Team captain Sam von Trapp put together his dream team with one goal in mind – winning.
And win they did. VTXC dominated the field, finishing more than eight and a half minutes ahead of the second-place team.
The annual event is a fundraiser put on by Friends of Tuckerman Ravine. It involves an 8.3-mile run, including a 600-vertical-foot hill; a 6-mile kayak down the Saco River; an 18-mile bike race up through Pinkham Notch; a 3-mile run/hike up Tuckerman Trail to the base of the ravine bowl; and a 1-mile final leg that includes hiking up and skiing down a giant-slalom course in the ravine.
Von Trapp didn't have to look far to begin his recruiting. He started at the family business, Trapp Family Lodge, where Ryan Kerrigan and Robyn Anderson lead the VTXC racing program the Nordic Center.
Von Trapp would take the skiing leg, Kerrigan the near-vertical hike, and Anderson the initial run. Semi-pro bike racer Jake Hollenbach was a logical pick for the cycling leg. And von Trapp had met his kayaker, Rob Flanagan, at last year's Inferno.
Von Trapp raced in last year's event as a last-minute substitute for a team in need. Kayaker Flanagan had a solid track record of coming in second, and von Trapp offered him a chance to step up his game.
“I could see that he had wanted to win this for a long time,” von Trapp told the Stowe Reporter.
Although the weather forecast for Mt. Washington was pretty dire last Saturday, the skies stayed clear for the pentathlon, and the VTXC could spend its post-race sunning on the rocks and waiting for the other teams to finish.
“It actually was quite beautiful,” von Trapp said. He said it was a treat to sit on the rocks and unwind after the big race.
“We were putting a little bit of pressure on ourselves. I wanted to come home with the win.”
Twenty-six mixed-gender teams competed, along with 27 solo TuckerMen and four individual TuckerWomen competitors.
Von Trapp said Anderson was a solid runner, even though her running season is just getting started here in Stowe. Since she's a reigning Stowe Derby champ — three years running for the top-of-Mansfield-to-Stowe-village ski race — von Trapp knew he could count on Anderson to get the team off to a good start.
And she did, coming in fifth in the first leg of the race.
Low water levels in the Saco made for a demanding kayak leg, with athletes dodging boulders that would typically be submerged. But that didn't stop Flanagan from winning his leg. “He managed not to go for a swim, which is a big goal for the kayakers,” von Trapp said.
Likewise, Hollenbach had the fastest time in the bike race, putting Kerrigan at the front of the pack to start the uphill run.
“When he tagged Ryan Kerrigan, it was basically all over at that point,” von Trapp said.
“I was really taken by surprise when I saw Jake riding up the road,” Kerrigan said. “I had only just started warming up.”
Even so, Kerrigan inherited a one-minute lead and stretched it out to a five-and-a-half minute lead.
Then it was von Trapp's turn to be surprised. He heard Kerrigan coming and broke away from the pack of skiers headed up to start the last leg.
As Kerrigan got up to the bowl and was making his way through the last 200 feet of puckerbrush and snow, von Trapp was shouting for him to take his time; Sam was struggling to get on his boots and skis.
Von Trapp said he was mortified at the thought of blowing the lead, but that was far from the case. With von Trapp clocking the third-fastest time in the hike-and-ski leg, the VTXC team enjoyed such a comfortable lead that von Trapp said he even got to enjoy the ski.
The VTXC team members weren't the only Stowe-based racers in the Inferno. Trapp Family Lodge activities director Jeff O'Neil competed in the hike/ski portion of the race, taking fourth place on the final leg, right behind his boss.
“It made us proud to be coming from a place like Stowe,” von Trapp said, and gave him a new appreciation of the incredible athletes who call Stowe home.