With the last of the snow melting in New England a couple weeks ago, I went up to Maine for a four lap, ice-to-slush 50k at Sugarloaf. It was my last day of skiing. At the end of the race, a friend (who skied her way to second; we’ll get her out to the Birkie one of these years) pointed out a skier who was wearing a Birkie age-class winner t-shirt (and it wasn’t bad-looking, either). I wondered how well he’d done in the race, so I took out my phone (ah, technology; many of the pictures on this site were taken with the same iPhone) and looked up the results. Not only was he an age class winner, but, by time, he’d beaten the winner of the classic race.
When it came out that Joe Dubay was DQed for winning the classic race (wearing someone else’s bib) the skiing world was up in arms. But there’s more afoot in the Birkie classic race. The man with the fastest time wasn’t David Chamberlain. Or even super-World Champion Vegard Ulvang. Nope, skiing two minutes faster than both of them were two skiers from the second wave. Thanks to the vagaries of the wave system, a skier can, conceivably, ski out of a later wave and ski faster than the front skiers, posting a faster time. Of course, since the race is not a true interval start, the winner’s circle is limited to the first skiers across the line. Even if someone skied several minutes faster.
(It is relatively unlikely, although not inconceivable, that this would happen in the skate race; one would assume anyone with a decent chance of winning would be able to petition their way in to the Elite Wave. In the less-lucrative classic race, this is less of an issue.)
Chamberlain and Ulvang skied the Birkie in 2:51:15, but that’s their time from the gun, so their time from the timing wire is likely about 45 seconds faster—2:50:30, just faster than the fourth and fifth place finishers. That’s fast, but a Latvian, Janis Melbardis, skied the race a good minute faster than that, as did a Granite Stater (but judging from his name and accent he’s got some Scandinavian speed) Odd-Aage Bersvendsen. They finished in a wire time in the 2:40s. Our Birkie Classic wave chart shows this quite well.
Since Odd-Aage was at the race, and I asked him how it felt to podium in a race but actually come in fifth (or is it the other way around?) and he was perfectly content—more so than I’m sure I would have been. He had enjoyed the race, and was happy with his age-class award. Still, he did say he asked the Birkie to seed him higher and his request was denied. I asked him if he’d be back the next year to defend his title, and he wasn’t sure. I hope he makes the trip back out, and goes for the win.