Chaux Neuve, France – The US Nordic Combined turned in another stellar performance, edging closer to sweeping the World Cup podium, placing three skiers in the top six this morning.
Todd Lodwick led the squad in third, 7.1 seconds behind winner Magnus Moan (NOR). Jason Lamy Chapuis, the overall World Cup leader finished 2nd.
Johnny Spillane and Billy Demong took 5th and 6th respectively, after leading most of the race.
Lamy Chapuis started with a 14 second lead over Japan’s Daito Takahashi. Spillane was 5th, 21 seconds back, Lodwick 7th +:23 and Demong 10th, +:25. The three Americans quickly formed up and went after Lamy Chapuis. The gap was closed by 2.8 kilometers, and Spillane immediately took over the lead with Demong and Lodwick right behind in 2nd and 3rd.
At this point the lead pack was eight strong. As they headed into the stadium at 4 kilometers, Demong took over. The pace slowed a little and the second chase pack started to close. As the leaders hit the climbs at 4.8 kilometers, the lead had slipped to 14 seconds.
Demong picked up the pace as the race continued to climb. Two skiers slipped off the back of the pack to be absorbed by the chasers, who were still closing.
But Spillane, back in the lead, continued to push the pace. Moan, starting all the way back in 29th, 1:03 behind, steadily moved up through the field, chewing through the chase pack, and pushing to bridge the gap on is own. He successfully latched on at 6.8km. The chase pack, unable to go with him fell off the pace and started rapidly losing time.
The US held the top 3 spots this whole time, with Lamy Chapuis sitting in 4th. As they headed out on the last loop, with Demong leading, Moan began moving up – first into 4th, then 2nd as they hit the big climb. The pace increased, and Lodwick moved into the lead for the first time. But Moan turned on the jets as the top of the climb approached. He immediately gapped the field, with Lamy Chapuis and Lodwick hot in pursuit.
As they dropped into the stadium it was clear that he had enough of a lead. Lodwick started to close back on Lamy Chapuis, but ran out of time. And the three hit crossed the line in that order.
Spillane and Demong, fatigued after controlling the race, were unable to hold off Pavel Churavy (CZE) who spent the whole race at the back of the lead pack.
“Today the strategy was definitely hammer down from the start,” Demong told FasterSkier. “We (Team USA) had the three strongest guys in the lead group and a decent but not huge gap on Magnus [Moan] and Felix [Gottwald]. We needed to keep that gap is we wanted to have our best chance of winning.”
The plan was for all three American to take a turn leading, but Lodwick was hurting later in the race, so SPillane and Demong kept the pressure on.
“In the last lap, I took the lead with the hopes of getting Johnny and Todd a last bit of rest so they could fight for the finish,” added Demong. “Especially seeing as Magnus had caught us and Felix would not I toned down the pace a hair. In retrospect I think it would have been better to go as hard as possible up the last hill to keep things in line.”
Lodwick was grateful for the support of his teammates.
“It’s nice to be on the podium and that’s what we work for. But, I have to give credit to the Team. I didn’t feel good in the third lap and they shared leading the group and enabled me to rest for the last tail end. I needed that extra effort to be up there,” Lodwick said.
Demong expected the move form Moan at the end, but was surprised at the intensity. “For sure I knew he would make a go of it, but the strength he showed was impressive!”
In recent weeks, the Nordic Combined races have been closely packed at the front, with as many as 15 skiers challenging for the podium in the last 500 meters. Today was different, in part due to the large climb halfway through the loop.
“I think the course was harder than it looked with a solid two minute gradual climb that got steeper and steeper as it went, all into a headwind. It was a decent fitness test in that you had a hard sustained workload and a long recovery so you needed to go really hard on the up and recover well,” said Demong.
Ultimately it was a great performance for the US, but one the team would like to improve on.
“It’s awesome to have three skiers in the top six. We just keep getting better and better,” Lodwick said. “It’s nice to be able to work together and get up there on the podium. We were hoping for a sweep, but there was a smart skier out there and a fast one, so it was difficult. But, it’s nice to at least have one person on the podium and three in the top six.”
Added Demong, “Mentally it is a ton of fun! But for sure we need to work on our tactics if we are going to sweep the podium!”
The Team will race again tomorrow, but they may not be able to jump due to poor weather. A provisional jump was held today and will be used if tomorrow’s jump is canceled. Spillane and Demong had good jumps, but Lodwick would not be in a strong position.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.