The Vermont skiers were racing again Sunday at the Vermont Cup Woodstock. There were two days of action culminating with the Masters' races on Sunday. The Woodstock Nordic Center has been testing the waters, intending to bring more elite racing to the venue. The current environment provided the perfect opportunity to kick it up a notch. The participant caps and defined fields create more of a rotation of people coming to race in shifts rather than a massive onslaught of everyone showing up for the day. The reduced numbers make it easier for smaller centers to manage the demands of elite racing. Woodstock used the opportunity to step up and deliver.
Youth races were ongoing all weekend; however, the best was saved for last, with the Master’s taking a turn Sunday afternoon. The course was the reverse of last year’s Sweetheart Race. I preferred this configuration, and it also allowed the venue to utilize resources away from the touring center to separate the racers. I also think the course flow was more fluid, keeping racers within themselves rather than having a couple of sections that could push the heart rate through the ceiling.
The stadium was on the southern end of the Mt. Peg trail network in Knox Meadow. Skiers headed south, looping around the meadow, and then made their way up the hill on some switchbacks to Easy Glade. They followed the trail to the northern end of the network then returned to the Stadium via Brookside East. Men completed two laps to make 10km; Masters Women only raced one lap for 5km. The trails were expertly groomed. The snow was cold fresh snow but had a little speed in it. The loop was nice and rolling with no real technical sections, so racers could let their skis run uninhibited the whole way.
The Women Raced first, tacked onto the end of the open women’s 10km race field. Sara Falconer (SR(MNC)) was first in the start order. She skied away from the field and began chasing down some of the open women. Sara was pleased with her race, though she was reminded of how hard it is to ski a 5km at pace. Katie Hill (MNC) was next, followed by Hilary McNamee (Ford Sayre). Karen Alence (MNC) and Ellie Bouffard (MNC) were split by Putney's Heidy Henkle. As Sara skied away, Hillary gave chase and quickly overtook Katie. Karen and Ellie elected to classic ski the race even though no tracks had been set. Heidi worked her way up through the field nabbing Katie at the finish line making for some exciting racing in the small field.
After spending an excessive amount of time warming up and enjoying the trails, the countdown to the men’s start ended abruptly. Seemingly out of nowhere, with three-minutes to go, the Masters emerged prepared to go. As Nate Laber (MNC) pointed out, it was a familiar scene, “here we go again.” NWVE’s Brendan Barden had the duty of leading off the start order. As he pulled up to the gate, he was still wondering if the race instincts would engage. As the clock counted down from 30 and the light turned from red to green, his focus became clear, and he was in the zone. I followed in the order, and Jamie Willsey (NWVE) was behind me. Mansfield Nordic Club sent a large contingent to the race with a solid group including Nate, Michael Millar, Steve Crafts, Josh Brown, and Coach Adam Terko. Tom Thurston (NWVE) broke the MNC starters' streak and was chased by the last man on the roster David Johnston (MNC).
There was a lot of action in the men’s race as skiers completed two loops. Michael Millar (MNC) threw down an aggressive first lap but felt the hurt on the second. Nate Laber (MNC) methodically worked his way through the Master’s field and eventually caught men from the Open Field. Brendan chugged away with Jamie keeping him in sight for the whole race. Tom caught Brendan on the final turn as the two sprinted in the final meters. Steve Crafts (MNC) was in good form. His strategy (catch Damian), a year ago at this venue proved dismal, so a new one showed improvement. David Johnston (MNC) raced hard all the way in with a little break in form as exhaustion from the challenging course set in. Adam Terko (MNC) kept it together skiing through all who were in front of him except Nate and I. Josh Brown (MNC), new to Nordic Racing, stuck it out but is finding the sport to be humbling as he finds his racing gears. He is not discouraged and is already looking forward to the next opportunity, as was the rest of the field.
NWVE had two Men in the Open Field. Jake Hollenbach (M2) skied his way to a Vermont Cup Top Ten! Cooper Willsey (SR) sought and earned redemption on just missing the podium last weekend by taking the gold in the Senior division.
The Vermont Cup Woodstock Weekend was a great success. Mother Nature cooperated, providing ample snow and ideal conditions. The crew led by Nick Mahood did an incredible job hosting, from keeping skiers organized to perfectly setting the course and making sure all were satisfied with the right amount of challenge and fun. The Masters later found more inspiration from M3 Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) decisively winning an unprecedented 7th Super Bowl with the help of M1 Rob Gronkowski (Tampa Bay Buccaneers).