On a brilliant sunny day in Lake Placid, New York, Liz Stephen (USST) extended her Climb to the Castle podium streak to five in a row, earning her first victory in the challenging five-mile hill climb since the inaugural event in 2007.
Stephen and US Ski Team (USST) teammate Ida Sargent overcame an early deficit to Tara Geraghty-Moats (CNSC), turning the 45 minute test into a two-woman race by the end of the first mile.
Stephen, an excellent climber, worked with Sargent for another mile before dropping the hammer and skiing away to a convincing one minute and twenty-four second victory.
“We were working together for a while,” Stephen, who was third behind Spector and Morgan Arritola last year, said. “I don’t sprint so well, so I knew I needed to go hard early and make a break if I was going to get away.”
Stephen described her body as “feeling good” today, and executed her pre-race plan well. Warming up on classic skis to limit the stress on skate specific muscles, Stephen used the event to refine her pre-race routine.
“Sometimes I have trouble knowing what to do, and when I write it down the night before I can just do that and I don’t have to think about it in the morning,” Stephen said of her warm-up.
It clearly worked as she topped her personal best in the race by over two-and-a-half minutes, not including the modified course year of 2008. The ideal conditions– no wind or rain certainly helped, but Stephen looked strong and controlled throughout.
Sargent, who has had her best results on the sprint course, was pleased with her performance as well.
“She [Stephen] started picking up the pace about halfway, and I was not really sure if I could hold on,” Sargent told FasterSkier after the race. “I just wanted to ski my own race and not die later on. I think I ended up pacing it pretty well.”
Even after Stephen broke away, the pace never seemed to drop. USST Head Coach Chris Grover was impressed with the speed from gun.
Grover felt that Geraghty-Moats’ early lead “may have pushed the pace a little bit early on.”
“And when Liz and Ida took over I don’t think they sandbagged it for a moment out there. It looked like they were charging the whole time,” Grover said.
Geraghty-Moats, who ripped out of the start on Duncan Douglas-esque skis, held on for third, ahead of Hannah Dreissigacker (CGRP) and defending champion Laura Spector (USBA).
Spector appeared to be struggling from the start, giving up a gap to Stephen and Sargent early, and looking over her shoulder at the chasers at mile one.
“Today I felt like it would have been a struggle to stay with them the entire way,” Spector said of Stephen and Sargent. “I thought maybe if I was little conservative in the beginning I might be able to make up some time, but it just wasn’t the case. I was pretty exhausted this morning.”
Spector attributed the fatigue to a hard week of training, and turned her focus to smart pacing and technique.
She battled hard, but continued to lose ground, ultimately getting passed by Dreissigacker, who started conservatively and skied an even race.
With the weather cooperating, most skiers set personal bests on the course and knocked minutes off from 2010.
But in a sure sign that the 2010 Olympian was not in top form, Spector was actually slower— a full 3:17 slower in fact.
“Last year it was October. It all has to do with the training that you are doing around this time,” Spector explained, seemingly unconcerned by the change in performance. “We’ve just started our intensity training, so it’s been a lot for the body to handle all of a sudden.”
Dreissigacker, skiing in an eye-catching ensemble, replete with pink and blue tutu, looked in control early, and gradually skied Spector in and ultimately opened a significant gap.
Geraghty-Moats, a strong junior skier, opted for fast skis, and had the experience of leading out three Olympians.
Overall 32 women completed the race.
The Climb to the Castle is hosted by the New York Ski Education Foundation (www.nysef.org).
Prizes for the event were provided by Mt. Borah Custom Apparel.
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Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.