Chalk one up for the biathletes.
Just over halfway through Friday’s Climb to the Castle race on Whiteface Mountain, U.S. National Biathlon Team member Laura Spector went to the front of a five-strong women’s pack and left behind four of the country’s best cross-country skiers.
Churning her way through fierce gusts of wind—which staff at the summit estimated at 60 miles per hour—the diminutive Spector crossed the line with a big gap on U.S. Ski Team members Morgan Arritola and Liz Stephen, notching a mark for biathletes around the country.
“This was for them,” Spector said. “We’ve been training really hard.”
Spector was nowhere to be seen at the beginning of the race, which ran five miles up the Whiteface Veteran’s Memorial Highway to the stone castle at the top.
Conditions for the event have ranged from decent to abysmal over the past three years—the 2009 edition went off in a cold, steady rain.
This morning’s race began with far more agreeable weather—cool and crisp at the bottom, with a light breeze.
Arritola led out of the start at a restrained pace, but after a couple of miles, the lead group was down to five: Spector, Stephen, Arritola, Jessie Diggins (CXC), and Ida Sargent (Dartmouth/Craftsbury Green Team).
As the women moved from the sheltered portion of the road onto the mountain’s upper flanks, the wind intensified from a breeze to a full-blown gale, alternating between a brutal headwind and a powerful tailwind as the athletes made their way around the highway’s switchbacks.
Spector had been biding her time since the start, content to feel out the course and let others do the work—especially since it was the first time she’d competed in the race.
“It was a pretty conservative pace, but I didn’t know what to expect, so I just wanted to sit in for a while—see who was going to make a move,” she said.
Around the three-mile mark, Spector said she decided to take a turn at the front.
“I…ended up making a gap, and I just decided to go for it,” she said.
Topping out at 4’9”, Spector said that her technique is more suited to climbing—and it showed. She fought her way through a stiff headwind on the course’s upper portions, and shook off a broken pole tip close to the finish line. At the top, Spector had roughly a minute’s advantage over Arritola.
“Spector went by, and blew us away,” Stephen said.
While the top three women were all on Marwe rollerskis, Arritola said that she did notice a difference between her equipment and Spector’s.
“She was on some faster skis, I think,” she said. “She was V2-ing pretty easily, and I was V1ing hard, so—it’s always hard in a race like this to tell.”
Arritola crossed the line with a fifteen-second edge over Stephen, and Diggins and Sargent rounded out the top five.
Spector, 22, competed at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, her best finish a 65th in the women’s 15 k individual.
She’s enrolled at Dartmouth College for the fall, but after racing in the national team trials in Canmore later this fall, she’ll leave school and compete full-time through the winter.
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.