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It’s Red, White and Green in Blue at the Birkebeiner

Thu, Mar  16, 2006 - By Ernie Brumbaugh

It may be the American Birkebeiner but the Italians ruled this year, sweeping 1-2-3 in both the men’s and women’s divisions.  We stay in the same condo complex as the Italian team and get to watch them wax every year.  Reading the names on the skis, De Zolt, Peyrot, Fauner, it’s like your almost on the World Cup circuit yourself.  The Italian was technicians couldn’t be nicer, willing to wait for the other skiers that are using their forms and benches in the waxing garage. Fred says he can’t stand up in there for a month after the Birkie. Flourocarbons everywhere.

It was another cold Birkie, with temperatures near 0 at the start and rising to 14 during the day. A cold 10-15 mph wind blew all day long and in your face on the lake.  The tracks were rock hard and frozen again this year making for one wonderful classic race.  The hills went to mush again but not as deep or as fast as previous years. Last years conditions were similar but the temperatures rose into the 20’s and there was no wind.  Times this year were about 8 minutes slower, so anyone skiing the same time was doing pretty good. 

The Italians led off at 8:20, controlling the race from the start.  In the end it was all Italy with Marco Cattaneo being declared the winner, in 2:08:56, after an attempted tie with Roberto De Zolt.  Pier Luigi Constantin was third 40 seconds behind.  Chad Giese was top American finishing in seventh in 2:15:15 loosing a sprint with Silvio Fauner. You all remember Fauner don’t you? 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer. Norwegians packed into and along the relay course. The most noise in Norway, since a Viking Walhalla feast. Daehlie skiing anchor for Norway  and Fauner hanging on and hanging on, then out sprinting Bjorn to the finish and silencing the Norwegian crowd. Or the 2006 Winter Olympics opening ceremonies in Turino, the entire 1994 relay team carrying in the Olympic flag. Then the 2006 Birkebeiner. Yep same guy.

Top Michigan Cup finishers included:  Hugh Pritchard, Brighton, 2:24:09, 43rd, Andy Weddle, Holly, 2:25:19, 52nd, Milan Baic, Traverse City, 2:26:15, 59th, Mikeal Kippela, Traverse City, 2:27:08, 66th, Brian Royce, Roscommon, 2:28:03, 70th, and Cliff Onthank, Traverse City, 2:30:26, 90th.

For the ladies, it was a similar story, except it wasn’t an attempted tie. Three Italians and one American formed a pack early and skied at least to “OO” that way.  The American, Brooke Hovey, led a good percentage of the time.  After “OO” it was all “Blue” as the three Italians cruised to a Main Street shoot out. The sprint was intense with Anna Santer edging three-time defending champ, Lara Peyrot, at the finish line by 1 second in 2:24:05. Laura Paluselli came in third just 7 seconds back.  Rossignol’s Brooke Hovey skied the last half of the race alone finishing in fourth at 2:31:01. No Michigan Cup women made the top 100 this year.

A top 20 in your age group is an honor at the Birkie as it is truly America’s marathon with participants from all over the country and world. The honor role includes:  Jean Van Dam, 1st 55-59, Cliff Onthank, Traverse City, 2nd 50-54, Milan Baic, 3rd 45-49, Ed Clary, 8th 65-69, Hugh Pritchard, 9th 35-39, Tim Triebold, 9th 50-54, Maria Iwaniec, 13th 55-59, Julia Houle, 18th 35-39 and Steve Smigiel, 8th 60-65.

In the Classic Birkie, same race just declaring that you WILL use classic technique only, Noquemanon Race Director Jon Mommaerts led Michigan Cup skiers to some outstanding results.  Jon finished second overall in 2:44:19, followed by Christian Byar in 10th, 3:01:34, Spring Lake, and 1st in Age Group, Gerard Grabowski, 15th, 3:06:45, Bear Lake,  2nd in Age Group, Doug Cale, 54th, 3:29:45, Bloomfield, 5th in Age Group and Ed Clary, 88th, 3:42:45, Amherst, OH, 2nd in Age Group.  For the ladies, Julia Houle, Brighton, was tops finishing 7th, 3:39:27 and 3rd in Age Group followed by Carole Mueller-Brumbaugh, Rockford, 49th, 4:44:50 and 7th in Age Group.

The 2006 edition was Birkie #29 for me. Another long drive to the Hayward Cable Area.  I really don’t know what it would be like to miss out on looking for Eagles along the way, the smell of fresh baked bread at the Hayward Bakery, shopping for souvenirs on Main Street, smelling the leather at Forest Cow, cheering for the sprinters, looking through the strands of spaghetti for Lee Reis at the Karp’s, downing a Birkie beer at the Angler’s or an Erdinger at Coop’s, shopping for Friday’s spaghetti feed, buying the last wax you can’t do without at New Moon, negotiating the crowds of friends at bib pickup, touring the ski fair, seeing Winnie again and picking up a key, testing skis at Telemark Lodge, waxing in Fred’s garage with cheese heads, gophers and Italians, checking off the condo arrivals one by one, visiting the head three times during the night, loading up the van to drive to the start, testing skis, stripping off the warm-ups and tossing the bag into the truck, waiting for your wave to start, running from gate to gate, listening for the Yee Haw and realizing the new guy has his own style, just as good, trying to hold back but pushing ahead until Powerline Hill and realizing that it is going to be long four hours, trying to avoid the goo packs in the trail and keep your form on the hills, attempting to get a “10” or just avoiding the guy that did, wiping snot off your nose when you see the camera dudes, raising your pole to stir the crowd at “OO”, realizing that you have a long section of rest, looking for Bill Bauer, girding for the climb after Mosquito Brook and surviving that pushing your legs to the limit on Bitch Hill, then survival and on until the hill after Highway 77, why does to twist so much, catching Founder John Kotar, then you are home, across the lake and on to the toughest hill on the course, stepping off Lake Hayward, instant cramp, and into the mid thigh deep sugar, hearing the fans roar and the bells ring on Main Street, finding your year gate, finding your bag, changing, stumbling back to Anglers for a brat and maybe a beer if the “Goo gut” will allow, cheering in Ed Harjala, Nancy Bauer, and the other friends you see once a year in Hayward, finally seeing you wife booking it down Main Street, getting her changed, pizza at Coops, the bus ride back to the start, falling asleep along the way, recovering at the Condo, analyzing everyone’s race, analyzing everyone’s wax job, who won, how did you do, you beat me by how many seconds, great job anyway, dinner at Lakewoods, asleep early, up earlier and off to the gas station in Cable for a newspaper, then hit the road, scrutinzing the results for a few hundred miles, think about how you’ll do next year and when you will start training. 

Does it really ever get any better than that? 

You know the folks in Cable and Hayward sure smile a lot. Could it be the $4+ million dollars this race brings in to the area. Sure, but they don’t have to smile that much to get the money.  Plus many of them don’t share in the proceeds. It sure must be a hassle to have that many people in town for 3-4 days, yet they still smile.  The Birkie claimed close to 9000 skiers and another 20,000 spectators.  That’s a lot for a town of 2000 in Hayward and much less in Cable.  Maybe, just maybe they are as glad to see us come back every year as we are to see them.  Maybe, just maybe this is biggest thing in town during the winter and maybe, just maybe they are very proud of the World-Class event they put on.  And maybe, just maybe it is my pleasure to be a part of it all.  Nah!  No maybes about it. 

Thanks for the memories. Keep a plentiful supply of brats for next year. I’ll be back.