WILMINGTON, N.Y. — It didn’t matter that this year’s Climb to the Castle rollerski race fell on the last day of the U.S. Ski Team’s exhausting two-week intensity camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. Liz Stephen (USST/Burke Mountain Academy) was still able to shave a minute and a half off of her winning time from a year ago.
It took Stephen just over 42 minutes to wind her way up five miles of an eight-percent average grade to the summit of Whiteface Mountain (4,867 feet) Sunday morning. It’s the third straight year Stephen has claimed the title.
“In these kind of races, the conditions change so much,” Stephen said. “I was just pushing myself today and trying to go as hard as I could.”
It wasn’t the five-minute margin from last year, but Stephen beat runner-up Caitlin Gregg (Methow Olympic Development) by a commanding 3 minutes and 17 seconds. Stephen strung out the train immediately, seemingly unfazed by the steady wind. Gregg hung on through two miles, but a mile later Stephen had opened a 300-meter gap.
“My goal was to try and stay with Liz as long as possible,” Gregg said. “I was really impressed. I think Liz was really comfortable V2ing up those steeper sections.”
Gregg last competed in the Climb five years ago, when she won on a modified course due to snow on the road in higher elevations. A crisp but dry Sunday gave Gregg her first look at the iconic castle at the finish line.
“I just didn’t know how long the race was and I got kind of nervous about V2ing all of that,” Gregg said.
Gregg flew in from Minnesota for the weekend, wanting to gauge her fitness against some of the nation’s best. She said USST women’s coach Matt Whitcomb sent her a copy of the team’s workout plan for the camp, which Gregg wanted to follow to ensure an accurate comparison to her competitors based on fatigue levels.
“I’ve definitely been training really, really hard,” Gregg said. “It feels really good to get out here and put in a good effort.”
Ida Sargent (USST/Craftsbury Green Racing Project) pulled away from biathlete Annelies Cook (U.S. Biathlon Association/Maine Winter Sports Center) late to finish third, two minutes back of Gregg. Sargent said she lost sensation in her feet during the race, possibly due to lacing her boots too tight.
“I was having trouble V2ing, so I just kept trying to take one step after the next,” Sargent said. “It wasn’t exactly how I was hoping it would pan out, but it was a good, hard workout and that’s all that counts.”
Whitcomb watched the women’s race unfold out the back of a support van.
“It’s a unique race for us, because it always falls in a different part of the camp,” Whitcomb said. “I was expecting, honestly, to see a little bit more loose ends and ragged technique out here. People kept it together pretty well.”
Tim Burke’s (USBA) dominance of the men’s race became evident when he had caught nearly all of the women, who started 10 minutes before him, and second place finisher Simi Hamilton (USST) was nowhere in his wake. Burke (37:13) beat Hamilton by 2 minutes and 46 seconds. Karl Nygren (CXC) nearly chased down Hamilton and finished third.
“I kind of tucked in for the first couple minutes, then wanted to put in a little attack and try to string it out a little bit,” Burke said. “When I attacked, I ended up getting a little break, so I decided to just try and go with it.”
Video of women’s race by Matt Whitcomb and Steven McCarthy
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Steven McCarthy discovered a passion for sportswriting in the classrooms of the University of Maine school of journalism. He earned his Bachelor's degree in 2010, while complementing his studies covering two years of UMaine sports and summer college baseball on Cape Cod. He resides in southern Maine and works in a private school for kids with autism. In his spare time he's training for his next marathon (running or skiing) or coaching at a local high school.