PARK CITY, Utah (Dec. 19, 2018) – Italy’s Lukas Runggaldier charged through heavy traffic on the final climb to take a hard-fought victory in the FIS Nordic Combined Continental Cup presented by USANA Wednesday on the Jeremy Ranch crosscountry ski trails near Park City. USA Nordic’s Tara Geraghty-Moats (W. Fairlee, Vt.) won her third straight event.
The men’s race was the most hotly contested of the season. High winds in the morning blew out the planned ski jump, so the competition reverted to Tuesday’s professional competition round. Japan’s Ryota Yamamoto flew 91 meters to lead going into cross country, but with Germany’s Julian Schmid close behind – starting just eight seconds back. Austria’s Paul Gerstgraser, who won in Steamboat Springs, Colo. on Saturday, was fifth – 30 seconds back. But all eyes were on USA Nordic’s Taylor Fletcher (Steamboat Springs, Colo.) starting a minute back.
On the first of four 2.5k loops, Fletcher started out flying. But right on his tail was the Italian veteran Runggaldier. The two wove through the pack together and quickly caught the leaders by lap two, sharing pulls and putting themselves up at the front before the midway mark. Runggaldier, a three-time Olympian, established himself as a threat quickly, chasing down leaders Gerstgraser and Schmid.
“The third lap I pushed again to the front because I knew they were still coming from behind,” said Runggaldier.
The peloton, which was 10 skiers deep at times, battled back and forth. At the turn into the final lap, Runggaldier charged the final climb in the lead, but then dropped back suddenly, bending over at his waist.
“I stayed in front the whole lap and was really tired – I just wanted to rest,” he said. “I just didn’t get air and went down with my upper body and let the Austrian take over. I hoped someone would help me take the lead back. It was the fight of the race on the final lap.”
It was a cat and mouse game through the final 2.5k with a large pack spreading out on the hill up to the finish. Fletcher felt he was in a good position, but lapped traffic came into play. While Gerstgraser and Schmid battled, Runggaldier split up through a tiny opening in the middle to break into the lead and ski unmatched to the finish. It was his third career Continental Cup win.
“I had the same problem in Steamboat where the track was narrower,” he said. “I made that mistake twice in Steamboat. Today I was a bit more clever and was able to see what would happen. This time I was the lucky one.”
Only two seconds separated the top four. “It was a little tough with the traffic at the finish,” said Fletcher. “But that’s racing. I had really good legs and was trying to get through, but I got boxed in. Tomorrow I’ll be a little smarter.”
Jared Shumate (Park City, Utah) was 22nd with Grant Andrews (Steamboat Springs, Colo.).
Geraghty-Moats continued her dominance, battling Germany’s Jenny Nowak for the win. Nowak, who led Tuesday’s provisional jump, held a 55 second lead over Geraghty-Moats. The two came into a head-to-head battle at the midway mark of the race, with the American taking the lead while Nowak stayed close behind.
At the finish, Geraghty-Moats took a 13.7 second win over Nowak, with Canadian Jenny Hendrich third.
“I’m really enjoying racing with so many friends and USA Nordic team members here,” said Geraghty-Moats. “It was also nice to see the jumpers come out and cheer us on.
“I wasn’t feeling so healthy today,” she added. “I have a cold so it was motivating to have everyone there. The conditions we the opposite of Steamboat, where we were skiing in a few inches of slush. That made the somewhat easy course a bit tougher today.”
The women’s field was small but diverse with eight nations. Women’s nordic combined will become a medal event at the FIS Junior Nordic World Championships later this season and is tracking towards an eventual spot on the Olympic program.
The Park City stop is always popular on the FIS Continental Cup tour. “I like it a lot here in Utah,” said Runggaldier, “especially this time when we came a few days earlier so I have some free time. I was able to go to town and do some shopping.”
Action wraps up Thursday with jumping scheduled for 9:00 a.m. MST and cross country at 1:00 p.m. MST. Action will be streamed live through USA Nordic TV at www.usanordic.org/usanordictv.
FIS NORDIC COMBINED CONTINENTAL CUP presented by USANA
Park City, Utah USA
Wednesday, December 19, 2018