HOUGHTON, Mich. — The Patterson name echoed through the Michigan Tech stadium all day as both Scott Patterson of Alaska Pacific University (APU) and Caitlin Patterson of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP) each took home their first national titles in classic individual starts on the first day of the 2016 U.S. Cross Country Championships.
Scott Patterson won men’s 15-kilometer morning race in a time of 40:26.4, 19 seconds ahead of Canadian runner-up Kevin Sandau of the Alberta World Cup Academy in Canmore, Alberta.
“I was personally really excited to see that my brother won this morning,” said 25-year-old Caitlin, who is almost exactly two years older than Scott, after the women’s afternoon race. “That was encouraging, but also a little bit of competition. He was going to give me a pretty hard time if I didn’t match him in that one.”
Caitlin pulled it off, winning the women’s 10 k by a margin even larger than her brother’s. Her time of 28:58.4 held as 36 seconds faster than her Craftsbury teammate and runner-up Kaitlynn Miller.
Temperatures hovered in the low 20s throughout the afternoon, but a chilly northwestern wind prevented it from feeling too temperate for Houghton. However, the conditions were a welcome change from the frigid temps and continuous snow of last year’s nationals. The tracks were firm and became a bit glazed through the day.
Racers continually commended the race organizers and groomers for the impressive course conditions given the limited snow. A total of 199 men and 151 women competed on Sunday.
Scott P. Tops Surprise Podium
Even the most avid U.S. nordic fans probably couldn’t have accurately predicted the men’s podium for the first distance race of the championships.
The deep field with 20 A-seeded starters meant that several combinations of skiers could potentially land on the podium.
Despite the field, Scott Patterson’s victory was hardly a surprise. The 23 year old, who turns 24 on Jan. 28, was among the favorites to win as the current men’s SuperTour leader.
In his first full-time season on the domestic circuit, Scott quickly rose to the top of the Period 1 SuperTour overall standings, thus earning World Cup starts with the U.S. team beginning Jan. 23 in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic.
“I’m know I’m pretty fit and I’m heading over to the World Cup after nationals,” he explained. “I knew I could win so it was just a matter of executing and I did it today.”
Still, this was his first U.S. nationals podium and best nationals result since placing eighth in the 30 k classic mass start last year.
He got off to what he considered a slow start, but around 3 k, Scott said he “found the fight” and picked up the pace from the low part of the course back up to the stadium.
“By the first lap, I was in first and just hung on and skied strong,” he said.
Scott credited the race organizers for great course conditions, but described it as “a bit too flat” for his personal optimal course. Although the Michigan Tech Trails are rarely described as flat, runner-up Sandau echoed this sentiment.
“The course is really flat for me, which is not my strong suit, but I got into a good rhythm after the first lap,” Sandau said. “I’m happy, second place is pretty sweet for U.S. nationals.”
After winning every distance race in the Canadian NorAm series this season, Sandau said the U.S. championships became his next focus.
“Since it is low elevation, my game plan was to just go as hard as I can from the start and trust the fitness.”
Sandau brought a flair of the wild west to Houghton as his cowboy hat was a unique site amid the ski caps and headbands at the awards ceremony.
“We are right outside of Calgary, and when the [Alberta World Cup Academy] team formed in 2008 it had a big cowboy theme,” Sandau explained.
Northern Michigan University’s Adam Martin rounded out the podium, finishing just 1.6 seconds back from Sandau. Martin was also the top U23 skier.
“This was the first real classic race I’ve done because of low-snow conditions so I just went out there to see what I could do,” the 21 year old said.
Although Martin has had limited time on snow compared to many of his competitors, he didn’t feel like it held him back.
“We’ve done a ton of rollerski time trials this fall which I think are pretty representative of skiing and the last couple weeks I’ve found snow,” he explained.
His finish today marks his first top 10 at nationals. His best result was previously 12th place a year ago in the 30 k classic mass start in Houghton.
“That was the best race I’ve had in a long time, without a doubt,” Martin said. “It was a pretty unbelievable race, I’m honored to be on the podium with these guys.”
APU put two in the men’s top four (and three on the American podium, not counting Sandau) with Eric Packer in fourth (+31.7).
“I love the trails here,” Packer said. “Back in 2006, this was where I won my first Junior National championship so I have fond memories here. It was nice to be able to ski on some faster snow here compared to last year.”
Brian Gregg (Team Gregg) and Kris Freeman (Freebird) finished fifth (+8.1) and sixth (+9.1), respectively. Freeman recently returned from starting the season on the World Cup in Europe. Gregg also earned a World Cup start in Davos, Switzerland, after a win in the first SuperTour distance race of the season in West Yellowstone, Mont.
Also landing in the top 10, Ian Torchia (NMU) placed seventh, Lex Treinen (APU) was eighth, Matt Liebsch (Gear West) ninth, and Canadian Michael Somppi (NDC Thunder Bay) 10th. Last year’s NorAm winner, Somppi spent November and December with the Canadian World Cup Team in Europe.
Craftsbury Women Go 1-2
When Craftsbury head coach Pepa Miloucheva describes a day as “incredible,” you know something special happened.
That something special was Caitlin Patterson and Miller placing first and second in Sunday’s women’s race.
“Nothing in ski races can ever be planned, but you can hope for something like this,” Caitlin said after notching her first national title and third-career podium at U.S. nationals.
Interestingly, she’ll turn 26 on Jan. 30, two days after her brother’s birthday. Both skiers grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and skied for the University of Vermont. After graduating, Caitlin headed to Craftsbury and Scott returned to Alaska to join APU.
“My skis were very good,” Caitlin said after Sunday’s race. “I knew there were quite a few fast starters in front of me, but also a lot behind. It was racing the clock. Going for it, working every transition and every downhill for everything I could get out of it.”
Although Caitlin has established herself as a regular on SuperTour podiums, Miller, 24, has made significant strides over the past year at Craftsbury to become a contender as well. This will be Miller’s second season with the team and her result on Sunday marks an improvement from placing 13th in the 20k mass start classic at nationals last year.
“Classic tends to be my stronger discipline, but I’m still going to go for it in the skate races,” Miller said after achieving her first national podium. “I feel like I’ve been improving in skating so I’m really excited for those events as well.
“I just felt like I went out there and skied as hard as could and we had really great skis,” she added. “Pepa was a great cheering squad as usual.”
Caitlin added, “Anything was possible certainly. Both of our classic skiing has been pretty good this year and our wax techs are great at nailing the skis.”
“It was incredible,” Miloucheva reflected. “Probably one of the best days we’ve had so far and I’m so proud of all of them.”
Current SuperTour leader Chelsea Holmes (APU) finished third, 1:02.6 back from Caitlin.
“It was a super-fun course and it was tough day, but I’m happy,” Holmes, 28, said.
The top U20, Katharine Ogden (Stratton Mountain School) continued her string of strong results, placing fourth overall (+1:05.1). APU had two in the women’s top five with Becca Rorabaugh in fifth (+1:09.0).
Eliska Hajkova, a coach with the Boulder Nordic Junior Racing Team, placed sixth, Craftsbury had another in the top seven with Liz Guiney in seventh, Anne Hart (SMST2) was eighth, Rosie Frankowski (APU) ninth, and Erika Flowers (SMST2) 10th.
Racing continues tomorrow with the freestyle sprint. The women’s sprint qualifier begins at 10 a.m. Eastern time and the men’s start at 11 a.m.. Heats will start at 12:30 p.m.
— Gabby Naranja contributed reporting