In a few weeks the Nordic races of the 2013 NCAA Championships will be held on recently-upgraded courses at the Rikert Touring Center in Ripton, Vermont. The site is home to the Middlebury Ski Team, whose Breadloaf Campus hosted this weekend’s EISA racing.
Competitors got a chance to test out the new 5k course, which features complete snow-making infrastructure, wide lanes and tricky corners. The snow-making system proved a worthwhile investment for Rikert this week; only a few miles down the valley, in the village of Middlebury, bright sun and warm temperatures had left the ground mostly bare.
Friday: 5/10k Classic
As the warming trend continued up at the race venue, teams had their work cut out for them to produce skis for Friday’s classic race that could provide both kick and glide. The course contained bits of everything, and was rapidly changing. Conditions were mostly ice and older snow with a layer of dry powder on top: you likely needed klister to get kick, but if you stepped out of the tracks you were going to be running for the rest of the race. As the course was skied in and temperatures warmed, the loose snow in the tracks became packed down and ‘zero’ skis were getting slick.
In the end there was a mix of both skis during the races, with benefits and drawbacks to be had from each. Nobody would have perfect skis, but as always the fastest racer would win the day.
For the women’s race that meant another trip to the top of the podium for Middlebury’s Annie Pokorny, giving the home team an individual win on the day. Though she has been strong regionally, nationally and even internationally in freestyle events this season, this was Pokorny’s first classic technique win.
Following Pokorny on Friday was Catherine Auclair of Universite Laval. The Canadian school has been making appearances at EISA races for a while now, and are welcomed to the league by all. Though the school is technically not an NCAA institution (and therefore their racers do not count for NCAA rankings, nor is the school allowed to compete at Regional Championships next weekend), Laval has proven itself a strong and competitive team within the region.
The final podium spot on Friday went to UVM’s Anja Gruber, who has thus far claimed a podium in every classic technique race of the season. With the final classic race next weekend in the same format and distance, Gruber is poised for an incredibly consistent season of stride-and-glide.
The tricky conditions continued for the men’s race. The tough waxing meant many skiers were spending more time double-poling than they would’ve liked, which is usually not something to be happy about.
Unless, of course, you are Sam Tarling.
The Dartmouth senior has proven his strength time and again, such as last year when he chose to go on skate skis during the UNH classic sprint. The course featured a climb to steep that many ruled out double-poling immediately, but Tarling took second in the qualifier there and went on to win the event.
Tarling’s grit, size and power proved a winning combination on Friday as well. Though he had the 3rd-fastest first lap (UVM’s Scott Patterson led), Tarling took over the lead by the end of the 2nd lap to win by just over 7 seconds. After a rough start, Tarling wasn’t sure how his race would fare.
“I’m very surprised,” Tarling remarked of his win, “but I’m psyched!”
Joining Tarling on the podium was Teammate Silas Talbot, who also moved up the rankings from 4th on the initial lap to take the runner-up spot.
Though he faded a bit over the second half of the race, UVM’s Scott Patterson was able to hang on for 3rd place. Though he is clearly skating on another level this season, Patterson has proven himself to be a threat for the win in either discipline. You could bet he was looking forward to Saturday.
Saturday: 15/20k Freestyle
At this point in the season, you know what to expect from Scott Patterson heading into a skate race. The UVM skier has kept his strategy relatively similar for every freestyle event, mass start of otherwise: go out ahead and pile time on everyone else.
Patterson was gracious enough to let a few others ski with him for the first lap of the men’s 20k mass start Saturday, but soon decided he’d go out for a solo cruise. As Patterson did what he does best, it was a futile fight to keep contact.
Dartmouth’s Sam Tarling and David Sinclair gave chase most aggressively, though after about a lap Sinclair found himself drifting back to a chase pack the eventually held spots 3 through 7.
Tarling, however, was able to stay within sight of Patterson for a bit longer. Though skiing alone at the front doesn’t seem to phase Patterson this year, it seemed Tarling began to feel the effects. Eventually, Patterson didn’t even need to look back to check on Tarling, though his UVM coaches Pat Weaver and Andrew Johnson continued to provide him with info about his distance and time gaps on the field.
Whether through fatigue or simply the grim realization that he would not close on Patterson, Tarling began to let the distance between the two grow.
The race for 1st and 2nd was anticlimactic, but the sprint to the line for 3rd place was more dramatic. Showing a strong return to form, Williams skier Will Wicherski led the chase pack for much of the race. Coming into the final hill, however, it was Middlebury’s Ben Lustgarten and Dartmouth’s Scott Lacy sprinting for the last podium spot. In a lunge 3rd place went to Lacy, as Dartmouth put 2 men on the podium for the second consecutive day.
The women’s race saw an early break as well, though not by a usual suspect.
Darmouth’s Mary O’Connell, who had never won an EISA race before, found herself at the front of the pack during the women’s 15k mass start. As O’Connell broke further and further away, it was UVM’s Anja Gruber and Linda Danvind-Malm who gave chase.
Dandvind-Malm drifted back slightly, but Gruber closed the gap on O’Connell and took over the lead at the 5k mark. The effort to fight back up to the front of the race caught up with the Catamount, however, as O’C0nnell broke away again and skied to the line uncontested for her first victory. Gruber and Dandvind-Malm held onto 2nd and 3rd place, respectively.
Fourth place went to Annie Hart of Dartmouth, who skied a good portion of the race with a group of skiers from the Pierre Harvey Training Center based out of Mont St. Anne, Quebec. The Training Center and National Team suits of Canada were quite prevalent in both races, as skiers from up north joined the EISA racing for a weekend.
The final weekend of regular-season EISA racing occurs at Black Mountain in Rumford, Maine next week, as skiers fight for their places at NCAA Championships.
Adam Terko is the assistant coach of the St. Lawrence University Ski Team