It took him four tries, but the U.S. Ski Team’s Kris Freeman can add a victory at the Whiteface Climb to the Castle to his list of accomplishments.
“I finally won the Climb to the Castle!” Freeman said.
Stymied in three previous attempts by inferior competition with superior rollerskis, Freeman left his teammate Noah Hoffman behind at halfway mark of this year’s edition of the five-mile race, skiing unchallenged to a 39-second victory. Ben Sim, the aspiring Australian nordic combined skier, rounded out the podium another minute back.
It was only Freeman’s second race effort against a quality field since a disappointing performance at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, where bad skis and complications from diabetes kept him from cracking the top 40 in three competitions. But he showed Friday that he hasn’t lost much ground, topping Hoffman by roughly the same margin he did last year.
The two broke away quickly from a deep group of men, including Sim, nordic combined World Championship medalists Billy Demong and Todd Lodwick, U.S. 50 k national champion Tad Elliott, and the U.S. Ski Team’s Andy Newell.
The pace was relaxed at the start, but Freeman said that he had no desire to fight a stiff breeze alone all the way to the top.
“I knew I didn’t want to lead the whole way into a headwind, so I said, ‘hey, Hoff, you want to work together and break this thing open?’” Freeman said afterwards.
Hoffman, one of the country’s best climbers, traded pulls with Freeman for roughly a mile before he was felled by an acceleration.
“I was hoping to be able to stick with [Freeman] a little longer…but he’s obviously a world-class skier,” Hoffman said.
The gap between the two athletes didn’t grow after the three-mile mark, but Freeman’s steady pace kept Hoffman from clawing back much of the deficit. The wind was relentless, refusing to let the athletes relax.
“It was rough windy coming into [the] finish—just about a standstill,” Freeman said. “Any time you tried to glide, you just stopped, so I was just going as high-tempo as I could muster.”
Behind Freeman and Hoffman, the final spot on the podium came down to a battle between Sim and CXC’s Tad Elliott.
Sim was in Lake Placid for a camp with the American nordic combined team, and he had topped that group in an uphill time trial earlier in the week. After competing in the 2010 Olympics as a cross-country skier for Australia, he’s now trying to make the jump to nordic combined.
Coming off a season of racing in the Australian winter, Sim had just enough gas to catch and pass Elliott, who is making his own transition to dryland training after racing mountain bikes professionally through the summer.
Aiden Lennie, a Canadian U-23 who trains with the Nakkertok Nordic club in Ottawa, took fifth place, aided by a blazing fast pair of Ski Skett Shark rollerskis. After breaking a pole tip at the start and making more than one switch to find a replacement, U.S. Ski Team sprinter Andy Newell nearly caught.Lennie at the finish, but ran out of road.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.