdalen frm (Team Santander) claimed third after winning the Marcialonga last weekend.

According to a Ski Classics press release, Kjølstad was happy with his race as Marcialonga and La Diagonela were disappointments for him after finishing 18th and 23rd.

On the women’s side, Boner broke Britta Johansson-Norgren’s winning streak. Johansson-Norgren (Team Lager 157) has won the past three Ski Classics races but she struggled to double-pole the challenging course with 1300 meters of climbing and finished fourth, nearly eight minutes behind the leader.

Although Boner has won the Ski Classics three times, this was her first win of the season. She dominated the race ahead of Katerina Smutna (Team Santander) winning by over three minutes.

Smutna was the second across the line but was given a three-minute penalty for allowing a coach to help her clean her skis. This moved Astrid Øyre Slind into second place for her first Ski Classics podium.

According to a Ski Classics press release, Boner said she felt great right from the beginning and three laps went by in a “zone” for her. She was really pleased to be the number one today as it has been a challenging season for her so far.

Johansson-Norgren remains at the top of the overall standings and Eliassen extended his lead over Gjerdalen.

The racers were pleased with the course and efforts by the race organizers to host a high-profile race in short notice and are excited to see more races at the venue, including cross-country skiing world championships in 2019.

“Hopefully this is the start of a long cooperation between us and Seefeld, I believe it could have a natural place in the Visma Ski Classics calendar for years to come,” said David Nilsson, Ski Classics CEO said according to a press release.

Results  | Overall Standings


Toblach-Cortina to be Held on Alternate Course

Event 7 of the Ski Classics series is the Toblach-Cortina to be held in northern Italy. Due to warm weather, the race will not be held on the full course but instead on an alternate 32 k course that starts in Prags/Braies and finishes in Toblach.

Although it is a disappointment, racers and organizers were pleased a full course could be pulled together at Seefeld.

“We are delighted that the local organizers in Toblach has secured the race next weekend, even if the snow conditions make it impossible to do the full course. For our Pro Team Athletes we are happy that we had the tough race in Seefeld last weekend, which makes a 32km course more easy to live with,” Nilsson said in a press release.


Fifth FIS Worldloppet to be Relocated to American Birkebeiner

After unseasonably warm weather devastated the course and artificial snow deposits of the Tartu Marathon in Estonia, the decision was made to designate the American Birkebeiner as the fifth stage of the FIS Worldloppet Cup.

The American Birkebeiner has been designated as a FIS Wordloppet Cup race for the past three years. The Birkie previously alternated with Finlandia Hiihto but they turned down the offer, allowing the Birkie to keep the designation in consecutive years.

Tartu asked if they could host it this year as it interferes with the World Cup schedule next year. To American Birkebeiner Executive Director Ben Popp, it only seemed fair to share the opportunity.

“There’s now 20 Worldloppet races and nine race weekends on the calendar, so there’s always that give and take to try to give everybody that opportunity to host the Marathon Cup,” he said in a 2015 interview with FasterSkier.

However, when the cancellation of the Tartu Marathon became inevitable, the Birkie was a natural replacement.

“The American Birkebeiner is a great race and loved by athletes. It is definitely the best substitute for Tartu Marathon, as it has a similar course, just in different technique,” said Epp Paal, the race coordinator of FIS Worldloppet Cup, according to a FIS press release.

The American Birkebeiner is excited to host yet another FIS Wordloppet Cup event and the course is currently in great shape with a favorable forecast.

The race will take place Feb. 20 on the traditional course from Cable to Hayward, Wis.

— Kaitlyn Patterson

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

Tor Asle Gjerdalen (l) and Britta Johansson-Norgren (r) after winning the 2016 Marcialonga 70 k classic on Saturday. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

Tor Asle Gjerdalen (l) and Britta Johansson-Norgren (r) after winning the 2016 Marcialonga 70 k classic on Saturday. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

Two kilometers of manmade snow is one thing, but covering 70 k with artificial snow is another story.

Yet, despite no natural snow, the organizers of Italy’s Marcialonga, the fifth event in the Visma Ski Classics, managed to pull-off the classical-style Worldloppet race event on Sunday with complete snow coverage over the 70 k course.

Testing the tracks first were the women marathoners, who started 10 minutes prior to the men.

At the 18 k mark, Sweden’s Britta Johansson-Norgren and Austrian Katerina Smutna broke away from the other 937 female competitors and skied together until the infamously most difficult part of the course, the Cascata climb.

With 2.5 k of uphill to the finish in Cavalese, the real battle for first between Norgren and Smutna began.

In the end, Norgren bested Smutna by 1.4 seconds, claiming her first Marcialonga win in a time of 3:13:50.7. It was her third-consecutive Ski Classics victory.

“Kristina Smutna was so strong. It was a hard fight on the final climb up to Cavalese. I trained the whole summer on getting stronger in the finish, so I am very glad to be the first today,” Norgren said in a FIS Worldloppet press release.

Smutna took second overall, and Switzerland’s Seraina Boner crossed in third, 3:59 after the race winner Norgren.

In the men’s event, 4,798 participants from over 10 different countries completed the race, but Norway came away victorious with the top-five spots.

Once again, the Cascata climb determined who, of the 20 favorites in the lead, would eventually win.

With 10 k to go, Petter Eliassen of Norway moved to the front of the group. Two of his compatriots Tord Asle Gjerdalen and Stian Hoelgaard followed suit as he pushed the pace towards the final climb.

With 800 meters of uphill left, Gjerdalen overtook Eliassen’s yellow bib and crossed the finish line in Cavalese as the race winner in a time of 2:49:49.1.

“I was not supposed to increase the speed that early, but I took the risk and made it in the end. I want to thank all the people working for this event, the snow was incredibly good despite the fact that it was all dry around us,” Gjerdalen said in a Worldloppet press release.

Eliassen finished 5.3 seconds later for second place, and Hoelgaard in third, 5.4 seconds behind Gjerdalen.

Racing picks up again on Feb. 13-14 in France with the 68 k freestyle La Transjurasienne Worldloppet event.

Results: Men | Women

— Gabby Naranja

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

Start of the 55 k La Diagonela in Zuoz, Switzerland, on Saturday. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

Start of the 55 k La Diagonela on Jan. 23 in Zuoz, Switzerland. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

Sunshine and a full race course made for happy racers at La Diagonela, the fourth Visma Ski Classics event on Saturday and the first to be held on a single-lap course this season.

Petter Eliassen of Team LeasePlan Go and Britta Johansson-Norgren of the Lager 157 Ski Team both won the second-consecutive Ski Classics this season after taking titles at the Jizerská 50 two weeks ago.

Instead of 15 laps of a 3.3 k course at Jizerska, skiers traversed a 55-kilometer course along the beautiful Engadine Valley in the classic-only race. Contained within the valley, the course is relatively flat but features a significant climb just after 20 k to bring racers to the highest point of the course at 1800 meters above sea level. Although the second half features a net descent, skiers are challenged by undulating hills and a final climb into Zouz, Switzerland.

Petter Eliassen of Team LeasePlan Go celebrates his second-straight victory in the Visma Ski Classics at the 55 k La Diagonela in Zuoz, Switzerland, on Jan. 23. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

Petter Eliassen of Team LeasePlan Go celebrates his second-straight victory in the Visma Ski Classics at the 55 k La Diagonela in Zuoz, Switzerland, on Jan. 23. (Photo: Visma Ski Classics)

Although it was initially planned as a 65 k event, minor changes had to be made to the race course due to low snow. Even with snow challenges, the alternate course covered 55 kilometers thanks to the hard work of the volunteers and race organizers. The shorter event, the La Pachifica, was held on the full 35 k course.

The elite men and women started the race under grey skies and snow, but the clouds soon broke and made for a beautiful day of racing.  The women started 15 minutes before the men and the fresh powder in the tracks made for an additional challenge for the women’s field early in the race.

In the men’s race, Eliassen attacked 10 k from the finish and was joined by Norwegian Tord Asle Gjerdalen of Team Santander. Morten Eide Pedersen of Team Exspirit chased but could not catch the pair. The title was decided in the final minutes of the race as Eliassen pulled away from his fellow countryman to win by just eight seconds.

Pedersen (+0:48) narrowly held off fellow Norwegians Anders Høst (+0:52) and Anders Auckland (+0:54) for the final podium placing.

“I could do nothing. Eliassen is too strong. He is good,” said Gjerdalen told TV2 according to a translation.

However, Eliassen was not as confident of the outcome as he approached the finish.

“I was very unsure of what was going to happen towards the end. I did not feel safe until it was five meters to the finish,” Eliassen told TV2.

After Saturday’s victory, Eliassen took the overall Ski Classics leader’s bib from Johan Kjølstad who finished 15th. Both Gjerdalen and Pedersen moved up in the overall standings to second and third, respectively, but neither are within 100 points of Eliassen.

In the women’s race, Johansson-Norgren of Sweden proved to be the class of the field yet again, claiming victory by over one minute. However, in contrast to Jizerska, the women’s podium was far from a Swedish sweep. Austrian Kateřina Smutná of Team Santander was second (+1:02) and Switzerland’s Seraina Boner of Team Exspirit took third (+1:51) claiming a podium finish in her home country. Swedes Lina Korsgren and Sara Lindborg who both double poled to the podium in Jizerska claimed a distant fourth (+3:49) and fifth (+3:56), respectively.

With her win Johansson-Norgren retains her yellow bib, extending her overall lead over Smutná and Korsgren.

Ski Classics racing will resume Jan. 31 in Trento, Italy, for the Italian Marcialonga 70 k classic race.

La Diagonela Results

Overall Ski Classics Standings

— Kaitlyn Patterson

CXC Team Dominates Noquemanon Ski Marathon

The Noquemanon Ski Marathon held in Marquette, Michigan is the second of the CXC Marathon Cup, designated as a classic race

The Noquemanon Ski Marathon held in Marquette, Michigan is the second in the CXC Marathon Cup, designated as a classic race.

MARQUETTE, Mich. — Bluebird skies greeted skiers in for the start of the Noquemanon Ski Marathon, the second race of the new CXC Marathon Cup, on Saturday. Although the race offers both skate and freestyle options, the 50-kilometer classic race is the premier race and it is designated as a classic event in the CXC Marathon Cup.

The race is held on a unique point-to-point course beginning in Ishpeming, Mich., and ending in Marquette. The course has a net descent of 800 feet, all occurring in the second half of the race. However, the course poses unique challenges with steep climbs, technical descents, frozen lake crossings capable of shearing off kick wax, and the potential for significant temperature changes across the course.

The CXC Team was well represented on the women’s and men’s podiums of the 50 k classic race. Kyle Bratrud won the men’s race by over five minutes in 2:25:28. Bratrud established a two-minute lead over the chase pack of four skiers at the halfway point. The chase group consisted of CXC teammates Nick Power, Chris Pappathopoulos, and Andrew Brown as well as Eli Brown, one of the volunteer ski technicians for the U.S. Ski Team. The podium was decided in the final 10 k, and Power claimed second followed by Pappathopoulos 56 seconds back in third. Eli Brown overtook Andrew Brown for fourth place.

Natalia Naryshkina, also skiing for CXC, dominated the women’s race winning in 2:50:25, over 12 minutes ahead of second place. This is her second win of the CXC Marathon Cup this season after her victory at the Seeley Hills Classic last week. Similiar to her showing at Seeley Hills, Naryshinka established a significant lead early and never relented. Kim Rudd (Rossignol) overcame a two-minute deficit in the final 10 k overtake Alice Flanders (CXC Team) to take second place.

Michael Brothers of Monument, Colo., won the freestyle men’s race and Vicki Asmus of Marquette topped the women’s race. The freestyle race did not count towards CXC Marathon Cup points as it was a designated classic discipline race.

50 k classic results

Complete Noquemanon results

— Kaitlyn Patterson

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


Sunrise in Valdez, Alaska, site of the Qaniq Challenge. (Photo: Gavin Kentch)

Sunrise in Valdez, Alaska, home of the Qaniq Challenge. (Photo: Gavin Kentch)

By Gavin Kentch

VALDEZ, Alaska — Lex Treinen defended his title in the second-annual Qaniq Challenge while Rosie Frankowski set the pace for the women, completing an Alaska Pacific University (APU) sweep of the two-day series last Saturday and Sunday.

The Qaniq Challenge sent skiers around a classic course on the first day of racing, then over a different skate course on Day 2.  Each course was roughly 15 kilometers.  Lowest combined time from both days wins.  In this year’s race, as in 2015, time gaps created on Day 1 proved difficult to overcome on Day 2, and the overall finish order remained largely unchanged after the first day of racing.

Saturday sent the field of 36 racers over a classic individual-start course.  Race organizers called the classic course as 19 k, but by general acclaim it seems to have been somewhat shorter than that. Two-thirds of the course was pancake-flat, running along a river and out to the shores of the Pacific Ocean and back.  The remaining third had rolling hills, plus one steep uphill and dramatic downhill.  All top male finishers chose to double pole the course on skate gear.

Snow coverage was impeccable, with a base ranging from two to three feet on the designated nordic trails to at least one foot running along the river.

Rosie Frankowski (APU) races to a victory in the Day 1 classic race on Saturday, the first of the two-day Qaniq Challenge. Frankowski won the classic leg by 1:20 over Brooks. (Photo: Susan Orlansky)

Rosie Frankowski (APU) races to a victory in the Day 1 classic race on Saturday, the first of the two-day Qaniq Challenge. Frankowski won the classic leg by 1:20 over Brooks. (Photo: Susan Orlansky)

Frankowski had the fastest classic time in the women’s field, in 47:40.6, and fifth-fastest overall.  Holly Brooks (APU) was second (+1:20.7) for seventh overall, and Lauren Fritz (APU) came in third, roughly three minutes behind Brooks (+4:17.3).

Treinen was fastest among the men in 42:01.7. Teammate Tyler Kornfield (APU) followed 14.3 seconds later in second.  There was a gap to Paul Kovacs (Australian National Team) in third (+2:01.5).  Treinen and Kornfield were the only two racers in the field to complete the classic course faster than the next day’s skate course.

A freestyle mass start followed on Sunday.  The skate course was advertised as 14 k, but seems to have been somewhat longer than that. Race organizers seeded skiers for the mass start in the order of their Saturday finish time, with small numbered posts along the tracks in the start area to help racers find their correct position and line up for the chevron start.

The skate course started in a clearing on the side of the Richardson Highway, approximately five miles east of downtown Valdez.  The skate course took racers up a dramatic valley ringed by mountains, twice around a loop of approximately 4 k, and then back to the finish by the same route.  It was very flat; a decent citizen racer was able to V2 100 percent of the course.

Start of the Day 2 skate race of the 2016 Qaniq Challenge, with Kornfield (2), Treinen (1), Kovacs (3), and Brooks (7). Treinen went on to win the event, posting the fastest skate and classic legs. (Photo: Susan Orlansky)

Start of the Day 2 skate race of the 2016 Qaniq Challenge, with Kornfield (2), Treinen (1), Kovacs (3), and Brooks (7). Treinen went on to win the event, posting the fastest skate and classic legs. (Photo: Susan Orlansky)

The top-three from Saturday finished in the top three on Sunday, as the flat course and mass start format made it difficult for any of the top contenders to break away.  The top four finishers from Saturday – Treinen, Kornfield, Kovacs, and Dylan Watts (former APU Elite Team coach) – skied together in a lead pack throughout the race, before Treinen pulled away near the end for a narrow victory.  The next four overall finishers – Brooks and Frankowski, along with two male citizen racers – followed in a chase pack approximately 3 1/2 minutes back.  The third woman, Fritz, skied nearly the entire race on her own, finishing 10th overall.

The two lead packs were reflected in the final results.  Treinen was first for the men in 42:55.0, with second through fourth finishing within 20 seconds of him.  Kornfield in second was 3.3 seconds back, Kovacs was 9.3 seconds out in third, and Watts finished fourth (+19.6).

Similarly, Brooks was the fastest woman, finishing within the chase pack in 46:46.9.  Frankowski came in 3.3 seconds later in second. Brooks later explained, in informal in-person remarks after the race, that the four members of her pack took turns trading off the lead, but that Frankowski wasn’t particularly keen on letting her open up a big gap.

The final podium, based on combined times, remained unchanged from the first-day results: Treinen, Kornfield and Kovacs for the men, then Frankowski, Brooks and Fritz for the women.

Lex Treinen (1) leads APU teammate Tyler Kornfield (2) and Australian Paul Kovacs (3), and former APU coach Dylan Watts (4) into the finish of the skate race on the final day of the Qaniq Challenge in Valdez, Alaska. (Photo: Susan Orlansky)

Lex Treinen (1) leads APU teammate Tyler Kornfield (2) and Australian Paul Kovacs (3), and former APU coach Dylan Watts (4) into the finish of the skate race on the final day of the Qaniq Challenge in Valdez, Alaska. (Photo: Susan Orlansky)

Treinen and Frankowski each pocketed $3,000 dollars for the victory, receiving symbolic oversized checks at an awards banquet on Sunday evening.  Kornfield and Brooks took home $1,500 apiece for second.  Kovacs and Fritz, in third, each earned $500 for the weekend.

It’s fair to say that $3,000 is a lot of money in the world of American domestic cross-country ski racing.  As Frankowski noted in an in-person interview, “The most money I’ve previously won is $150 at a SuperTour [for fifth place in the Sun Valley SuperTour 10 k classic last month], so this is an extreme amount compared to that.  I’ve never won nationals or anything like that.  It’s, honestly, awesome, because being a ski racer is a very un-lucrative profession, and so even with side jobs, it’s hard to make ends meet.  So this is awesome.”

An ebullient Frankowski continued, “I’ve won money on the SuperTour probably three times in my life, and it’s always been $100, or $150.  Let’s just say, a race like this – I don’t think I’ve ever made $3,000 in my life at one time.”

Treinen echoed more of the same.  While he took home $4,000 for his fifth-place finish in last year’s American Birkebeiner ($1,500 for fifth overall, then $2,500 more as the top American), “the next closest race [last year] was 100 bucks or something.”

Treinen rejected the suggestion that this payout represented a generous $3,000 in income for fewer than 90 minutes’ worth of work.  “I do not think that’s a fair way to look at it,” Treinen noted.  “Although it does sometimes feel like that. … I would rebut that the race itself was the fun part, the enjoyment part of it.  And the work itself was the hours over the summer and all winter long, training.  So there were many long hours spent to earn this victory.  But right now it does feel like I only worked an hour to get the victory, so it feels kind of good.”

Treinen leaves Valdez as the two-time defending champion, and as the only male winner in the race’s history.  When asked if he’d ever won any other race twice in a row, the gracious and fraternal Treinen responded, “No, I have not won any other race this year.  But I maybe beat my brother twice in a row [in recent Besh Cup races], and that’s as good as winning a race two years in a row.”

Race Director Darryl Verfaille reports that the Qaniq Challenge is fully funded, at current prize levels, through 2017.

Results: Combined times (overall results) | Day 1 classic individual start | Day 2 freestyle mass start

Gregg Edges Liebsch in Seeley Hills Classic; Naryshkina Dominates Women’s Race

 The women's and men's winners of the Seeley Hills Classic, Natalia Naryshkina (l) and Brian Gregg (r) took the lead in the CXC Marathon Cup after the first race.

The women’s and men’s winners of the Seeley Hills Classic, Natalia Naryshkina (l) and Brian Gregg (r) with race organizer Dennis Kruse. Naryshkina and Gregg lead the CXC Marathon Cup after the first race.

By Kaitlyn Patterson

It was a cold morning in Seeley, Wis., so cold that the traditional 42-kilometer Seeley Hills Classic, the first race of the CXC Marathon Cup, was slightly shortened to 38 k with temps at -5 degrees Fahrenheit at the start and not predicted to rise above zero degrees.

Seeley Hills traditionally draws strong fields to race exclusively classic technique on the American Birkebeiner’s famous ski trails. The race starts and ends at the “OO” trailhead, the Birkie’s halfway point.

Brian Gregg leads Matt Liebsch (r) and Nick Power (l) during the Seeley Hills Classic on Saturday in Seeley, Wis. (Photo: CXC)

Brian Gregg leads Matt Liebsch (r) and Nick Power (l) during the Seeley Hills Classic on Saturday in Seeley, Wis. (Photo: CXC)

In the men’s field, Brian Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus), Matt Liebsch (Gear West/Salomon), and Nick Power (CXC Team) established themselves as the lead group halfway through Saturday’s race. Liebsch and Gregg later dropped Powers around 33 k, but neither could get away.

“We made a number of moves on each other but were unable to break the other,” Gregg wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “We train together a lot and we know each others strengths and weaknesses.”

However, a badly timed fall from Liebsch in the final kilometers gave Gregg the lead coming into the final stretch, which proved crucial for the win.

“With 2 km to go I planted a pole between my legs which cost me the first position,” Liebsch wrote. “That proved key as we were catching short course skiers and without an open lane I could not challenge Brian on the short double pole finish zone.

“That said I don’t know if I could have found the strength to get in front him, he is quick in the finish and I know it from training and racing with him a lot over the years,” Liebsch added.

Gregg edged Liebsch by just one second, winning in 1:52:40. Powers took third, 1:32 back.

Natalia Naryshkina (CXC Team) racing to a 10-minute win in the 2016 Seeley Hills Classic on Saturday in Seeley, Wis. (Photo: CXC)

Natalia Naryshkina (CXC Team) racing to a 10-minute win in the 2016 Seeley Hills Classic on Saturday in Seeley, Wis. (Photo: CXC)

In the women’s field, Natalia Naryshkina (CXC Team) dominated the race, winning by more than 10 minutes in 2:10:10 for her second-consecutive Seeley Hills victory.

“I went first and tried to go with a small group of men,” Naryshkina wrote in a Skype message to FasterSkier. “My skis were well prepared by CXC coach Bruce [Manske], maybe it helped me win. … I want to thank the organizer Dennis Kruse and all the volunteers who helped him.”

Naryshkina is coming off a strong showing at U.S. nationals last week in Houghton, Mich., where she reached the classic-sprint final and placed sixth. Ten minutes and 10 seconds behind her, Elaine Nelson (Duluth, Minn.) placed second and Josie Nelson (Minneapolis, Minn.) finished just another second back in third.

“I had a very good day today, but it was very cold. My hands and toes were very cold in the beginning of the race, but somehow warmed up later in the race,” Naryshkina, who lives in St. Petersburg, Russia, but spends her winters in Cable, Wis., said in a CXC press release. “The classic track was in excellent shape and I raced most of the course at a consistent pace and went a little bit faster towards the end. My skis worked very well during the whole race, glide and kick was perfect.”

Upsides to the cold conditions included straightforward waxing and great kick.

“Conditions on the Birkie Trail are fantastic,” Gregg wrote. “With 6 tracks wide the entire course. Cold temperatures made for fantastic classic conditions with great grip.”

Although Gregg leads the CXC Marathon Cup after the first race, the leader’s bib will change hands over the next month as the only other CXC series race Gregg plans to do is the Birkie.

Depending on her 2016 race schedule, Naryshkina may be a force in the CXC Marathon overall standings. Naryshkina won five of the Marathon Cup events in 2015 in addition to winning the classic race at the Birkie.

The post-race party at the Sawmill Saloon in Seeley is a favorite for skiers to enjoy fellowship and share race stories. Just over one month from now, the Seeley Saloon will host many more skier gatherings as racers reconvene in the Seeley/Hayward area to enjoy the biggest ski event in North America, the American Birkiebeiner.


CXC Marathon Cup information

— Alex Kochon contributed reporting