Several course records were shattered on Saturday in a largely faster-than-ever 46th annual American Birkebeiner, with temperatures steadily rising from the 20s at the start into the 30s by the finish of the point to point race from Cable to Hayward, Wisconsin.
Eight men broke the two-hour mark in the Birkie’s 50-kilometer skate race, half of which are American, and an Australian national team member who trains in the U.S. broke the women’s race record by nearly three minutes.
Niklas Dyrhaug, a 32-year-old Norwegian Olympian and former World Cup regular, reached the finish line first on Hayward’s snow-covered Main Street in 1:59:01.7 hours. While he missed the course record of 1:56:58.6 set by Italy’s Fabio Santus in 2010 by just over two minutes, Dyrhaug earned his spot in the Birkie books on Saturday. He held off second-place finisher Ian Torchia, a Minnesota native who trains with the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) T2 Team, by 1.6 seconds and France’s Robin Duvillard, another Olympian and multiple-time World Championships racer, in third by 1.9 seconds.
Wisconsin’s own Adam Martin, who trains with the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, narrowly missed the podium in fourth (+2.7), while Norway’s Anders Gløersen was just behind in fifth (+3.0) and U.S. Ski Team/Alaska Pacific University (APU) member Erik Bjornsen next in sixth (+3.6).
Another Craftsbury racer, Akeo Maifeld-Carucci followed in seventh (+8.0), then France’s Benoit Chauvet in eighth (+12.0). Sam Wood of Idaho placed ninth, 1:42.5 minutes behind the winner with a cumulative time of 2:00:44.2, just ahead of Kyle Bratrud of Minnesota and the SMST2 team in 10th (+1:47.6).
Dyrhaug, who has two World Championship gold medals in the men’s 4 x 10-kilometer relays (in 2015 and 2017), was a Birkie rookie but hardly a surprise winner. In World Cup 50 k classic mass starts in Oslo, Norway, he placed second in 2016 and fifth in 2017. On Wednesday of this week, he placed second in the SuperTour 1.6 k classic-sprint qualifier in Hayward — part of the Birkie Week festivities — finishing 1.07 seconds off the winning time of U.S. Ski Team member Gus Schumacher.
Meanwhile, Jessica Yeaton, who races for Australia and APU, set a new women’s Birkie 50 k skate course record in 2:13.20.6. The 28-year-old Olympian broke Caitlin Gregg’s record of 2:16:07 and placed 67th overall in Saturday’s 50 k skate. Finland’s 41-year-old Riitta-Liisa Roponen, a five-time Olympian who notably placed sixth in the 10 k skate at last year’s World Championships, was the second woman on Saturday, 41.7 seconds behind Yeaton. Former pro racer Erika Flowers, of Montana, placed third, 1:39.4 minutes out of first.
Saturday’s 55 k classic race saw record-setting times from both the winning man and woman, with Peter Holmes of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) defending his 2019 title with a time of 2:26:46, nearly 2 minutes faster than Juergen Uhl’s winning 54 k classic time of 2:28:39.4 in 2010. Holmes won Saturday’s race by nearly 12 minutes, with two Wisconsin skiers — Chris Pappathopoulos (+11:52.4) and Evan Wetzel (+11:54.3) — following in second and third place, respectively.
Wisconsin native Nichole Bathe, who trains in Norway and skis for the British national team, became the new women’s 55 k classic champion in a blistering 2:49:47.0. She beat out Jennie Bender’s 2011 Birkie classic record of 2:50:53 and finished more than five minutes ahead of Colorado runner-up Anja Gruber (+5:33.3) on Saturday. Wisconsin’s Delaney Fitzpatrick finished in just over 3 hours for third place, about 11 minutes behind Bathe.