Muddy, exhausted, but mostly smiling, thousands of cyclists like former Olympic skiing champion Kjetil André Aamodt completed the gruelling 94-kilometer Birkebeiner bike race over the weekend. Norwegians failed to win either of the two main elite categories, though.
Instead, it was Pia Sundstedt of Finland who won the women’s elite category, finishing way ahead of her closest competitor with a time of three hours, 19 minutes and 45 seconds. Linda Larsen of Norway was second, crossing the finish line after three hours, 31 minutes and 19.3 seconds, and Heidi Rosåsen Sandstø of Norway was third, coming in two minutes later.
Hannes Grenze of Germany won the men’s elite division, cycling the wet and muddy course from Rena to Lillehammer in two hours, 57 minutes and four seconds. His Norwegian rival, Lars Ragnar Manengen, finished just 10 seconds behind Grenze and placing second for the third time. Alban Lakata of Austria was third, with a time of two hours, 57 minutes and 37.4 seconds.
The weather was terrible and predictions that the thousands of cyclists registered would be riding into a mud bath proved correct. “This was much worse than last year,” Sundstedt said when it was all over, but she nonetheless seemed game to ride again next year.
The annual bike race over the mountains attracted quite a few celebrities, including former Olympic skiers and old pals Aamodt and Lasse Kjus. Aamodt enjoyed beating Kjus but both skiing champions proved they’re still in pretty good shape.
Aamodt qualified for the coveted Birkebeiner merket, the medal won for finishing under a maximum time set for each age group, with a time of three hours, 58 minutes and 27 seconds. Kjus finished after four hours, 22 minutes and 20 seconds.
Everyone was splattered with mud and still hoping they wouldn’t get the tummy trouble that plagued last year’s race. No serious injuries were reported, but many riders weren’t prepared for the suddenly chilly temperatures that set in over the mountains.
“It clear that conditions for the race were absolutely terrible,” Christina Natvik, a doctor on the Birkebeiner team, told birkerbeiner.no. By 5pm, only 9,788 of the 14,565 riders that actually started the race had crossed the finish line.
“It was a tough, but fine tour for the riders,” insisted Birkebeiner boss Tone Lien. “Some riders used more than 11 hours to cycle the 94 kilometers.”