It is hard to believe the weather rollercoaster we had from Thursday evening to Friday night. Thankfully I had one of my more exceptional skate skis Thursday night on snow starting to glaze before the warm-up and rain took things down to bare ground in many places. It was hard to know what to expect for Saturday morning for the Classic Sprints as the temps plummeted and rain changed to snow. The staff at Rikert worked overtime to guarantee the weekend would be a success, farming snow where they could and digging trenches to drain pooling water from the meltdown.
Friday evening and Saturday morning I was on high alert looking for a cancellation. This would make waxing easy, and relieve the idea of setting out on the short commute to Ripton on icy roads in blizzard conditions, but the call never came. Even as we turned onto the final leg of the journey thoughts of turning back and weathering the storm in the warmth of the Bolduc Farm on top of the hill in New Haven Junction crept in as an acceptable plan b. As we pulled into Rikert, we entered an unexpected oasis of Nordic skiing. It seemed as though the clouds parted, and exceptional racing was on! The vibe at Rikert was one of excitement and disbelief. The nightmare of all our snow annihilated by rain was debunked with great skiing thanks to all the hard work and long hours of labor of those who made the best of the situation.
For the most part, the masters sat out the sprint day. I not aware of any master’s women that contested the classic 1.4km challenge and a few men tested how they measured up with the primarily younger crowd. Brad Bates M4 from Dublin, NH was the top Master's contender finishing midfield. Mark Rajack, from San Fernando, UNK joined Brad as the only people that can honestly say they recall when David Hasselhoff was better known for historical contribution of emceeing the fall of the wall than ranting about a hamburger. But even at that many in the field would not know about the hamburger either. M1 Joel Bradley of Ford Sayre appeared to be a little off his game with an uncharacteristic result that did not make the first page. NWVE fielded one racer on Saturday with Chris Burnham missing the open heats by seven places and less than 5 seconds. Not too bad with the depth of talent at the Eastern Cup. It was motivating to watch all the excitement and ponder if I could fire up my middle distance engine, how it would perform, though I think that any sprint success requires finesse I do not possess. As the day drew on the winds picked up chilling skiers to the bone. All were pleased with the day and eager recover for day two.
The commute was less treacherous, and I arrived reluctantly ready to ski. Hard-pack is not my favorite surface, but I am familiar with the trails and know my problem areas. Rikert had worked its magic again making the best of the difficult conditions and setting a great surface for the racers. The course for the juniors was and extension of the sprint course with two loops of the third portion of the famed Tormondsen Family Race Course to make 5km. The 10km utilized the fist as well as the third part of the race course over three laps to make for a slightly over 10km race. The loop held up to the abuse of all the race fields and (as far as I am concerned) improved throughout the day. While the mercury dipped slightly lower than on Saturday the lack of wind and the full sun made for a much warmer day.
The Juniors set the tone of the day with some exciting races. Ava Thurston and Camille Bolduc had impressive races moving up in through field finishing 4th and 5th respectively. Camille credited her top five by channeling the tuck skate taught to her by the man who lives a couple mountains north of Rikert, Nirmegh. One of the most notable finishes was that of the U16 girls Quincy Massey-Bierman of Craftsbury/Mansfield and Nina Seemann of SMS. They have been trading places on the top and the second step of the podium so far this season and Sunday's race was a contest of guts between these two. In lap one Nina made up and impressive 15 seconds on Quincy cruising by as they approached the stadium. Quincy tucked in and drafted, doing her best to hang on to Nina as they set out on the second loop. They remained together for the entire second loop, and as they approached the stadium again in the same spot, Quincy made a bold move with a brief second of eye contact sending a message of "Eat My Dust" to Nina before dropping the Q-Bomb. Quincy easily outkicked Nina who did not counter, perhaps due to knowing she already had 15 seconds on her. This sets the stage for the next chapter. In recounting her experience to some impressionable admirers in the barn after the race, Quincy credited her move to the sling-shot tactic of Ricky Bobby. Wide-eyed onlookers responded in awe "you Shake'n Baked her!?" That's right folks, you can pour over hours of World Cup footage, but the signature move of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby held true as the inspiration for this finish. Might as well switch out those wholesome goodies on the team food tables for Wonder Bread and Cheetos and start using Old Spice as the ultimate top coat when putting the finishing touches on your skis.
Moving on to the Master's competition, the women had an outstanding day. The increased distance was such that endurance began to be a factor. Jaqueline Mourao M3 got on the podium with a third-place finish, and Dublin's Kathy Maddock M5 pulled off a solid 8th place in front of SMS's Charlotte Ogden. M1's Alexandra Jospe (CSU) and Elissa Bradley (Ford Sayre) also had notable top twenty finishes. It was impressive to watch these women patiently pace themselves and ski away from the younger athletes, especially on the third lap. While others fatigued cresting the hills, the masters stayed composed, transitioned and kept moving up.
The course was still holding up well by the time the men started. The sun had warmed some of the snow taking the squeak out of it, and most of the trail remained firm. It was fun racing as people on different laps paired up to make things interesting. The snow was still abrasive, and the course was challenging, but the consensus was that the skis felt great on the first lap, but then they got slower. Ben Ogden U18 of SMS commanded the race putting a minute on all but Craftsbury Green Racings Adam Martin. A very impressive result considering the course and conditions. Joel Bradley was back on his game as the only Master on the first page, placing 13th overall. Chris Burnham was NWVE's top finisher also on the first page in 24th place. Jake Hollenbach ventured out in his first EC of the season skiing from the unranked class to a top 30 finish. I started a few spots ahead of Tom Thurston but was caught on the last downhill by Chris and Tom skiing together. I hung on as best as I could to have 3 NWVE skiers race through the stadium together. This is perhaps the best the blue has ever looked in an Eastern Cup! The effort left me looking for a second wind, but was worth it, even though I was lagging a bit. Tom and Chris continued working together for a bit, but being his final lap, Chris pulled away with the move Tom could not follow only two laps into his race. The race within the race surely helped both with their final results. Neal Graves of Stowe Nordic pulled off a top 50 after a week being under the weather. Andrew Gardner could not pass up a chance to race in his hometown. The former Middlebury Coach was at the helm when many of the improvements were implemented at Rikert that enabled this weekend to be such a success. Andrew showed he still has it with solid placing mid-field and winning the M3 division. Late entrant Benjamin Du Hays (Fondeurs Lauren) took second to Andrew in the M3 category just ahead of me. Mark Rajack of (Team TTO) took second in the M2 division. The eldest racer of the day Patrick Horne M7 avoided the sweep position by six over minutes! Sometimes risks pay off!
It was great to see all the competition at the EC #2. The conditions almost seemed miraculous after the thaw owing a huge thank you to the folks at Rikert for doing what it took to pull this weekend off. In retrospect, it would have been a mistake to call the race with such good skiing to be had. If there is snow, we should be on it. Another aspect that played a huge role in the success of the day was the superb announcing. Each athlete received special recognition whether it was being caught wearing their race apparel around town, having a breakout season or the encouraging word that was the tidbit igniting the fire to put in an extra surge, turning a good performance and a great one!