Taylor Fletcher wins Continental Cup
American Taylor Fletcher (Steamboat Springs, Colorado) summoned every ounce of energy at Soldier Hollow Sunday, cutting off 25 seconds in the last three kilometers to catch tour leader David Pommer of Austria at the finish for a FIS Nordic Combined Continental Cup win. Fletcher’s victory snapped the win streak of Pommer, who had been dominant in races Friday and Saturday. Austria’s Franz-Josef Rehrl was third.
It was another strong day for the Americans, with Ben Berend (Steamboat Springs, Colorado) placing sixth. Fletcher posted the fastest cross-country time of the day. Michael Ward (Aspen, Colorado) came back from 25th in the jump to finish 12th with the fourth fastest time in the 10K.
After threats of inclement weather, Sunday’s final jump went off smoothly. Japan’s Hisaki Nagamine continued his dominance on the HS100 meter hill, leading with a jump of 96.0 meters. Berend established himself as a threat with a ride of 94.0 meters to move into second, 14 seconds back. The real statement of the day came from Pommer, who launched his own 94.0-meter jump on the final ride of the day to put down the gauntlet to Fletcher, who was 19th at 86.5 meters — 1 minute, 2 seconds behind the Austrian.
Cloudy skies kept the track at Soldier Hollow rock hard and fast. Pommer and Berend went out together, 14 seconds behind Nagamine, catching him quickly and skiing together through the first lap. Fletcher, meanwhile, went out hard from the start and began moving up methodically through the field. the second lap, Pommer had established a dominant lead, with Berend battling with Rerhl for third. And Fletcher just kept coming. By the third of five laps, Fletcher was into second but still with well over a 30-second gap to Pommer.
Pommer continued to set the pace, with his coaches shouting encouragement and giving updates on Fletcher’s progress. As the skiers crested the Soldier Hollow tubing hill with three kilometers to go, the margin stood at 25 seconds.
Fletcher turned up the heat even more, slowly but surely reeling in Pommer. As they entered the stadium, Pommer was still in control but now realized his race was in jeopardy. Rounding the 180-degree turn in the stadium, with just 20 meters to go, Fletcher took the longer outside line to maintain speed, strategically positioning himself with a ski inside the Austrian. Then the sprint was on. Fletcher had enough left in the tank to cross the line first and take the fourth Continental Cup win of his career.
"I felt stronger each lap," he said. "Pommer was definitely a bit more tired than he was yesterday. I was dead but I wanted it too bad. It’s a good stepping stone to get the ‘W’ we were looking for."
While Fletcher had caught the Austrian, passing him was a challenge.
"It’s so tight in that final corner," he said. "It’s great snow but it’s also icy. Trying to keep that ski under you is difficult. I chose that wide line to carry a little bit more speed, knowing he was going to want the center and try to block me. I knew if I took that wider line I would have a lot more speed. I’m not known for my sprinting but I put in a hell of a sprint and I’m proud of it."
"Taylor was skiing so well, so fast, he deserved to win," said Pommer. "Second place is more than good. Today there was no strategy — it was just running for survival. I just keep saying ‘push your limits, push your limits.’"
The FIS Nordic Combined World Cup tour resumes this weekend in Ramsau, Austria, before taking a holiday break.
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