APU’s Holly Brooks began her 2011 domestic campaign 50 days ago, with a pair of sprint qualifier wins in West Yellowstone, MT. One day before that campaign concludes, not much has changed.
In Friday’s SuperTour in Lake Placid, a 6 k classic, Brooks led an APU sweep, with an eight-second victory over her teammate Kate Fitzgerald. Morgan Smyth was third, another five seconds behind.
It was Brooks’s sixth win of the season, and with another $750 in the bank, she will head home to Alaska after Saturday’s 10 k freestyle race. Named Wednesday to the U.S. team for the 2011 World Championships in Oslo, Brooks said she was looking forward to some training time before heading to Norway in February.
“Kikkan [Randall], Kate Fitzgerald, Morgan Smyth and I are going to do a little distance block,” Brooks said. “I’m really psyched—it’s been nine weeks on the road, with a little six-day break in the middle.”
Like the men, the women skied on a two-kilometer loop at Lake Placid’s Olympic Jumping Complex, completing three laps for a total of six kilometers.
After a pair of longer distance races at last week’s U.S. National Championships in Maine, the women had to be ready to go from the gun on Friday.
“Six k—you can’t really waste time,” said UVM’s Caitlin Patterson, who finished fourth—nearing, but not matching, her brother Scott’s third place in the men’s race.
The course was essentially a kilometer of uphill followed by a kilometer of down—but the descent wasn’t all rest, according to APU Head Coach Erik Flora.
“There’s a lot of good technical terrain on the way back down. We noticed that you can’t just kind of ski up the hill and fall asleep—you have to ski the whole time,” he said. “So it rewards those who train a lot, and who have good technique as well. I would come here every weekend if I had a choice—this was one of my favorites venues this year.”
The fact that his women took the top three spots in Friday’s race probably didn’t hurt, either. Brooks said that she charged out of the gate—especially after seeing some people start too conservatively in Maine last week—and skied the race “just like an interval session.”
“It’s like three-by-three up,” she said. “It skied fast, and fun.”
Two laps in, Brooks had staked herself to a ten-second lead over Fitzgerald, then held that gap over the final two kilometers of the race.
Fitzgerald had been knocking on the door since she came out of nowhere to win one of the distance races in West Yellowstone in November. She’d had four top-fives in December and January, but no podiums.
On Friday, she said she didn’t think she had peaked in the early season, but couldn’t put a finger on what had been the difference between now and then.
“I’ve worked hard every race, and kind of approach it the same way,” she said. “Every race is different.”
Fitzgerald was one of a handful of women on the bubble to make the American team for World Championships, but was ultimately passed over in favor of younger talent.
So was Smyth, even after hitting the podium twice in four races at U.S. Nationals last week. After the race, said she was “surprised” by the number of women named to the Oslo team using coach’s discretion, and used that snub on Friday.
“After being totally unconsidered, it definitely motivates you to go out and prove yourself,” she said. “A little fuel for the fire—everybody needs that.”
Smyth compared the course’s challenging climb to those used in World Cup races—though she noted that she still may have started too slowly.
“I went out really hard, and I feel like I could have gone out maybe even a little harder—it went by pretty quick,” she said.
If the course felt quick for Smyth, one woman for whom it clearly did not was Craftsbury’s Ida Sargent, who cracked towards the end of what she called her first solid effort since racing in Finland in the fall.
“I was not moving very fast,” she said.
Sargent injured her neck in a car accident in December, and was unable to race to her full potential at U.S. Nationals. Despite finishing ninth on Friday, she seemed upbeat at the finish.
After qualifying for the Oslo team, Sargent said that she will take the rest of the winter off from school to race full time, and will return to her studies at Dartmouth later this year.
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.