Loppet skiers enjoy prime conditions
LAKE PLACID – Rescheduling the Lake Placid Loppet cross country ski races this year couldn’t have worked out any better.
Originally slated for the final Saturday in January but postponed due to a lack of snow, the 33rd Lake Placid Loppet was held at Mount Van Hovenberg Saturday, and the racing conditions were just about as good as it gets.
Although rescheduling the event six weeks later than planned may have resulted in a smaller field, nearly 300 skiers competed on fast snow and in comfortable temperatures while racing at the event’s 25- and 50-kilometer distances in both classic and freestyle disciplines.
The field featured a mix of local racers and visitors from across the state, New England and Canada.
The closest contest for an overall championship came in the men’s 50k freestyle event, as Robert Duncan Douglas successfully defended his title in a race for the finish line with Paul Bradford Allison.
Douglas, a 48-year-old from Honeoye Falls and a two-time Olympian in biathlon for the United States, jumped into the lead during a sprint to the finish line and held off Allison by less than a second.
A long-time competitor and multiple champion in the Loppet, Douglas crossed the line in 2 hours, 24 minutes and 36.7 seconds, which was about five minutes faster than his winning time from a year ago.
Allison, a 27-year-old from Jericho, Vt. was runner-up for the overall title, just seven-tenths behind Douglas.
“We were right tight together the whole way,” Douglas said of his ski with Allison. “When you’re skiing like this, you want to take advantage of drafting, and that’s why we skied together. It came down to the last 400 meters, and fortunately, I was able to pull ahead and come out with the win.
“I want to win every race I’m in,” Douglas added. “I was happy to defend my title at this distance, and I also have won some 25k races here, too. I’ve been doing this for 25 or 30 years. It’s a great race.”
Alia Johnson, a 19-year-old from Bristol, Vt. was the top women’s 50k freestyle finisher, crossing the line in 2:51:7.9.
Nathan Underwood, of Chelsea, Quebec won the men’s overall 50k classic race. The 40-year-old was the only competitor to break three hours in the race, finishing in 3:58:40.1. Montreal’s William Goodfellow was second overall, finishing in 3:08:15.8. Lake Placid’s Dave Steckler, a 40-year-old, was the top local finisher, crossing the line in 3:09:23.7.
Annie Jean was the lone female to turn in a finish time in the 50k classic. The 32-year-old from Quebec crossed the line in 3:26:41.7.
Kyle Lee Curry, a native of Blue Mountain Lake, ended his cross-country ski season on a bright note after struggling on the collegiate circuit. After not winning at all while competing for St. Lawrence University, the 19-year-old claimed the overall win in the Loppet 25k freestyle, finishing in 1:10:12.7, which was nearly five minutes ahead of the next fastest finisher.
“Winning this was a good way to finish off the winter season,” Curry said. “At St. Lawrence, we had a six-week season with 12 races and I didn’t win at all, so I guess this was lucky 13.
“I started doing the Loppet when I was a student at the North Country School, and decided to come back this year,” he added. “It was almost a perfect day for a race. The course was really fast but not too icy.”
The youngest competitor in the men’s 25k freestyle, 14-year-old Scott Schulz of Lake Placid, took second overall, finishing in 1:14:54.3. He edged out Charlie Maitland of Shelburne, Vt. by less than six seconds to win the youth division.
Lake Placid’s Elizabeth Izzo won the overall women’s 25k freestyle, finishing in 1:17:50.9. Carly Wynn of Queensbury was the overall runner-up in 1:20:07.6.
Luke Strauss of Ithaca won the men’s 25k classic overall title. The 29-year-old, who will be skiing on Saturday in the legendary Birkebeiner race in Norway, finished in 1:28:52.1. Tupper Lake’s Keith Kogut was second overall with a time of 1:33:35.4.
“Last year I had a top-three finish here in the 50k, so I’m very happy,” Strauss said. “I did the 25k this time because I did a long race a couple weeks ago, and I don’t want to blow my skiing out in the Birkebeiner in Norway next week.”
Louise Martineau of Rimouski, Quebec was the women’s overall 25k classic champion. The 53-year-old crossed the line in 1:36:50.5. She was battling an injury while competing in the Loppet’s 25k freestyle a year ago and finished third.
“I was healthy this time, so it feels good to win,” said Martineau, who was cheered on by her daughter at the race. “My skis were fast and the trail was perfect, a great day for a race.”
Fresh off winning a nordic combined at the Junior National Championships in Alaska, 15-year-old Gabby Armstrong of Lake Placid took second overall in the women’s 25k classic. She finished in 1:45:51.7.
Armstrong was inspired to race by her mother Karen, who also competed on Saturday.
“I had a little down time after racing in Alaska, and my mom asked me earlier in the week if I was interested in being in this race,” Armstrong said. “Really, I just wanted to finish. That was my goal. Was was really important in this one, and today my was was good. I had a lot of fun today.”