Top Skiers Make Predictions for the Birkie

Seth AdamsFebruary 20, 2014
Matt Liebsch (Team Strong Heart/Team Birkie) skiing to the finish. Photo: Flying Point Road.
Matt Liebsch (Team Strong Heart/Team Birkie) skiing to the finish in 2011. Photo: Flying Point Road.

It’s difficult to pigeon-hole cross country ski racers into making predictions.

Of those asked, University of Vermont standout Scott Patterson was the most forthcoming about his prediction for the outcome of the 50-kilometer 41st American Birkebeiner this weekend, one of the premier ski marathons in North America and part of the Worldloppet series. He admitted that while he was rooting for his sister, Caitlin Patterson of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP), he thought that the other Caitlin – defending champ Caitlin Gregg of Team Gregg – was the favorite.

“Caitlin Gregg has shown she is above the field in domestic skate races this year.  With that, and intimate knowledge of the course, she will be hard to beat,” he wrote in an email.

“Hopefully my sister will surprise me,” he added.

But then again, it was easier for Scott Patterson to make predictions, since he won’t be racing, as the collegiate schedule conflicts with the Birkebeiner. Plus, as a college skier, “the large prize money appeal is moot since I can’t accept it. Instead I will test out my 50 k skills later on at [SuperTour Finals] in Anchorage.”

For her part, Gregg was reluctant to say.

“I have no idea how the race will unfold until it does,” she wrote in an email. “I will say I am excited to ski on the Birkie trails again, though,” she added, including a smiley emoticon in her email.

Though Scott Patterson and Gregg seemed to agree on a favorite in the women’s race, there was no such agreement on the men’s race: Patterson picked Sun Valley’s Matt Gelso or Team Homegrown’s Sylvan Ellefson for a strong showing, giving Ellefson the edge if it comes to a sprint.

For what it’s worth, Ellefson, fresh from the Battle Creek SuperTour, would have liked to agree, but couldn’t quite.

“I would like to bet on myself for the win, but seeing as my best finish is 10th, my goal for the Birkie is only to better that result,” he wrote in an email. “It is rumored that many Europeans will also be joining us which always keeps the excitement factor high in the elite wave. I know the Europeans coming over are quite strong, but I’ll put my money on an American to win.”

It is more than just rumors suggesting that some strong Europeans will be in the field. Former World Champion Martin Koukal of the Czech Republic will be there, as will Italy’s Fabio Santos, among others.

Gregg, on the other hand, made it clear that she was playing favorites.

Photo: Darlene Prois
The Birkie is not only about the prize money. Photo: Darlene Prois

“All I can say is that I hope Matt Liebsch has an awesome race! I will always pick Matt to win!”

Liebsch returned the favor and picked Gregg for the win, though he said that on the men’s side it was a toss-up of “any one of about 10 dudes,” adding that he liked his own chances. Gelso, in an email, largely agreed with Liebsch, but added that there were “15 guys that have a legitimate shot for the win, and another 10 who have an outside shot.”

“But,” he added, “someone is going to win and I will be doing my best to be that someone.”

No matter the predictions, the excitement among the racers is palpable.

“I am really looking forward to this giant ‘family reunion’ of Cross Country Skiing,” Gregg said.

Indeed, the Birkie is the premier loppet in North America, with over 13,000 skiers competing in the different events. And, thanks to a winner’s purse of $7,500 and cash prizes down to $1,000 for sixth place in the marquee event, the 50 k skate, some of the world’s top marathon skiers will be in the mix.

Fast and Female

On Sunday following the race, Gregg will be hosting a Fast and Female event in Hayward.

“I am so excited about the Fast and Female Event on Sunday!” Gregg wrote in an email. “We are going to have an awesome turnout! Hopefully 70+ gals!!! I think the best part about Fast and Female is that no matter how tired or sore you are, it all seems to fade away when you start seeing so many little smiling faces!”

When asked if she thought that any of the youngsters might beat her in a sprint after her big race the day before, she said that “Birkie or no Birkie, I bet there are a few speed demons out there who could get me in a sprint.”


 Men’s Top 20 Bibs

1 Sergio Bonaldi Milano,  ITA
2 Fabio Santus Milano,  ITL
3 Alan Martinelli Valdidentro So,  ITA
4 Florian Kostner Dobbiaco,  ITA
5 Martin Koukal Liberec,  CZE
6 Benoit Chauvet Aviernoz,  FRA
7 Patrick Johnson Anchorage, AK USA
8 Matthew Liebsch Orono, MN USA
9 Marco Muehlematter Boenigen,  SUI
10 Bryan  Cook Carbondale, WI USA
11 Tom Reichelt Oberwiesenthal,  GER
12 Mathias Inniger Adelboden,  SUI
13 Christophe Perrillat In,  FRA
14 Manuel Hirner Saalbach Hinterglemm,  AUT
15 Sylvan Ellefson Vail, CO USA
16 Michael Sinnott Sun Valley, ID USA
17 Jussi Simula Jyvaskyla,  FIN
18 Eric Packer Anchorage, AK USA
19 Patrick  O’Brien Craftsbury Common, VT USA
20 Christopher Hamilton Canmore, AB CAN


Women’s Top 20 Bibs

501 Caitlin Gregg Minneapolis, MN USA
503 Caitlin Patterson Craftsbury Common, VT USA
504 Antonella Confortola Wyatt Zianodifiemme,  ITA
506 Kate Fitzgerald Anchorage, AK USA
507 Stephanie Santer Dobbiaco,  ITA
508 Laurel Clare Egan Craftsbury, VT USA
509 Elizabeth Guiney Park City, UT USA
510 Jordyn Ross Lakeville, MN USA
511 Chelsea Holmes Ketchum, ID USA
512 Zoe Roy Canmore, AB CAN
513 Nicolette Reker Little Canada, MN USA
514 Brandy Stewart Bozeman, MT USA
515 Sarah Murphy Canmore, AB CAN
516 Tammy Jacques Steamboat Springs, CO USA
517 Rosie Brennan Park City, UT USA
518 Sini Alusniemi Jyvaskyla, N/ FIN
519 Jan Guenther Mound, MN USA
520 Mary Beth Tuttle Pine Springs, MN USA
521 Megan Ping Winona, MN USA
522 Alexandra Jospe Newton, MA USA


Seth Adams

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