Bryan Fletcher’s strategy in Sunday’s Nordic Combined World Cup 10 k was simple. After placing 36th in the Gundersen LH HS-138, he planned to sit behind strong skiers through the race in order to make his way to the lead pack.
“I knew if I could catch the lead group with some left in the tank I had as much of a chance as anybody,” he wrote in an email.
However, the race didn’t go according to plan for the 28-year-old from Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Instead of drafting his competitors and conserving energy for the final sprint, Fletcher was caught doing the majority of the pulling. Starting in 36th Fletcher exerted much needed energy to maneuver the often-congested trails.
“The race didn’t play out exactly like I wanted it, I actually led my group quite a bit though the race,” he wrote.
Despite the toll of winding thorough his competitors without much rest, Fletcher eventually made it to the lead pack with energy to spare. As the group approached the finish, he held back, waiting for the right time to strike.
In the end, Fletcher made his move too late and the skiers who eventually won spots on the podium slipped out of his reach.
“I tried to be patient and hang back until the sprint, however the move went a little earlier then I anticipated and I was unable to get around some of the other skiers. It was a tight finish and ultimately that little separation is what decided the podium,” Fletcher wrote.
Despite what could have been, Fletcher ended his day in eighth, just six seconds behind winner Mikko Kokslien of Norway who finished with a time of 25:49.8. He clocked the second fastest time on the day after advancing 28 spots. His time of 24:19.8 was second only to Kokslien, who raced the 10 k in 24:11.8 after jumping to 38th position.
The result was Fletcher’s best individual performance on the World Cup circuit since he finished fifth in a Seefeld, Austria World Cup in January of this year. His placement also demonstrates a continued improvement in the cross country portion of nordic combined. In previous years it was Fletcher’s brother, Taylor, who often had the the fastest cross country times while Fletcher excelled at jumping. Taylor did not compete in Sunday’s race.
While the race didn’t play out the way he planned, the result shows what Fletcher is capable on the World Cup circuit this season. He wrote that his eighth-place finish was a confidence boost as he looks toward the rest of the season.
“The components for good results are there both in the XC and on the jump hill. I just have not been able to perform at my normal ability in competition. Early season training was good and promising and I am confident that form will come again as the season presses on,” he wrote.
Adam Loomis, the only other American to compete in Lillehammer, finished the day in 35th – a career best – after jumping to 46th and racing the 11th fastest time on the 10 k course.
After Sunday’s race, Fletcher traveled back to the U.S. to rest and spend time with family before he returns to competition in Ramsau, Austria Dec. 20.
Lander Karath is FasterSkier's Associate Editor from Bozeman, Montana and a Bridger Ski Foundation alumnus. Between his studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, he is an outdoor enthusiast and a political junkie.