TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City’s Jennifer Brown won the Vasa women’s 50K classic by the seat of her pants Saturday.
After seemingly having the race in hand, Brown slipped and fell a few yards from the finish.
Shelter Bay’s Deb Laurie was coming up from behind so Brown scooted to the finish line and pushed her ski across just in time to win the race — and a bottle of champagne. Both racers were clocked in 4:43:23.
“Did you like that?” Brown said of her scoot. “Nothing like improvising.”
Brown and Laurie went “back and forth” throughout the race until Brown opened a lead at Jack Pine.
“I was a bit way out in front with nobody behind me,” Brown said. “Then I turned around with about 3K to go and saw Deb. I said, ‘Whoa. I’ve got to kick it in.’”
It was Brown’s first 50K.
“The first 25K I was trying not to go out too hard because I wanted to save myself for the second,” she said.
Laurie said she picked up some energy as she made a late surge.
“I picked it up, but I knew I wasn’t going to catch you,” Laurie told Brown afterwards.
But then Brown fell and Laurie closed in.
“That’s why I scooted.” Brown said.
Negaunee’s Rob Fox won the men’s 50K in 3:14:28.
The men’s 27K classic turned out to be an extremely close race, too. Petoskey’s Jim Harrington edged Notre Dame senior Kevin Bednar by one second, 1:43:12 to 1:43:13.
“He attacked on an uphill with about one K to go,” Bednar said. “That was a good move. I couldn’t keep up with him.”
Bednar led the first 15K before Harrington caught him. The two then skied together.
“We have different strengths,” Harrington said. “There were sections of the trail where one of us would be faster. I was a little stronger on the uphill so I figured I would go there (with 1K to go) and see what happens. It worked out OK.”
Harrington won the White Pine 50K classic last weekend.
Bednar, who is from Vermont, was skiing in just his second race since high school. And it was the longest race he’s ever done.
“I started losing my kick so I was just happy I could stick with him as long as I did,” he said.
Marquette’s Ellen Wiitala, a sophomore at the University of Michigan, won the women’s 27K in 2:06:35. Skiers took off in sub-zero temperatures and Wiitala was feeling it afterwards.
“I didn’t have any feeling in my hands or my feet the whole race,” she said. “I’ve seldom been in a race that cold.”
She would have if she had skied the Noquemanon in Marquette two weeks ago. The wind chill there was 30 below, according to skiers.
“I tried to get up there, but the (Mackinac) bridge was closed,” she said. “I got to Mount Pleasant, found out the bridge was closed, and turned around.”
Wiitala, 19, did a lot of “solitary” skiing Saturday.
“The tracks were beautiful, the sun was beautiful, it was just cold,” she said.
Northville’s Amy Kostrzewa, who won the 50-59 age class, placed second in 2:15.23. She agreed with Wiitala about the weather.
“I could’t feel my nose,” she said “It was numb.”
Kostrzewa said she didn’t feel bad coming in second to Wiitala.
“Good, at least it was someone who’s young enough to be my daughter,” she said. “I can live with that.”
Traverse City’s Charley Needham won the men’s 12K classic in 53:48. Muskegon’s Dolores Trese won the women’s 12K in 1:12:40.