The Heat is Feverish for the 37th American Birkebeiner
Trail conditions are reportedly “excellent.”
A record number of 10,000 racers are on the start list, with more than 8,000 in the crowning 50km skate race which is part of the Worldloppet and FIS Marathon Cup Series.
The elite field is packed with contenders.
The men’s elite wave is highly contestable. Last year saw the absence of Italian favorites who have previously dominated the American Birkie. This year four Italians are back, led by Marco Cattaneo who won the Birkie in 2005 and 2006 and is ranked third on the overall FIS Marathon Cup. Cattaneo has taken 4th at two other FIS Marthon Cup and Worldloppet events recently: the Jizersky Padesatka and the Dolomitenlauf. Joining him on this year’s start line are countrymen Fabio Santus, Sergio Bonaldi, and Bruno Carrara. Santus is actually ranked ahead of Cattaneo, in second place, on the FIS Marathon results. He took second at the Italian La Sgambeda and won the Austrian Dolomitenlauf. Bonaldi and Carrara, meanwhile, are ranked 6th and 8th on theFIS Cup list and although they are not favored to win, they will be tough competitors and a huge help in team tactics for Santus and Cattaneo.
On the American side, 2009 winner Matt Liebsch returns, along with a very strong contingent of CXC teammates including Bryan Cook and Brian Gregg, who took 2nd and fourth last year. Working as a team, they may have a chance to keep the Italians in check.
There is not much of a foreign contingent in the elite women’s race. The favorite is 2009 winner Rebecca Dussault, who has been nearly unmatched in the last two months of SuperTour races and has recently won the Winter Triathlon World Championships. She will probably work with her CXC teammates Maria Stuber (who has been her closest competitor on the national circuit recently) and Kristina Owen (who recently won the Mora Vasaloppet) to pace much of the race, but considering her closing sprint (she won the elite sprints last year and is looking to do the same this afternoon), Dussault will be hard to beat. Her closest competitor from last year, Holly Brooks, is competing in the Vancouver Olympics. Also absent from the top of last year’s finish list are Kristina Strandberg and Laura McCabe. But Evelyn Dong and Kristina Trygstad-Saari of the Factory Team will be working together to give the CXC women a challenge.