Matt Liebsch won the 2009 American Birkebeiner by 43 seconds. This season he has been on fire, always a podium contender at the SuperTour and NorAm series, and as a result of his earned points in those events he was sent to the World Cup races in Canmore, where he placed 29th in the 15km skate. Liebsch races for team CXC and will join a number of his teammates this weekend in Hayward to race the 37th annual.
Are you entered in the Birkie this year?
Yes, although I was initially placed in the 6th wave=)
How many times have you raced the Birkie?
This will be my 8th Birkie so I am well on my way to my Birch-leggings. I raced my first Birkie when I was 19 and I have been in love with the race ever since.
What are your best finishes (besides last year’s win)?
My finishes at the Birkie since I started… 35th, 38th, 26nd, 12th, 12th, 7th, and 1st. Two years ago I felt like had a chance at the podium but I skied with a broken pole for 6-7km which was very draining.
What are the most important things you’ve learned about marathon racing
which helped you to win last year’s Birkie?
Over the years I have learned to relax while racing marathons, skiing just hard enough to stay with the main pack and minimizing any wasted energy. Also, feeding is extremely important for me. If I can keep on top of fluids and gels I can usually avoid bonking or cramping.
What are the most important things you’ve learned specifically from your
past Birkie races?
Don’t break a pole! This is not as simple as it sounds when you have a big pack of 20-30 guys all skiing on top of each other. I’ve also learned that if I can get to OO and still feel OK; I will most likely have a pretty solid result.
Will you compete in the sprint?
No, I will be focusing on getting ready for Saturday. I like to keep the week before the Birkie as low key as possible.
Last year there were a group of CXC and a group of Salomon/Saab racers in
the lead pack. Are there any team tactics involved? Which of your
teammates are entered in the Birkie this year? Who else do you think will
be the main competition in this year’s race?
Yes, of course there are team tactics. This is why the Italians are bringing over 4 skiers. Last year, CXC worked very well together to break up the pack at specific times during the race. Once I was able to get away my teammates were able to sit behind and let other teams try and chase me down.
Your favorite thing about the Birkie?
I love the craziness that is the spectacle of the American Birkebeiner. I love how everyone gets so wound up the week before the Birkie about equipment, wax, skis, structure, carbo loading and anything and everything. I love how this event is ultimately a celebration of winter, exercise, fitness, and the outdoors.
A moment I will always remember was carrying my son across the finish line. To be able to share that moment with him was incredible (I now have a daughter that I would like to share that experience with too). Also, I have been watching a lot of Olympics this past week, GO Team USA!