Last year, the Birkie Elite Sprints, held on Main Street in Hayward, Wisconsin, two days before the Birkie, were a mostly American affair. Morten Pedersen of Norway won the men’s race, but most of the other top finishers were natives – including Audrey Weber, then skiing for CXC, who won the women’s heats.
This year, things changed.
The men’s final on Tuesday came down to a battle between Norwegian teammates Vetle Thyli and Martin Andersen. Before the gun went off, the two trash-talked over the PA system: Andersen said that although he had never beaten Thyli in practice, “this would be the first time.”
In the end, it didn’t turn out that way. Thyli had a lead going into the 180-degree turns around a pair of cones – one for each skier – and only lengthened his lead coming into the finishing stretch. He was able to celebrate well before the finish line, victory – and a $500 check – ensured.
Colin Rogers (Sun Valley) was the top American, besting Sylvan Ellefson (Vail) in a race for third place. Along the way, both faced a number of impressive comptitors. Rogers topped teammate Mikey Sinnott as well as Andrey Tyterev of Russia before losing to Thyli in the semifinals, while Ellefson had to beat out top Wisconsin high school skier Dylan McGarthwaite and the always formidable Chris Cook (Steinbock Racing).
In the semifinals, Ellefson took a tumble about a quarter of the way through the race. By the time he was back on his feet, Andersen had rounded the cone and was on his way back to the start/finish. As a joke, Ellefson skied toward him and the two played a game of chicken, much to the amusement of the crowds lining Main Street.
In the women’s final, Natalja Naryshkina of Russia defeated CXC’s Jennie Bender by a slim margin to take home the check.
It was Bender’s first time at the Elite Sprints – and, she said, her first time racing on a city street or around a traffic cone.
“I didn’t worry too much about the first part of the race,” she told FasterSkier. “As long as I was close going around the cone, that was good enough. It was really fun with the Russians and other European racers here, because you really don’t know anything about the person you’re racing against – you’re just kind of like, ‘well, let’s do this!'”
And do it she did, besting Sun Valley’s Nicole DeYong and Ursina Badilatti of Switzerland en route to the final.
“I felt like Batman flying down the street,” she said.
In the B-Final, Badilatti beat out Weber, last year’s champion who is now racing for Go! Training.
The women’s field was small, with just ten starters, but talented: it included 2010 Olympian Caitlin Compton (CXC), 2010 top-10 Birkie finisher Evelyn Dong (XC Oregon), and Morgan Smyth of APU, who recently collected two podium finishes at U.S. Nationals. All three lost their quarterfinal heats.
The men’s race had a much larger field – 22 – with racers from APU, CXC, Craftsbury, Vail, Sun Valley, VTXC, Steinbock Racing, and two European countries competing.
All of the athletes who sprinted down Main Street today will do so again on Saturday – albeit at a slower pace – at the end of the 2011 American Birkebeiner.