The best skiers in the East are getting ready to head to California for Spring Series, but first, they had some business to clear up: namely, the final pursuit of the Craftsbury Spring Tour in northern Vermont.
In Sophie Caldwell’s, it was mostly a formality. After dominating both the prologue and the sprint, she started the 10 k classic pursuit with more than a minute of time on the next skier, Elizabeth Guiney of the University of New Hampshire.
Still, she tried her best, eager to have the opportunity for a distance race.
“I hadn’t done a distance race against any of the other girls in a long time and thought I might be plowing a little slow snow the first lap of the course so I didn’t want to start too relaxed!” she wrote in an e-mail to FasterSkier. “I think I was able to pace it well and was psyched with the win because I really had no idea how close behind me people were.”
As it turned out, not very close. Both Guiney and University of Vermont’s Stephanie Kirk faltered, losing well over another minute to the Stratton Mountain School T2 skier. Instead, it was Craftsbury’s own Hannah Dreissigacker and UVM’s Anja Gruber who gave chase. But while they passed Guiney and Kirk, there was no catching Caldwell, who crossed the line with two minutes and six seconds to spare.
“I was definitely excited to do a distance race, and I was definitely feeling a little fatigue building up from the previous couple days of racing,” she wrote. “But overall it felt good.”
Dreissigacker, a national team biathlete who competed in her first World Championships this year, showed her chops by beating Gruber to the line. After starting three seconds behind this year’s NCAA champion, Dreissigacker secured second place by a margin of four seconds. Guiney finished the tour in fourth and UVM’s Linda Danvind-Malm was fifth.
The men’s race was much closer, and much more eventful. Craftsbury’s Pat O’Brien started the day with a 12-second lead on Stratton’s Eric Packer and UVM’s Scott Patterson, and he knew immediately that he’d see them out on the trails.
“I knew that with only a 15 second lead Scott and Eric would ski up to me at some point on the first lap,” he told FasterSkier. “I planned to start conservative and bleed that time away over the first few kilometers then try to stay with the pack and either wait till the sprint finish or attack on the start of the last climb if my body was feeling good. The three of us skied together part way through the second lap when we hit the big climb right as the sun came out and everybody lost their kick.”
Weather be damned: Packer and O’Brien soldiered on, although Patterson was a casualty. The two former Dartmouth teammates didn’t pull any punches as they tried to beat each other to the line. What’s worse, Stratton’s PG Paddy Caldwell was closing in on them; O’Brien said that the younger skier still seemed to have kick, so he and Packer were trying not to get caught.
“At that point it was a matter of double poling, herringboning, and trying to make slick skis work,” he said. “I knew the last time up the big climb that I was able to work my skis a little bit better than Eric and get some kick out of them, so I just kept throwing in accelerations to take something out of his double pole and not let it come down to a drag race of a finish. We kept fighting it out all the way to the end and I was happy to take the win at home and have those two SMS boys to push me the whole way.”
Packer, who won the sprint, had no complaints with how things turned out: O’Brien ahead at the finish by just 1.9 seconds.
“On the second lap Pat and I dropped Scott, and it was a two-way battle for the rest of the race,” he told FasterSkier. “I was really happy with the race today, and it was awesome to duke it out with Pat. He was just a bit stronger in the end today. Pat’s a good friend and ex-teammate from Dartmouth, and I was stoked that he skied so well.”
Caldwell collected his second podium of the weekend, 19 seconds behind O’Brien, while Patterson slipped back to fourth place, a minute out. Justin Freeman skied his way from 17th up to fifth over the course of the 15 kilometers.
All in all, it was a good way for many of the skiers to get back into the swing of racing on U.S. soil. Caldwell and Packer, for instance, had been in Europe for weeks. And even for those skiers who had more or less stayed home, it had been a slow month.
“It was nice to have these races as a good tune up before heading west,” O’Brien said. “There hasn’t been much on the FIS calender domestically for March, and its a little weird having Spring Series even later in the year, but fortunately the snow here has been great and its been nice to have some time to train at home after being on the road since racing started in West Yellowstone.”
As did nearly everyone else, O’Brien, who has seen plenty of Craftsbury in the last few years, drew the inevitable contrast with one season ago when the staff was frantically working to pull off Spring Series as the snow disappeared. These races were low key, but in some ways, he said, even tougher.
“It was very nice to finally race on our homologated 5 k course,” he said. “Despite all the time I have spent doing trail work, hauling snow, and training on that course, I hadn’t raced on it until this year… there’s lots of striding and stair-stepping uphills that you have to work the whole way though. The rest mostly comes at the beginning of the course, which means from 2 k on its pretty much constant work. Looking back to last year, the men’s 50k race would have had a very different feel if we had to do 10 laps of that course!”
Also on Sunday, Craftsbury hosted their 15 and 30 k Spring Fling mass starts. The 30 k races were won by Middlebury’s Ben Lustgarten and Craftsbury’s Hannah Miller; the 15 k titles went to Saint Lawrence’s Adam Terko and Colby’s Alice Hotopp.