Germany's Eric Frenzel punched through new snow to continue his dominance of the FIS Nordic Combined World Cup while American Bryan Fletcher was 15th. (Getty Images/AFP-Heikki Saukkomaa)
LAHTI, Finland (Jan. 7, 2017) - Bryan Fletcher (Steamboat Springs, CO) put own a strong jump and parlayed it into a 15th place finish as the FIS Nordic Combined World Cup kicked off the New Year in Lahti. Germany’s Eric Frenzel broke away from the pack midway through the race and skied to the win.
The competition was a final test of the Lahti venue coming just six weeks prior to the FIS Nordic Ski World Championships.
Norway’s Jarl Riiber returned after missing several events due to illness to dominate the jumping. He held the lead through fresh and sometimes deep snow on the cross country course until Frenzel caught him midway and skied away for an easy victory. The weather kept much of the field packed together through the race.
Much like he did in Lillehammer, Norway a month ago, when he was also 22nd in the jump, Fletcher found the sweet spot.
“Today on the jump hill was another step in the right direction,” he said. “The jumping was made really tough today with strong winds, snow and really low speed. As you can see Jarl Magnus Riiber is on a very high level and is making jumping hard on everyone. I was happy with my jumps today and I know I can continue to improve from here still.”
The new snow made it a grueling cross country race. Despite finishing 22nd, Fletcher was still over three minutes out and had to expend enormous energy catching up to the primary pack.
“On the cross country course it was a hard day for me,” said Fletcher, who posted the sixth fastest time. “I had to a do a lot of work to catch the group early in the race and that cost a lot of energy for the last lap. I was happy to make contact with the group that put me in contention for top 10 but I didn't quite have the legs for the sprint at the end and finished at the back of the group.”
While it is a bit unusual for the Tour to visit a World Championship venue so close to the event, it also was an opportunity for Fletcher as his goals are championship-focused.
“It is very unique to visit Lahti just one month before World Championships,” he said. “But it's nice to be able to get some insight and experience on the hills before the actual champs. The Jumping hill is definitely a hard hill but one that I have had some success on in my career, so I know it well and feel that I am comfortable with it. The cross country tracks are hard, which obviously suits my abilities when I am in shape.”
Organizers have also modified the cross country course in the last year to make it even more difficult for World Championships - which Fletcher feels plays to his strengths.
Nordic combined requires a fine balance between jumping and cross country. While Fletcher has been working to improve his jumping, he’s also staying closely on top of his skiing.
“I know the cross country shape will come a little more with each weekend of competition,” he said. “I did a lot of work during the break to build towards World Championships so I know these first races back will be a little tough. But I am happy to finish top 15 today and I will continue to build from here.”
Another competition is set for Sunday. NBC Sports will live stream both the jump (3:30 a.m. EST) and cross country (7:00 a.m. EST).