Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series of articles following elite USSA athletes and their offseason endeavors. Read other Summer Side Projects here, and check back with SkiRacing.com for more throughout the summer.
Park City, UTAH — Pain is a part of any endurance sport. The more you experience during the summer, the more you can endure over the winter.
At least that’s the strategy that has been working for U.S. nordic combined athlete Taylor Fletcher.
The Steamboat Springs native earned his first World Cup podium last winter and went on to earn his first team World Championship medal with a bronze at Val di Fiemme, Italy. Fletcher also posting the fastest time in the season’s opening race, demonstrating his prowess in the endurance leg of the combined.
The 23-year-old says cycling over the summer has been a major training tool for him.
“I got into cycling a long time ago, just for fun, go out for a couple rides here and there. I started racing when I realized that’s what Billy Demong was doing and (he) was having great success with it.”
Being and endurance athlete, Fletcher was able to pretty quickly work his way up in the local Utah racing circuit.
“There are a lot of really strong riders here,” Fletcher said. “There are several big teams, but also there are a lot of pros living and training in Utah. (In June), I was able to race with Connor O’leary, who is on the Bontrager Cycling Team, so I was able to learn a lot from him. The races have a great feel.”
Fletcher has further followed in the footsteps of Demong racing for the Cole Sport cycling team in Park City.
“It’s a great program for us because it allows our whole team to train and compete on really nice bikes and benefit from the program.”
And now, Fletcher is starting to rack up results. Earlier this summer, he finished second in the Pro 1-2 Sugarhouse Criterium on a rolling three-quarter-mile loop in Salt Lake City.
“I got into the breakaway and stayed away,” said Fletcher. “I was able to sneak up to second from the back of the breakaway. It was a sprint up the hill, which definitely benefits me more than some of the bigger guys. … I could have won that one, but got a little unlucky going into the sprint.”
Fletcher, not surprising as an endurance athlete, considers himself a much better climber than a sprinter. And those skills come in handy every summer as the Nordic Combined team trains in Courchevel, France, where they ride upwards of 60 miles per day and hold a time trail up Alpe d’Huez, the legendary Tour de France mountain stage.
“It’s brutal. It’s fun,” said Fletcher. “The first two K are very, very steep. I’ve kind of blown myself up every single time, and then I’m able to regroup. … The (riding in Europe and the riding in Utah) are pretty close. They say Alpe d’Huez and Little Cottonwood are almost the exact same profile — same distance and same elevation gain. You can do just about anything in Utah, but the riding in France is hard to beat.”
As for a benefit to the upcoming Nordic combined season, there are worse ways Fletcher could spend his summer.
“You can go out on a bike for five hours, and you’re going to be tired in the end, but the best thing about it is you recover so much quicker than you would if you went out for a three-hour run,” said Fletcher. “For us, we’re able to put in the big minutes, a six-hour ride, and not be pounding our bodies and destroying our bodies, like you would on a run or even roller skiing.
“One of the biggest things, I feel, it’s given me a lot of power in the legs,” Fletcher said. “To go out and do a four- or five-hour (cycling) race and then go out and do a 10k cross-country race in the winter, my pain threshold is significantly better. I can go out and hammer a 10k pace and not blow up. It allows me to go as hard as I need to and focus a lot better.”
Read more Summer Side Project features here.
Story by Geoff Mintz
Photos courtesy of Taylor Fletcher