Picturesque Val di Fiemme, Italy, was the latest to host a three-day round of Nordic Combined World Cup events that began last Friday with the large hill/2 x 7.5 k team sprint.
The two person teams had their jumping points combined to determine the start order for the race’s ski portion. Norway I’s Magnus Krog and Jørgen Graabak amassed the highest total with 283 points on the jump hill. Francois Braud and Maxime Laheurte of France I jumped to second with 282.6 points. Austria II skiers, Philipp Orter and Mario Seidl were third with 277.8 combined points.
The U.S. entered two teams. Bryan and Taylor Fletcher jumped to ninth, with 242.3 points, for U.S. I. Adam Loomis and Ben Berend comprised U.S. II, which finished the jumping portion in 16th with 223.2 points. Twenty teams in all entered the competition.
From the start, Krog proved unmatchable. He distanced Braud, France’s first skier who started 1 second after Krog. Graaback, Norway’s second skier, was able to maintain the lead and secure first place for the Norwegians, claiming the team-sprint victory in 32:50.
Germany I, with Tobias Haug and Tino Edelmann, jumped to fourth and began the ski 16 seconds behind Norway I, raced to second place (+6.7). France I held onto the final podium spot in third place, finishing 7.1 seconds behind Norway. Austria II, which had been third after the jump, slipped to eighth overall (+1:37.3).
The Fletchers skied up in the standings for the best U.S. finish in a Nordic Combined team sprint since 2013. Back then, in Ramsau, Austria, Bryan Fletcher and Todd Lodwick placed fourth overall. At 2013 World Championships, Taylor Fletcher and Billy Demong finished sixth in the team sprint (at the same World Championships in Val di Fiemme, U.S. Nordic Combined’s four-man relay earned bronze in third.)
On Friday, Bryan and Taylor skied the third-fastest combined race to place sixth (+1:07.8). Loomis and Berend did not finish.
“The team sprint was for sure Taylor’s and I’s highlight of the weekend,” Bryan Fletcher wrote in an email. “It was nice to have some decent jumps and a solid race to get us into the fight. It’s the best team sprint result we have had as a duo and the best since Todd Lodwick and I were fourth in Ramsau in 2013 I believe. Honestly, while 6th is a solid result, Taylor and I were hoping for a little more but our legs were really tired after the long travel day from Finland to Val di Fiemme. It showed in our racing on this day a little, but we were able to hold it together just enough to move up to the 6th place finish.”
According to younger brother Taylor, he wasn’t feeling 100 percent on Friday.
“The cross country race was better on the result page then how it felt for me,” he said, according to a USSA press release. “My legs were heavy from the last couple races, but I was stoked to see I had a strong race with how I felt.”
Day 2 in Val di Fiemme
The second day of Nordic Combined competitions in Val di Fiemme featured the 134-meter large hill/10 k Gundersen start. The overall World Cup leader, Germany’s Eric Frenzel, posted the best jump with 142.3 points. Austria’s Bernhard Gruber jumped to second with 137.1 points and a 21-second deficit at the start of the ski. Takehiro Watabe of Japan flew third farthest, scoring 132.1 points.
The U.S. entered four skiers, none of whom jumped into the top 30. Berend posted the 35th-best jump (99.2 points), Bryan Fletcher was 36th (98 points), Taylor Fletcher 39th (93.2 points), and Loomis 42nd (86.7 points).
Frenzel, having already won seven races this season, seemed to be a shoo-in for an eighth victory. But Gruber, with fast running skis, overtook Frenzel and finished first by more than 30 seconds. Gruber skied the fourth-fastest time of the day to win, finishing in 30:59.7. Frenzel placed second (+37.5) with the 19th-ranked ski time. Norway’s Graabak, who was positioned 14th after the jump raced up to third (+46.0).
Two Americans skied themselves into the points. Taylor Fletcher ended up 24th (+3:32.5) and Bryan Fletcher finished 26th (+3:37.6). Loomis skied to 35th (+5:56.7), and Berend to 38th (+7:19).
Day 3 in Val di Fiemme
Day 3 started off identical to Day 2, with a large hill/10 k Gundersen. And just like the day before, Germany’s Frenzel flew to first, with 116.3 points. His teammate Tobias Simon scored 110.2 points for the second-best jumping total. Norway’s Håvard Klemetsen was third after the jumping round with 104.6 points.
Berend posted the best jump for the Americans in 10th with 94.5 points. He started the 10 k race 1:27 minutes after Frenzel. Bryan Fletcher jumped to 35th, Taylor Fletcher to 42nd and Loomis to 46th.
Norway’s Krog, winner of Friday’s team sprint, proved too strong on the ski, which featured wet and slow conditions. Krog began the ski in fifth, 1:04 behind Frenzel. That gap dwindled as the racers neared the finish line. By the end, Krog, who finished first in 31:33.5, had put 28.1 second into Frenzel — who ultimately missed the podium in fourth overall.
Norway’s Graabak finished second (+5.8), and German Fabian Riessle placed third (+18.4).
For Frenzel, fourth place proved good enough. He locked up the season’s overall World Cup title for the fourth year in a row. Frenzel had a season-long duel with Japan’s Akito Watabe for the overall title. However, due to an injury, Watabe did not compete in Val di Fiemme.
The Fletcher brothers were able to ski into the points. Bryan placed 25th (+2:55.3), while Taylor was 26th (+3:00.8). Berend fell out of the top 30, placing 34th (+5:33), Loomis finished 36th (+5:44.1).
Bryan pointed out that Berend’s jump — the 10th best on Sunday — was a strong sign.
“The rest of the weekend the highlight was Ben Berend jumping to 10th,” he wrote. “It was awesome to see him step up his game there and he hung tough in the race narrowly missing out on points in some incredibly hard conditions.”
Bryan also noted the weekend’s slow and soggy snow made it a difficult one for both skiers and wax technicians.
“The racing this weekend was a battle of will for the athletes and a stressful weekend for wax techs,” he wrote. “It was very difficult conditions to wax for and that was reflected throughout the racers. Some teams had skis that were incredibly good while others had skis that were incredibly bad. The extremes were just much further apart than normal and that made for some interesting racing as well. All in all it was not my best weekend, however with one weekend left I am motivated to try and finish the season on a strong note.”
The Nordic Combined World Cup concludes after this week, with three days of competitions in Schonach, Germany, beginning March 4.