Welcome to FasterSkier’s World Cup Preview, where we check in with the top-10 teams from last year’s FIS Cross Country World Cup tour before the season starts. The World Cup begins with a classic sprint in Ruka, Finland on Nov. 24th.
Overall in Nations Cup Last Year: 5th
Women’s Ranking 2017/2018: 3rd
Men’s Ranking 2017/2018: 11th
U.S. Skiers to Watch:
The high note last season was the gold medal team sprint performance by Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall. That pinnacle proved U.S. Ski Team (USST) coaches, wax techs, support staff, and of course athletes, could position themselves to succeed on the quadrennial winter sport prime-time stage. Time to exhale.
On both the men’s and women’s side, countless standout performances are vivid. Yet the collective success on the U.S. women’s team will remain a generational benchmark. It’s a good hunch, with the imminent 2018-2019 season, the women’s team has not hit it’s apogee.
This much is for certain: despite the retirements of Randall and Liz Stephen, the U.S. women’s team remains loaded. Sophie Caldwell was the third ranked sprinter in the world last season. Sadie Bjornsen was top-10 in both the distance and sprint rankings, and sixth in the overall. Ida Sargent, despite breaking her thumb prior to the Olympics, finished 23rd in the sprint cup.
Although Rosie Brennan was not renamed to the 2018-2019 USST, she appears fully recovered from mono and will be starting the season on the World Cup as a discretionary selection.
Each World Cup weekend last year was time to check results and determine not if any of the women’s team had shined but who. The individual milestones were many.
Diggins’ season was a non-stop stream of highlights. In a post-Marit Bjørgen landscape, the Norwegian legend has retired, Diggins is poised to become even more of a force.
Not that anyone ever doubted Diggins, but watching Diggins charge and string out the field on January 28, during the 10-kilometer mass start freestyle in Seefeld, Austria was pure aerobic theater. She set the pace. She dictated the narrative. The move didn’t resemble an athlete taking a chance, but an athlete shifting into their top race gear and accelerating to the line. Pure confidence. For the remainder of Diggins’ season, there was no doubt.
Even with a skipped World Cup weekend in Lahti, Finland to manage media obligations back in the U.S. after the Olympic Gold, Diggins finished second overall on the World Cup.
Will this be the year for Diggins to take the overall? Maybe so. The goalposts have moved as she and several athletes — including Therese Johaug who returns from a doping suspension — are poised for crystal globe glory.
On the U.S. men’s team, Andy Newell stepped down from full-time World Cup racing with a goal of making the 2019 World Championship team. Noah Hoffman retired and attends university. Simi Hamilton, the 17th ranked sprinter on the World Cup last season, is the veteran. Deep into his international career, Hamilton brings poise and power to the sprint roster. Paired with Erik Bjornsen, Hamilton co-leads a team sprint contender. After the duo placed sixth in the Olympic team sprint, Hamilton and Bjornsen are a possible breakthrough team for the Seefeld, World Championships.
Erik Bjornsen posted 13 top-30’s with an individual best of ninth place in the Seefeld 15 k mass start.
Scott Patterson comes off an Olympics and Holmenkollen 50 k where his ability to perform under pressure cemented him as a premier male long-distance skier. He placed 18th in the Olympic 30 k skiathlon and 11th in the marquee 50 k classic — a best U.S. men’s result since 1976. Patterson reinforced that performance with a 16th in the Holmenkollen 50 k skate.
New to the USST is Kevin Bolger. This season will be his first full-time European based campaign. Bolger more than impressed when he placed an astounding 11th overall in Lahti’s skate sprint last March. It was Bolger’s first career World Cup.
Paddy Caldwell will begin the season on the World Cup. He had several standout time of day performances in skate races last season.
Non-USST skiers starting on the World Cup will include overall SuperTour leaders David Norris and Kaitlynn Miller.
Caitlin Patterson (CGRP) and Kelsey Phinney (SMS T2) were discretioned as distance and sprint athletes respectively for early season World Cups. Adam Martin (CGRP) was a discretionary selection for the men’s distance races, his start rights begin in Lillehammer, Norway. Ben Saxton is scheduled to race only the classic sprint in Ruka, Finland.
News of Note from USST Head Coach Chris Grover:
On the men’s team: “The men have been in great shape this summer and fall,” Grover emailed FasterSkier. “Look for great results right away from Simi and Erik; both have had very productive preparation periods. Kevin Bolger has also had a great summer of training and looked very good in our October Park City camp. Scott Patterson had a broken toe to deal with for much of the summer but is doing well now. As you suggest, he’ll bring more experience to his WC campaign this season. You’ll see him in action first at the FIS opener in Beitostølen on Sunday, Nov. 18 (15 km F). Paddy Caldwell has been wrestling with occasional elbow tendonitis ever since New Zealand camp, so there is a decent chance that he has a slower start to the World Cup.”
Season goals: “The women’s team is a veteran squad that all now understand what it takes for them individually to be in top fitness in February. Our goal for Seefeld (women and men) is 3 medals and we have targeted 5-6 race days where we have good chances to win those medals. And I believe this World Cup season will be one of our best, if not the best. It’s going to be a great season to be a fan of USA cross country ski racing.”
On leadership: “Although we are missing Kikkan, Andy and Liz, and their strong leadership, we’ve had an excellent team atmosphere this preparation season, and we’ve had a lot of fun. Multiple athletes are stepping up to fill the leadership vacuum left by our retiring veterans. I’m really looking forward to getting on the road with this team (both USST and invited discretionary athletes) and watching this new squad in action.”