Caitlin Patterson of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project had a red-hot start to her World Cup season, finishing 28th in the 10-kilometer classic in Kuusamo, Finland, and thus scoring World Cup points in the very first weekend of racing.
But since then, not everything has gone perfectly for last season’s SuperTour leader. In the Lillehammer mini tour, she failed to crack the top 30 in any individual races and finished the tour 42nd overall.
“A lot of lessons learned, but none of the races were quite what I wanted,” Patterson, 26, said at the time. “But it was OK. It was a good first experience of a mini tour.”
Then there was the Davos 15 k freestyle, where she finished 44th.
“I was looking forward to it, and I was realizing I don’t think I’ve done a 15 k individual maybe ever,” Patterson said. “But I was up for it. It definitely is a tough grade and these relentless hills add up on each other. I tried to ski smooth, but I think even in the first lap I felt like I lost all my power. It was really altitude, feeling flat, and then I started getting passed by some girls but I couldn’t stay with them at all until the last lap. [Sweden’s Jonna Sundling, who won the sprint qualifier the next day] came through, and I was able to stay with her. That was good.”
The course has proven hard for lots of athletes to figure out — while the U.S. Ski Team’s Jessie Diggins crushed the 15 k, finishing fourth, teammate Liz Stephen talked about how she just couldn’t solve the course, no matter how many times she had tried.
“I knew it was going to be hard, and I heard Liz and others talk about how tough it is, and altitude, and the very unique course,” Patterson said. “I guess I just felt a little disappointed that I wasn’t quite feeling my best today.”
The next day: a freestyle sprint. It was a quick turnaround from relentless uphills and minutes with no rest, to needing quick speed in a sprint qualifier. Patterson finished 47th.
“For a sprint, it was better than yesterday was for a distance race,” she said after the qualifier on Sunday, Dec. 11. “It was my first skate sprint of the year, which, I kind of like skate sprints, but this is a [tricky] course. I am definitely aware of several places out there where I felt like I was missing power, or sort of bogged down on the uphill the second time. It’s always a good experience, but I came in 40-something, and feeling bummed out a little bit. So that’s the end of the day today.”
Neither Saturday nor Sunday last weekend were her days. But overall, Patterson is feeling good.
“I had a really good interval session here mid-week,” Patterson said on Saturday, Dec. 10. “I don’t quite know why I didn’t feel so good today. You never know with the altitude. In general I feel that it’s good to get in all the different types of races, and warm back into the season.”
According to social media, Patterson seems to be one of several U.S. athletes who came down with a cold mid-week.
DON'T TOUCH ME! . It sucks to be sick, but at least it's a little better to be sick with friends. Virtually our whole team came down with a cold last night. Here's to hoping we're all feeling better in time to race this weekend. . #stayaway #cooties @lizhillstephen @caitlinmpatterson @sbjornsen @usnordicskiteam @llbean #llbean @craftusa #craftsportswear
One thing that’s on the line: World Championships qualifying. One of the objective criteria is to be ranked in the top 50 in either distance or sprint World Cup standings as of Jan. 16, 2017. With Patterson scoring points in the first weekend, it seemed like it might be a possibility to meet that criteria.
Without scoring points in Lillehammer or Davos, Patterson is now ranked 47th. Regardless of how this coming weekend’s 10 k skate in La Clusaz, France, shakes out, she will miss many opportunities to score points in January in the Tour de Ski and following World Cups, meaning that even though she is the fourth-best U.S. woman in the distance standings right now, she likely won’t stay in the top 50 and thus earn a team naming that way.
“Currently Caitlin P. is planning on racing at U.S. Nationals where she has the opportunity to qualify outright with two top distance or sprint races,” U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover wrote in an email, adding that he had not discussed World Championships qualifying with either Patterson or the several other World Cup athletes who have not yet met the objective criteria.
Athletes with the best two individual sprint or distance results in domestic racing from the beginning of the fall until Jan. 16 — with bonus points for turning in those performances at U.S. nationals or the SuperTours immediately after — will also earn World Championships nods.
“If I could somehow squeak myself in — I was really hoping that today would have been a little better,” Patterson said after the Davos 15 k. “But it’s possible, maybe not so likely. Otherwise it will come down to nationals. I think this is still a great experience to be over here and I’m definitely learning a lot. I think every race I do teaches me a little bit more about how women ski over here and what I can do better. So I’m still expecting that nationals will be fun, and good racing that I can feel really strong at.”
As she tries to find that perfect feeling, Patterson has been working with her Craftsbury coach, Pepa Miloucheva, even though it’s currently a long-distance relationship.
“I haven’t really talked with the U.S. Ski Team coaches much, because Pepa has ideas about things,” Patterson said. “I’m just getting it week by week from her. I don’t really know what’s coming up. But I told her briefly about the 15 k going badly, and hopefully she thinks about what I should do now.”
— Jake Ellis and Ian Tovell contributed reporting.