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Post Birkie

Fri, Mar  5, 2010 - By Josh Korn and Rebecca Dussault

This story is from the Ski Post: Cross-Country skiing's community lodge. Where knowledge and stories are shared. The goal of SkiPost is to make the sport of Cross-Country skiing easier and more enjoyable for all who choose to participate. If you have questions on Cross-Country Skiing see www.SkiPost.com

Well, the "Biggest Show on Snow", also known as the American Birkebeiner has come and gone, but not without some amazing results from a number of Salomon sponsored athletes.  The 2010 edition of the American Birkiebeiner not only boasted the largest field in the history of the race, but attracted one of the most competitive fields in recent years as well.  This year the race was once again back on the World Loppet race schedule, which lured many top Europeans and many more high level Americans to Hayward, WI for the event.
 
This year's race was held under what could only be described as absolutely ideal conditions.  The skiing in the Cable / Hayward, WI area has been nearly perfect all year, and the same held through Birkie weekend.  We were all blessed with cool overnight temperatures in the single digits to insure a nice firm track and skate lane.  With full sun through the morning hours, temperatures climbed quickly into the low twenties for the majority of the races finishers.  This resulted in a mind blowing pace of only 2:19 per k for the leaders, and a overall phenomenal skiing experience for the rest of the over 8,000 participants this year.
 
This year an Italian skier by the name of Fabio Santus took home the prestigious title of overall 50K Freestyle champion with a blazing record time of 1:56:58.6. CXC Team Vertical Limit, and full Salomon Sponsored athlete, Tad Elliot from Durango, CO was right at his heels just a mere 8 seconds behind.  Tad raced on a new pair of Equip 10 skate skis, and a pair of S-Lab Skate Pro boots.  Another CXC Team Vertical Limit and Salomon Sponsored athlete that excelled on Saturday was 2009 Birkie champion Matt Liebsch from Minneapolis, MN finishing a very respectable 8th place, just over a minute off the pace.   I was able to catch up with Tad after the race, and this is what he had to say about his 2nd Birkie experience:
 
The Birkie is like no other ski race out there. Awesome Volunteers, grooming crew, great organization, huge thanks goes out to everyone that helps with this event it really is amazing to be a part of it. After doing it last year, there is no way that I could not come back, it's a great event and shows off how many skiers there are in the US.

This was my second Birkie, after bonking last year and having a good old time, I knew I would come back. I felt really excited before the race and was pumped to get to ski on the famous Birkie trail again and with such great grooming and sunny skies, it could not have been more fun.

I chose a brand new 2010 pair of Salomon Equip 10 skis with a cold factory A3 grind, a wedge, and a little longer ski than I normally rock because it glides well and with the "wedge" climbs well too. Man, were they fast.

My strategy was to sit in.  I thought the Italian break would be made at 35K, and if I had a good day I wanted to be there. At 35K I got away with two Italians and felt AMAZING. My skis were good and the guy that won, Fabia Suntos, could not have been a nicer and more fun guy to ski with. He told me with hand signals "hey lets work together" that is then I knew it would be a sprint finish. Going into the lake with a 1.5k left to go, he started to adjust his hat, his sunglasses, his bib, and wiped his face off a little bit that is when I knew Oh no this is going to be bad. Fabio could not have been a nicer guy or more gracious in winning the Birkie. It was a real pleasure to get to ski with him. How cool is that reaction skiing down main street? You feel like a rock star it is awesome. The reaction from the crowd and friends was great every one was so nice to me such a fun weekend. Also thanks to the Diggins Family for taking such great care of me before and after the race. They were a huge help. Could not be more greatfull.
 
In the women's 50K Freestyle race, 6 of the top 10 finishers were Salomon Sponsored athletes.  Leading a very competitive field for the second time in as many years was CXC Team Vertical Limit member Rebecca Dussault from Gunnison, CO.  Tazlina Mannix (US Ski Team) from Anchorage, AK and Brooke Gosling from Canmore, Alberta, rounded out the top 3, and are both Salomon boot/binding sponsored athletes.  Other high finishing fully sponsored Salomon women included 3 more CXC Team Vertical Limit members, Maria Stuber from Marquette, MI, Johanna Winters from Minneapolis, MN, and Kristina Owen from Houghton, MI finishing in impressive fashion in 4th, 5th, and 8th respectively. 

This is what Rebecca had to say about her Birkie weekend:
 
I really enjoyed the Birkie and all of the festivities leading up to it this year.  It was way fun to have my family there this time and be involved in races of their own.  I was really proud of our 3 year old who did his first race in the Barnebirkie.  Our 8 year-old son Tabor won the Barnie 2km which was exciting for him.  He also did the 12 and under 3km Junior Birkie.
 
I wanted to come back and defend my title.  This is the most prestigious race in North America and I really enjoy visiting Hayward and skiing all its fabulous trails.   This race is an excellent opportunity to make a bit of money as a skier, so it is highly prioritized on my schedule.  Ever since I was a teenager looking at the photos in the "HALL OF FRAMES," I wanted to win this race and be forever immortalized along with some of the greatest skiers of all time.  I couldn't believe when I did it once and now that I've done it twice I'm rather speechless.  This was my third Birkie and my first one was in 2004 against a very strong international field of skiers.  I had a terrible race because my  boot orthotic melted the night before the race and caused sever cramping in my foot starting at 7km.  I ended up skiing alone and finished 7th. I also said at the finish line that I'd "never do the Birkie again!"
 
Before the race I was a complete mess.  I had just come off a huge block of travel and racing including Winter Triathlon World Champs in Norway and several stops on the SuperTour domestically.  I came down with an upper respiratory infection about 5 days before the race.  I battled it in bed for most of those days and only got out for a 45 minute ski during the week.  I didn't even know if I'd be able to race until my health took a slight turn for the better on Friday.  I was still quite sick with a gargle and crackle in my chest but I wanted to race and I wanted to win.  Mentally I was preparing to either win or pull out early but nothing in between would suffice.  I had to see how I felt on the start line.
 
I raced on my new super light Salomon Equip 10 skis which have a factory A3 grind which performs very well in fine grind conditions.  They also have a "wedge" under the binding which really helps them to climb well.  Since a lot of the race is decided on the climbs, especially those on the way to the high point, I thought it was super important to have a great climbing ski.
 
I had some different strategies going through my mind leading up to the race.  Overall, my strategy was to worry about myself and make sure I was conserving throughout the race.  I was already dealing with the setback of health, so I hoped the race would run at a relaxed pace which it certainly did.  If it had been colder of it the pace had been higher, I'm not sure that I would have pulled off the victory.  As it was, I was coughing and spitting all the way to Hayward.  One of my strategies did play out though as I skied away on some of the last uphills with about 5km to go.  I was really surprised when the other girls didn't break from me.  I thought I was the weakest of the 4 skiing together.  I guess I really wanted it, and bad!
 
My skis were incredible during the race.  Our coach and wax tech Bryan Fish joked that we'd have to snowplow on some of the uphills and that is just what happened.  The Toko waxed skis under my feet made me really happy.  Maria Stuber had skis perhaps as good as mine and we seemed to have the edge in that area over Tazlina Mannix for sure. Brooke Gosling had great skis too, but of course she was on Salomon as well!  My skis slowed slightly in the warmth of the mid-course conditions, but so did everyone's.  I was very happy with them.
 
I came across the line in tears.  I went from being not sure if I could race to winning the BIrkie.  I was so glad to have this victory to share with my many friends and family who lined Main Street to cheer and watch.  I was just repeating, "thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus!"  I was really grateful to have had the strength and grace to pull that off.
 
In the 54K Classic event, yet another CXC Team Vertical Limit and Salomon athlete, Audrey Weber from St. Louis Park, MN pulled away from the field to take home the victory in a time of 2:54.31.  Audrey raced on a new pair of Equip 10 classic skis, and also showed off the 2010/2011 S-Lab classic boots.  Audrey was also kind enough to share her race with me:
 
This was my first Birkie. I really like classic skiing and thought it was a great opportunity to do a classic marathon.  I went with an old white pair of Salomon Equip 10's with a lower camber and soft flex, with a Finn-Sisu fine grind.  The grind was chosen because of the abrasive snow and cold a.m. temps.  The soft flex was to allow for easier kicking, so I would avoid slipping when I was tired. 

My strategy going into the race was to be patient and stay relaxed in the beginning.  I wanted to make sure to avoid going under too early on and hitting the wall later.  I felt great during the race.  I think my strategy did work.  I got in a group of other women and made sure to let other people take turns leading and not to push the pace early. 
 
I skied with Hillary Patzer and Carrie Fabius from Thunder Bay.  Carrie led quite a bit early on, but then tired and I started leading mostly.  At 36k I was leading Hillary when I got my feed at Gravel Pit.  I felt really good and knew I had 15k to go, so I started pushing the pace a bit and increased my lead from then on.  I fed a lot during the whole race.  I got 5 feeds through the whole race and drank between them, as well, from the bottle I carried.  I had one energy gel at 00.  I felt really great pushing the pace after 36k.  I don't remember a lot from after that point because I gradually got tunnel vision and was thinking more and more about pushing myself.  My skis were great the entire race!  I would run up on other people on the down hills and I was able to stride every hill except the very top of Bitch Hill.  It was great to power by men on the climbs. 
 
Coming up Main Street was awesome.  The whole race fans had been cheering "Way to go, first classic woman!" and then coming up Main Street the crowd was so loud that even though I knew I had a big lead, I didn't want to slow down one bit because I was having so much fun.  I think my parents were even more excited than I was when I saw them after the race.  Birkie Saturday was such a wonderful experience.  I loved every minute of the race and am so grateful by all of volunteers that made the event work so smoothly.
 
This year's American Birkebeiner was an amazing experience for everyone involved.  Great people, great weather, great conditions.  I know that I will be back next year, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.  For full results see www.birkie.com