Mass start classic races, some of the most intense and exciting ski races this side of the Olympics, were on tap for the second day of the Harvard Carnival. After Day 1, UVM's nordic teams had scored 228 points, putting them just ahead of Middlebury (215) and Dartmouth (206.)
Overnight temperatures were once again below zero, putting early morning wax-testers in so many layers of puffy clothes that they looked more like astronauts than skiers. Finding kick-wax that works in such cold temperatures is usually relatively uncomplicated - as one coach reported "Today we're testing our coldest wax against a little less of our coldest wax."
However, today's waxing conditions were complicated by a combination of older manmade snow and fresher natural snow underneath the track. This created hard packed spots that iced throughout the day as the hundreds of laps skied and thousands of strides kicked wore down the snow.
Coaches juggled competing priorities, trying to find a balance between speed, kick, and durability. Today marked the first race under the EISA's new policy banning fluorinated glide waxes in classic races. This policy, instituted due to negative health and environmental effects of fluorinated waxes, is part of a larger ski industry trend towards (hopefully) less dangerous nonfluorinated waxes.
Racing began with the men's 20k. Harvard's Rémi Drolet, carrying the lowest FIS points in the field, stood at the point of the start chevron, chomping at the bit to improve on yesterday's podium placing and plant the Crimson flag on the top step of the podium at his home carnival.
Drolet was flanked by lines of other skiers, a contingent of ninety racers ready to kick off the classic carnival season, and with a beep of the start machine, they were off. After a frantic but relatively uneventful opening few kilometers, the front of the race coalesced into a lead pack filled with the low bibs of top-ranked skiers.
Fifteen skiers finished the first lap within ten seconds of the race leader, UVM's Ben Ogden. Ogden drove the pace for the next ten kilometers, slowly uncoupling skiers from the back of the lead group.
At 15k the lead pack was down to just four skiers - Harvard's Drolet, Middlebury's Peter Wolter, and the UVM duo of Matias Øvrum and Ogden. As the group strode through the lap lane and over Chip Hill the final time to begin their fourth lap, the pace began to settle as they each started calculating where and when to make the move that could win the race.
The four stayed together until the course's signature climb, "Screaming Mimi" at the four kilometer mark. Whizzing past dozens of spectators who strained the assembled crowd-control barriers, the four unleashed an all-out effort for the race's final thousand meters.
The quartet remained inseparable until the finish line was in sight and UVM's Øvrum and Harvard's Drolet were able to pull just ahead of their fellow leaders. Down the finishing stretch the two were ski to ski, pole for pole, both straining to capture the win in front and the coveted EISA Classic Leader's Bib.
Oevrum barely outlunged Drolet at the line, earning his first carnival win while Drolet collected his second podium of the season.
After the race, Øvrum reported that he was overjoyed with the victory, and credited excellent skis from the UVM service team that both kicked and glided well throughout all four laps.
Wolter secured third place for Middlebury, and Ogden was the Catamounts' second scorer in fourth place. With fellow Catamount Bill Harmeyer in fifth, the UVM men scored 128 points and won for the second consecutive day. Bowdoin followed in second with 96 points and UNH was third with 94 points.
The women's race started at high noon, with a field of hungry racers looking to build on - or overwrite - the previous day's results. The race's early kilometers were filled with tangles and tumbles as the women sorted themselves into the four sets of tracks looping the course.
Around the two kilometer mark, yesterday's second place finisher and Dartmouth junior Katherine Ogden (a three-time NCAA champion and sibling of UVM's Ben Ogden and Middlebury's Charlotte Ogden) quickened her pace just enough to open up a gap on the field.
At the 5k split, Ogden had a ten second advantage on a ten-strong chase group. As the pack sped to the bottom of the course on lap two, Middlebury junior (and yesterday's winner) Alex Lawson gapped her fellow chasers and took off after Ogden.
As the race wore on, Ogden maintained a steady 20-30 second lead on Lawson, keeping just enough distance between them to stay out of the hard-charging Panther's crosshairs.
Just down the trail, a first-year showdown was taking shape as Dartmouth's Mara McCollor and Middlebury's Sophia Laukli skied away from the rest of the chase pack and thundered off in pursuit of the top two skiers.
Ogden's relentless pacemaking continued to reverberate throughout the field, keeping everyone at their limit and strung out around the final loop of the course.
In the end, yesterday's places flip-flopped and Ogden held Lawson off for a fairly comfortable nineteen second win. Behind the top two, McCollor and Laukli continued to slug it out for the podium's final spot. Sprinting through a tunnel of sound generated as spectators and male racers converged in a horde of frenetic cheering, McCollor pulled ahead of Laukli and secured third place.
The excitement continued as the next group entered the stadium and Bowdoin's Gabrielle Vandendries edged out Middlebury's Annika Landis in a sprint for fifth place. Landis was Middlebury's third finisher and final scorer, while Lauren Jortberg, in seventh place, provided Dartmouth's final points.
Dueling Dartmouth and Middlebury trios inside the top seven made for an incredibly tight team race, and many spectators were frantically scratching at pen and paper - and iPhones - to run the numbers and see which team prevailed.
In the end, the Dartmouth women edged the Panthers by just two points - 127 to 125. Bowdoin, led by Vandendries, finished third with 92 points. Today was a standout day for the Polar Bears, who finished second for men and third for women.
Total nordic scores for the weekend read UVM 447, Middlebury 425, and Dartmouth 402.
Next weekend the circuit makes the trip to the UVM Carnival/SuperTour at
....the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. Racing begins with 5/10k interval start skate competitions Friday and continues with a classic sprint on Sunday.
Full results are available here: