Spector Bests USST Women on Windy Whiteface

Nathaniel HerzOctober 8, 201012
Laura Spector all by herself toward the top of Whiteface Mountain

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 leading the pack early on.

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.

Complete Results

Liz Stephen battling to a third place finish.

Nathaniel Herz

Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.

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  • jesteb

    October 8, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Good job Laura! You indeed have been working hard and this test was a very good show of your fitness!
    As for the comment about Spector being on “faster skis”, give me a break and congratulate her with respect. She was on Marwe’s like everyone else and she had a good day. The U.S. needs to learn to support one another and help each other reach the podium, not make up excuses.

  • tetlowjm

    October 8, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    jesteb – don’t judge arritola too harshly based on that comment. I remember when I got upset about something that the coaches/athletes were quoted as saying after the 15k in the olympics and it turned out that it was just a misquote/context thing. No offense Nat, the reporting rocks!

  • Cloxxki

    October 8, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Is she really 4’9″ = 1m45 tall?
    That’s not just about being built for climbing, it’s about being in the calm wind near the surface! I’m the opposite, I’m really tall, and in fierce tailwinds notice that I get more out of it than others. I bet being short, making naturally shorter strides, on an uphill with strong winds, is going to help.

    Great performance nontheless, obviously. Sounds like a pretty gutsy win!

  • delltodd

    October 8, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    sometimes it just looks different in print – I bet no malice was intended. I have also noticed that there are marwes and there are marwes. GREAT PICS!

  • prairiekid

    October 8, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    and Marwe’s are actually available in 3 speeds

  • highstream

    October 8, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    All things being equal, and they apparently weren’t in this race with all the wind, unmatched rollerskis lead to big differences. Read the men’s article:
    “Stymied in three previous attempts by inferior competition with superior rollerskis, Freeman…”
    “Aiden Lennie, a Canadian U-23..took fifth place, aided by a blazing fast pair of Ski Skett Shark rollerskis.”

  • morganarritola

    October 8, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    Stories are spun so that they grab your attention. I don’t make excuses, I congratulate and cheer for all of the racers. You don’t know me so don’t pretend to. I’m also not afraid to leave my name with my comment.

  • Martin Hall

    October 8, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Way to go Morgan—one real women and a bunch of wimpy no-named men! I’ve been grouching about this for the past couple of years.
    We need a sanction—maybe the FIS can help us here!

  • jesteb

    October 9, 2010 at 7:14 am

    Morgan, my name is Jacob Beste, a former US National Team biathlete. I’m not judging you and you’re right, I don’t know as well as you don’t know me. What surprises me about this roller ski test is that each year someone is always saying that it was equipment that helped someone do better than others. Marty got got it right on another post that athletes should use the same equipment year after year in order to chart any changed that their training may have made.
    However, once everyone is on skis, and some people on the World Cup who get to test 30-40 pairs, we don’t get to say “they had faster skis”, we just have to perform.
    Believe me Morgan, I have been a fan of yours for quite awhile and have seen you make many improvements. I have also seen Laura improve over the years and know that she is a very capable athlete. The size of the female elite ski body in our county is small and my own opinion is that each athlete needs to work with each other to help reach that podium step, something that we haven’t done in a distance event. So no, I’m not saying that you are a poor sport, I’m saying that as a skiing body, we just need to support each top level athlete because you guys are the ones who are paving that path for a future podium and helping younger skiers find role models through emulating.
    Please everyone, understand that this really has nothing to do with Morgan personally, I really do think that she is a great and talented athlete and has a hug amount of potential.

  • Martin Hall

    October 9, 2010 at 8:13 am

    Well said Jacob.
    Where are all the women—shocked at how small the field was, as I say in the race results/contest post—14 ladies, only.
    Only solution is to get this race put on a Saturday—and start at 8am. The mtn could be clear by 10:30.
    I saw a chalk message on the road telling the SunValley skiers to stop at mile 2 at the feed station—was that the truth or prank?

  • Greg Malia

    October 9, 2010 at 9:47 am

    Hey folks. Let’s thank NYSEF, Margaret Mayer and everyone else involved in organizing this great event. To get so many top US skiers to Whiteface Mtn for a rollerski race is fantastic. Thanks too to all of you who raced. My name is Greg Malia and I’m just a small high school nordic ski coach in Kingston, NY. I remember bringing some of my skiers up to Lake Placid to watch many of the US ski team members time trial up the other side of the mountain (out of Saranac Lake) a few years ago. You were holding a week long training camp at Lake Placid. My kids got to meet with Morgan and Liz , then with Pete V. and we ended the day with a 2 hour clinic given by the US coaches. It was a thrill for the kids to meet with members of the US ski team. Marty has a great idea about Saturday. I don’t if it’s possible; but, I know I would bring my team up to watch and cheer.

    In the meantime, let’s support each other and work together from the junior level through the masters. It’s more fun that way.

  • highstream

    October 9, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Marty wrote: “Way to go Morgan—one real women and a bunch of wimpy no-named men! I’ve been grouching about this for the past couple of years.”

    Speaking for myself, Marty (and Morgan), I’d love to write in my own name. However, while the internet may be free, this country (and world) is not. This is a capitalist country, i.e., employment is largely controlled privately and is not guaranteed. Since I can’t keep employers from doing name searches – and search many definitely do, sometimes with bad repercussions for actual or potential employees, such as myself – I decided to go coded with name and email address most of the time. So please focus on the content of the speech and quit worrying about the label.

    If the Whiteface race organizers can do such a good job every year and the USST has a rollerski sponsor, as I think they do, then it would seem that coming up with sufficient matched pairs, at least for the elites, is in the realm of possibility. In any case, it sounds like the race, or just skiing up the hill, would be fun (every once in awhile).

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