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NORDIC SKIING

Biker Nicolas Baudin overtakes skier Chet Fehrmann to win Susitna 100

by | Feb 21, 2023 | Adventure, Cover Story, Cycling, Nordic Skiing

With excruciatingly soft trails slowing fat bikers at Saturday’s Susitna 100, Nicolas Baudin wasn’t sure he was ever going to catch and pass skier Chet Fehrmann as he floated atop the bounty of snow.

“There is nothing more frustrating for a biker to be following a skier. Their pace is more consistent,” said Baudin, who along with many others was at times reduced to walking and pushing his bike (or hike-a-bike in race parlance).

Fehrmann, now 43, won the event outright — beating all the bikers — in 2008, 2009 and 2010 when it traveled as an out-and-back to Yentna Station and grooming was infrequent. Now it’s a much better maintained 100-mile loop through swamps, rivers and forests in greater Big Lake starting at ending at the Happy Trails Kennel, making it much more difficult for a skier to be in contention.

However, at Deshka Landing’s Eaglequest Lodge checkpoint (Mile 63), Fehrmann held an 18-minute advantage on Baudin, Oliver Sternicki and Brad Manderfeld, who labored through accumulating snow the consistency of mashed potatoes.

“If the trail had stayed the same way it was for the first 60 miles, (Fehrmann) would have for sure beat us,” Baudin, 43, said by phone Monday night after attending the event’s awards ceremony.

Nicolas Baudin (bib 7) leads Brad Manderfeld (bib 84) and other bikers at the start. Photo by Andy Romang

But then conditions improved dramatically, with much firmer trail and less fresh snow. Fehrmann, the solo rabbit for the past 30 miles or so, became a sitting duck.

The trio of bikers passed him at Red Shirt Lake and by Cow Lake Checkpoint (Mile 80) Fehrmann was no longer in contention for the overall win.

“Trails were really good from Willow swamp to the finish. I didn’t have a chance of keeping up,” Fehrmann said by text on Sunday. “I don’t think a skier will ever win on this course — too much narrow trail and too well maintained. … It was fun making it exciting yesterday, though.”

The excitement then turned to the three bike leaders. With a relatively flat finishing section, getting a gap was difficult, although Baudin said Sternicki tried by turning the homestretch into a “5K time trial.”

Baudin followed Sternicki on the final 500-yard straightaway and made his move with 100 yards to go approaching a small hill just before the finish.

“I saw an opening on the left side,” Baudin said. “I knew Oliver should have been the fastest, but I had a better position.”

Baudin used a similar tactic to edge Tom Peichel by one second for his only other Su 100 win in 2020. This time he nipped Sternicki by five seconds and Manderfeld by 25 seconds. Baudin’s elapsed time of 16 hours, 39 minutes and 45 seconds was nearly twice as long as the 8 hours, 52 minutes he needed three years earlier.

Baudin, a Frenchman who moved to Alaska the winter of 2010, has come a long way since placing 18th at his first Su 100 in 2011. Now he’s a perennial contender with 11 Su finishes.

Fehrman finished almost exactly an hour behind the top bikers in 17:39:37.

Chet Fehrmann skis in the Susitna 100. Photo by Andy Romang

Attrition was exceptionally high this year, with the 100-miler featuring just 55 finishers. Eighty-one others dropped out part way through or simply did not show up at the start.

Other Su 100 winners included:

Women’s bike: Becky Kotter, 23:33; Women’s ski: Chris Craemer, 36:38; Overall run: Haroldas Subertas, 26:16; Women’s Run: Meg Inokuma, 31:27.

The red lantern went to Anthony Yusup, who required 45 hours and 35 minutes.

“Everybody’s celebrating the winners,” Baudin said. “The last person, they are the hero.”

In the accompanying Little Su 50K, biker David Arteaga prevailed in 3:02:23. Libby Kugel (4:26:40) was the fastest woman. Ski winners were Josh Mumm (3:52) and Ivy Schultz (6:03). Nick Schollmeier won the men’s footrace in 5:43 while Denali Strabel took the women’s in 7:13.

Next up on the endurance racing calendar is the Iditarod Trail Invitational, which starts at 2 p.m. Sunday in Knik. The 1,000-mile racers will travel all the way to Nome while the ITI 350 event (actually about 300 miles) will go to McGrath.

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