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Minnesotans make strong showing at American Birkebeiner

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2019 American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race
Alayna Sonnesyn, a native of Plymouth, Minn., now living in Vermont, celebrates as she crosses the finish line to win the women's title at the American Birkebeiner skate-ski race on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019 in Hayward, Wis.
Photo courtesy American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation 2019

A Minnesota native won the women's title Saturday at the American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race in Northwestern Wisconsin.

Alayna Sonnesyn, who's originally from Plymouth and now lives in Vermont, won the 50-kilometer Birkie Skate race in 2 hours, 34 minutes — nearly a minute ahead of runner-up Anja Gruber of Bozeman, Mont.

In the men's Birkie Skate race, Akeo Maifeld-Carucci of Craftsbury Common, Vt., won in 2:12:34 — less than a second ahead of runner-up Brian Gregg of Minneapolis. Another Minnesota skier, Matt Liebsch of Orono, finished third in 2:12:43.

2019 American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race
The top men's skiers in the 50-kilometer American Birkebeiner skate race near the finish line in Hayward, Wis., on Saturday. Akeo Maifeld-Carucci (center) of Craftsbury Common, Vermont, won the race, followed by Brian Gregg of Minneapolis (left) and Matt Liebsch of Orono, Minn.
Photo courtesy American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation 2019

The trio were in a pack as they crossed the bridge over U.S. Highway 63 and proceeded down Main Street to the finish line in Hayward, Wis.

"Three skiers came over the top of that bridge all together and they were in a fight to the finish till the end. And (the top two) came in only fractions of seconds apart," said Birkie spokesperson Nancy Knutson. "It was crazy. It was an awesome finish, super-exciting."

In the 55-kilometer Birkie Classic race, Peter Holmes of Ketchum, Idaho, won the men's title in 3:04:32, and Cate Brams of Belmont, Mass., won the women's title in 3:21:24.

Full results can be found here.

2019 American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race
Cross-country skiers leave the starting line of the American Birkebeiner on Saturday near Cable, Wis.
Photo courtesy American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation 2019

Olympic gold medalist Kikkan Randall served as the honorary starter for Saturday's race and also skied in the 50-kilometer event — just months after completing six rounds of chemotherapy. Randall was diagnosed with breast cancer last May.

Randall won gold at last year's Winter Olympics in South Korea, alongside teammate Jessie Diggins of Minnesota.

Knutson said the Birkie crowd erupted in cheers Saturday when Randall neared the finish.

"She was greeted with an Olympian's welcome," Knutson said. "The crowd... it was like 'the wave' with sound. You could hear the roar come up Main Street to the finish line. She said it rivaled any Olympic crowd she's ever performed in front of."

Randall finished 12th among women skiers; she's normally a sprint racer, and the Birkie was her first 50K event.

Weather conditions for the race from Cable to Hayward included light snow and temperatures in the 20s. This year's race was the 45th Birkebeiner, and drew skiers from 23 countries and 49 states — every one except Oklahoma. Minnesota sends more skiers to the Birkie than any other state.