The weekend of college races in Jackson, New Hampshire started off with an excitingly fast, criterium style race format. The snow was thin, but perfectly cold and the trail crew at Jackson had groomed the course to a sparkling cut under blue-bird skies.
The criterium was a mass start, with nearly 50 competitors in each field toeing the line. The course raced across the stadium and up a steep wall of a hill climb before dropping back down an S-turn back into the stadium for a 1.4 km loop. The racers were told that they would ski an undetermined number of laps, somewhere between 25-35 minutes, but that they would be notified when they had three laps to go.
In the women’s race it was Alice Nelson of Williams who took the early lead and kept at the front of the pack for the entire race. She shared the lead several times before a pack broke off the front for the race finale. The final sprint came down to Nelson, Annelies Cook (USBA), Natalie Ruppertsburger (Bates), and Natasha Culles (UNH). Nelson and Cook sprinted to the finish line together, with Nelson powering over the line for the win.
“It definitely wasn’t my plan to lead the crit most of the way,” said Nelson,”In giving advice to Keith [Kantack], I actually told him not to lead and the plan I had in my head was to be in the front pack but not actually in the front. The field was really windy and I definitely spent more energy being out in front. If I had the race to do over again, I would have been more patient and more confident, but with nerves and the excitement of the first race I found myself out in front for the majority of the time. Luckily it worked out!”
The men’s criterium was just as exciting, and also culminated in a sprint down the finish line. In the middle laps of the race it was a three-pack from Williams who held the lead just in front of a three-pack from UVM. For Williams, it was Alex Taylor, who had been in the front since the starting sprint, alongside Caleb Lucy and Keith Kantack. For UVM it was Alex Howe, Fritz Horst, and Peter Hegman. Kantack, who had two falls in the first 3 minutes of the race, had to ski his way through a good section of the field in order to join the front of the pack by mid-race. Howe was patient throughout the race and didn’t challenge until the final sprint, when Kantack was the only one who could keep up the blistering kick. The two sprinted down the chute together, Howe lunging at the line to win the race by a literal “foot”.
The next day’s races were individual start, classic races around the challenging 5km track at the Jackson Touring Center.
Natalie Ruppertsberger of Bates again showed her strength in the women’s field by winning the 5km race. She had finished third in the criterium, but today traded places with Alice Nelson (WIL) to top the field by 16 seconds. Kirsten Johnson (WIL) placed second, with Nelson another 12 seconds back in third.
In the men’s 10km race Keith Kantack and Alex Taylor of Williams had another stellar day of races, Kantack picking up the win by just 7.6 seconds over Taylor. Ben Knowles from SLU edged Eric Lindgren from UNH by just two tenths of a second to round out the podium in third place.
“Racing the same way all season is sort of boring, so it’s nice to get in a funky format now and then,” said Kantack, commenting on his weekend of top results, “The fans got to see us for almost all of the thirty minutes we were racing, which was especially nice for me since I’m from Jackson – that definitely gave me a little boost.”