Gregg makes her own trail: Minnesotan wins record fifth Birkie women’s title; Norwegian wins men’s title
HAYWARD — Caitlin Gregg was in the lead pack at the 44th American Birkebeiner cross-country ski marathon on Saturday, Feb. 24, when she suddenly heard another snowmobile, and she knew exactly what that meant.
The women's elite field started before the men, but the men had reeled them in.
"I looked around at the women and said, 'The men are coming,' " Gregg said. "At one point I suggested we should move over for the men, but I like these ladies. They were like, 'Nope. They can go around us. We're doing our own thing.' "
Gregg makes her own trail.
Gregg of Minneapolis won her record fifth Birkie on Saturday. Nobody else has more than three.
"I'm trying to the set the bar pretty high for the next person," Gregg said. "It feels amazing to win my fifth. Conditions were absolutely perfect. The course was in amazing shape and just beautiful out there. This is definitely one of my favorite races, and that's why I keep coming back. Everything about it, from the organization to the volunteers, makes this a special event."
Gregg collapsed as soon as she crossed the finish line, but was all smiles afterward.
Gregg, 37, covered the 50 kilometers from Cable to Hayward in 2 hours, 23 minutes, 30.3 seconds, holding off Maria Graefnings of Sweden by 2.5 seconds after making a move just before the international bridge on Main Street in Hayward.
"I was getting really tired, because when that bridge came, I was like, 'Whew, that was a long hill,' " Graefnings said, laughing.
Norway's Anders Gloersen, 31, held off a huge pack to win the men's race by 2 seconds, finishing in 2:02:29.6, with Ivan Perrillat-Boiteux of France second and Kyle Bratrud of Verona, Wis., third.
The men caught up to the women just before Lake Hayward, less than three kilometers from the finish, and Gregg had never seen anything like it.
"It was actually kind of surprise, because a couple went by, but then they just kept coming," Gregg said. "A pack of 30. It was the weirdest thing I've ever experienced in a race, where you just have this consistent line of guys coming, but it was really great. The women raced our own race. We jumped in toward the back of that pack, but we stayed in our own pack."
The Birkie had "primes" this year. Pronounced like "cream," a prime is a race within a race, incentives for being first at certain parts on the course. The Birkie gave $500 bonuses to the first skiers at about 2.5K and 21K, but they didn't help loosen things up.
The top 16 men finished within 20 seconds of each other.
"There was a ton of strong guys in there, and no one really wanted to pull the other person to the victory, so there was a lot of cat and mouse and people looking at each other," Bratrud said. "People made moves, but with so many strong skiers, it was hard for anyone to get away, so it was gradual build up the last 5K."
There was a large contingent of French skiers this year, as well as defending champion David Norris of Anchorage, Alaska, who made a move just before the pack came off Lake Hayward, like he did to win in 2016. This time, he couldn't hold it as he wound up fifth.
"I don't know too many of the American skiers here. I know the French guys, and I had to watch out for them," Gloersen said, drawing a good laugh at the postrace news conference. "I tried to stay in front of the big group, but it was difficult to get away. Then with one kilometer left, this American guy (Norris), made a full effort attack, but I had the perfect position on the bridge and going into the final 300 meters."
Each winner received $7,500, with Gregg and Bratrud getting $2,500 bonuses for being the top Americans.
When Gregg won her first Birkie in 2011, she bought a house. She later used Birkie prize money to pay off her student loans, support a world championship medal run and help her husband,
Brian, make the Olympics.
Caitlin Gregg said after winning this year, a new car from their sponsor, Timber Ford of Hayward, could be in their future because they want a safe car to start a family.
"When she won the Birkie the first time, it changed our lives," Brian Gregg said.
"We couldn't do this without it," Caitlin Gregg said.
44th American Birkebeiner 50 Kilometers from Cable to Hayward
1. Anders Gloersen, Oslo, Norway, 2 hours, 2 minutes, 29.6 seconds; 2. Ivan Perrillat-Boiteux, Le Grand-Bornand, France, 2:02:31.6; 3. Kyle Bratrud, Verona, Wis., 2:02:33.1; 4. Adrein Mougel, St.- Jean-de-Moirans, France, 2:02:34.0; 5. David Norris, Anchorage, Alaska, 2:02:34.7; 6. Bastien Poirrier, St.- Jean-de-Moirans, France, 2:02:35.2; 7. Gerard Agnellet, La Clusaz, France, 2:02:35.4; 8. Loic Guigonnet, St.-Alban-Leysse, France, 2:02:36.2; 9. Benjamin Lustgarten, Craftsbury Common, Vt., 2:02:36.7; 10. John Hegman, Sun Valley, Idaho, 2:02:36.8; 11. Benoit Chauvet, St.- Jean-de-Moirans, France, 2:02:43.0; 12. Petter Soleng Skinstad, Lillehammer, Norway, Lillehammer, Norway, 2:02:44.9; 13. Adam Martin, Craftsbury Common, Vt., 2:02:46.2; 14. Rogan Brown, Ketchum, Idaho, 2:02:47.1; 15. Linard Kindschi, Davos Platz, Switzerland, 2:02:48.2; 16. Sergio Bonaldi, Serina, Italy, 2:02:49.1; 17. Mickael Philipot, Evires, France, 2:02:52.0; 18. Fabio Lechner, Davos Platz, Switzerland, 2:02:56.2; 19. Evan Palmer-Charrette, Thunder Bay, Ontario, 2:02:56.3; 20. Tad Elliott, Durango, Colo., 2:03:12.8; 21. Eric Packer, Anchorage, Alaska, 2:03:28.2; 22. Brian Gregg, Minneapolis, 2:03:30.8; 23. Kris Freeman, Campton, N.H., 2:03:45.2; 24. Matthew Liebsch, Orono, Minn., 2:03:53.1; 25. Michael Somppi, Kelowna, British Columbia, 2:04:27.0.
1. Caitlin Gregg, Minneapolis, 2:23:30.3; 2. Maria Graefnings, Falun, Sweden, 2:23:32.9; 3. Chelsea Holmes, Girdwood, Alaska, 2:23:34.2; 4. Aurelie Dabudyk, Le Grand-Bornand, France, 2:23:59.1; 5. Anja Gruver, Bozeman, Mont., 2:26:15.0; 6. Erika Flowers, Belgrade, Mont., 2:27:00.4; 7. Elizabeth Guiney, Craftsbury Common, Vt., 2:29:04.2; 8. Hallie Grossman, Craftsbury Common, Vt., 2:31:33.4; 9. Hannah Bettendorf, Proctor, 2:31:49.5; 10. Laura McCabe, Winthrop, Wash., 2:31:51.0; 11. Marit Sonnesyn, Minneapolis, 2:32:01.2; 12. Julie Ensrud, Marquette, Mich., 2:32:15.9; 13. Claire Luby, St. Paul, 2:32:41.5; 14. Bonnie Weiskopf Albrecht, Stillwater, Minn., 2:34:20.0; 15. Constance Vulliet, Annecy, France, 2:35:23.8; 16. Anne Hart, Stillwater, Minn., 2:35:34.7; 17. Sarah Bezdicek, Plymouth, Minn., 2:36:42.2; 18. Lauren Fritz, Anchorage, Alaska, 2:36:57.2; 19. Deedra Irwin, Pulaski, Wis., 2:37:37.5; 20. Heather Mooney, Bozeman, Mont., 2:38:27.1; 21. Sarah Max, Bend, Ore., 2:41:00.0; 22. Kristen Monahan, Chassell, Mich. 2:41:08.0; 23. Christina Roberts, St. Louis Park, Minn., 2:42:42.5; 24 Jan Guenther, Long Lake, Minn., 2:42:58.5; 25. Patti Harvieux, Duluth, 2:43:52.8.