Friday, May 24, 2019
Sun Valley Racers Shine at American Birkebeiner
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Katie Feldman hopes to carry the momentum from podium finishes at the Boulder Mountain Tour and the American Birkebeiner to Europe for a couple weeks of Europa Cup racing.
 
Wednesday, February 27, 2019
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Two of Sun Valley’s own made names for themselves in America’s biggest Nordic race this past weekend.

Peter Holmes, who won this year’s Boulder Mountain Tour, won the classic portion of the American Birkebeiner, skiing 55 kilometers in just over three hours and four minutes. Unlike the photo finish at the Boulder Mountain tour, he finished the Birkebeiner more than a minute ahead of the second-place finisher.

And Katie Feldman of Ketchum took third-place in the women’s 50-kilometer skate ski race. She finished just one minute and eight seconds behind the first-place finisher Alayna Sonnesyn, a Plymouth Minn., native now living in Vermont. Anja Gruber of Bozeman, Mont., took second, just as she did at this year’s Boulder Mountain tour.

 
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Peter Holmes, center, races for Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s Gold Team.
 

The two Sun Valley racers follow a line of Sun Valley champs, including Muffy Ritz, EJ Harpham and Betsy Youngman, who have won the overall women's race in the Birkie.

“The finish was so surreal. Everything was hurting and my muscles were starting to cramp, but both sides of the street were packed with people cheering, ringing cowbells and all of the church bells in town were going off,” said Feldman, who races with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s Gold Team. “It was a really incredible experience, definitely a bucket list event!”

The American Birkebeiner, which follows a course from Cable to Hayward, Wis., is the largest and longest cross-country ski race in North America. It was started in 1973, patterned after the Norwegian Birkebeiner, which commemorates soldiers who smuggled the son of Norway’s King Hakon from Lillehammer to safety in Trondheim on cross-country skis.

This year’s American Birkebeiner fielded 13,000 skiers from 23 countries and every state but Oklahoma. Their mission: to complete the 34-mile classic race and the 31-mile freestyle on what is acknowledged as one of the most difficult cross-country ski marathon courses in the world.

This year’s weather featured light snow and temperatures in the 20s.

The course is fairly challenging, noted Feldman, who was taking part in her first Birkebeiner. It includes Powerline Hills, a series of climbs in the beginning, and Firetower Hill, which takes competitors to the high point of the race. And then there’s Bitch Hill, the steepest climb of the race at the 25-mile mark, followed by El Moco, the last lengthy ascent of the race.

“In the first 15km there is a fair bit of climbing until you reach the high point,” recounted Feldman. “There is a nice downhill after that and the rest of the terrain is fairly rolling, ultimately ending at a lower elevation than the start. But there are some big climbs at about 25km and then the last big one at about 4 km. After a downhill and a final road crossing, you spend about 1.5-2km crossing a lake. Luckily, we did not have a headwind that day. After surviving the lake, you go up and over a bridge and then a final 400 meters on Main Street.”

From the beginning, Feldman said, she knew that she wanted to be towards the front of the race so that if someone made a move, she would be able to respond quickly.

“The top three women broke away from the rest of the pack about halfway through the race, and the three of us worked together switching off leads and keeping the pace high in order to make sure we did not get caught by a chase group,” she said. “The men started catching us with 10 km to go, and having them come by was really motivating.”

Feldman saw her teammate Adam Luban pass her the ease with which he was moving and passing people to finish fourth motivated her.

“I could tell he was hurting but knowing that he was pushing so hard helped me to keep digging deeper,” she said. “The winner, Alayna, made a move on the last climb about 4 km from the finish line and that's where she gapped us. It was kind of survival mode after that. Overall, it presented a lot of different challenges than the races I do on a more regular basis; I had to figure out when and what to eat and drink over the course of the 2.5 hours when I'm more used to races that last between 15 and 45 minutes.”

Akeo Maifield-Carucci of Craftsbury Common, Vt., won the Men’s Birkie Skate race in 2:12:34, less than a second ahead of runner-up Brian Gregg of Minneapolis, a participant in the Boulder Mountain Tour.  Matt Liebsch, who took third at this year’s Boulder Mountain Tour, finished third in 2:12:43.

Cate Brams of Belmont, Mass., won the women’s Birkie Classic in 3:21:24.

KIKKAN’S BACK!

Olympic gold medalist Kikkan Randall, another familiar face in Sun Valley, served as the honorary starter for the race. She also skied in the 50-kilometer event just months after completing six rounds of chemotherapy for breast cancer, which she was diagnosed with last May. She finished 12th even though the Birkie was the first 50K event for the sprint racer

Randall and teammate Jessie Diggins won gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

 

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