It’s easy to bet on a guy like Martin Fourcade on his home turf at Le Grand Bornand in Annecy, France. It’s also easy to overlook an up-and-comer.
One of the earlier starters in bib 14, Fourcade opened the IBU World Cup men’s 10-kilometer sprint with a sizable lead, shooting clean through the first stage.
Nine starters back, Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Bø — Tarjei Bø’s younger brother – got off to a rapid-fire start, cleaning his prone and skiing and shooting faster than Fourcade.
A fluke? Not exactly.
The 20-year-old defending Junior World Champion went on to clean his standing to take sole control of the lead while Fourcade missed one and lost his pole on his way to the penalty loop. Not his day; it was Bø’s.
The two remained in first and second until Ondrej Moravec of the Czech Republic cleaned his second-straight stage to bump Fourcade out of the top two.
Bø proceeded to ski the third-fastest second lap and fastest last lap as Fourcade dropped to sixth, then skied up to third.
The young Norwegian ended up capturing his first World Cup win in 22:06.7 minutes, nearly 33 seconds over Moravec in second. Fourcade took third, 37.1 seconds behind Bø, and was the only one in the top six who didn’t shoot clean.
Russia’s Dmitry Malyshko placed fourth (+39.7), Germany’s Simon Schempp was fifth (+40.6), and Austria’s Daniel Mesotitsch took sixth (+41.9).
“I thought maybe I could win or be on the podium in an individual competition, but not a sprint and by more than 30 seconds,” Bø told IBU, according to a press release. “This morning my legs felt a bit tired and I did not feel very strong. I have not raced for a couple of weeks. But I guess the results show that I was very strong … It is cool to beat Martin here.”
In the third week of IBU World Cups, Moravec said he was tired following Friday’s relay as well, but he had his “normal feeling back” and was glad to be on the podium.
Disappointed with his last shot, Fourcade was happy to make the podium at home.
“It was so nice that all of the fans helped me on my last lap,” he said. “I will have this memory for a long time. … It was just wonderful to compete here.”
Smith Ties Career Best
Leading the way for the North Americans, Nathan Smith, who turns 28 on Dec. 25, gave himself a something of an early birthday gift in 16th – his best result by 27 places in a sprint.
On Nov. 28 at the opening World Cup in Östersund, Sweden, Smith finished 16th in the 20 k individual – his personal best at the time. A week earlier, he stood on the IBU Cup podium.
For Smith it’s been a whirlwind of a start so far, and he wrote in an email that he was feeling the effects earlier this week.
“I felt kind of tired … earlier this week but did a hard race-prep session on Thursday and a couple short sprints [Friday] to bring back some snap,” he wrote.
Without a fourth man with them (Brendan Green left for Canada after last weekend’s World Cup in Hochfilzen, Austria, to prepare for Olympic trials), the Canadians did not race Friday’s relay. That gave Smith and his teammates, Perras and Le Guellec, a little extra rest.
“My first lap went well, but I usually start a little conservative and try to build through the race,” Smith explained. “I had a double eject in prone so ended up with one of the slowest shooting times. A little disappointing but in the end I still did what I needed to do.”
Smith cleaned his prone and had one standing penalty to ski away to 16th, 1:08.4 behind Bø. On a flat course with a couple short, steep climbs, Smith explained that shooting well was key.
“Standing was definitely not a cake walk. I felt a little out of control so had to fight really hard for each shot and slow things down a little compared to normal,” he wrote.
Heading into his last lap, Smith thought he was capable of top 30. Sixteenth was a nice surprise.
“I worked a lot on my weaknesses this summer and fall,” he wrote. “Based off how training had gone I knew I could put down some solid PBs but wasn’t sure if that would be enough. Today was just the work paying off.”
Last week in Hochfilzen, Smith placed 27th in the 12.5 k pursuit – another personal best. Sunday he’s hoping to do the same, and plans on “lots of drafting.”
Also making the cut for the men’s pursuit, Americans Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey placed 28th and 35th, respectively. Canada’s Scott Perras and Jean-Philippe Le Guellec finished 31st and 49th to make the top-60 requirement.
Burke cleaned his prone and had two standing penalties to slip from 13th to 20th, and was ultimately bumped down to 28th. In an email, he explained he might have opened too hard, “but you kind of have to put yourself out there if you want a top result.”
“I felt steady in the standing shooting but I simply did not execute,” Burke wrote. “Some days are just like that and you kind of just have to accept that and move on. It was pretty hard heading out onto the last loop after skiing two penalty loops. At that point, I knew I would not have a great result but I was just trying to limit the damage for the pursuit.”
Disappointed with his standing stage, Burke was confident in his skiing; he was seventh-fastest on the second lap and 24th quickest on the final lap.
“I’m happy that I most likely would have made it to the podium with clean standing shooting,” he said of finishing 44 seconds back from third. “This is always the goal of a sprint race.”
Not too far back from the top 10, Burke was looking forward to the pursuit.
“I think it will be tough to move up because the shooting range is pretty easy here,” he explained. “I expect that we will see lots of good shooting from the field so I think the biggest differences will come from the skiing.”
Less than a month after arriving in Europe, Perras wrote that he simply needs more races to get the results he’s looking for. On Saturday, he missed one prone target and cleaned standing.
“I was pretty disappointed after prone, the shooting speed felt really slow and with a penalty I knew that was all the error I could afford,” Perras wrote. “I just don’t have a lot of confidence in shooting at the moment but can prevail at times by focusing on the process. … I felt like I was bleeding time all over the course, it is flatter course and not my forte so I just did my best hoping I was going to make the Pursuit. The info I was receiving on the course was not overly encouraging.”
He did jump from 60th to 28th after the second stage, then posted the 36th fastest final lap to finish 31st. Sunday will be his first pursuit this season.
“I will just try to enjoy that,” Perras wrote. “After seeing how flat the course is in Le Grand Bornand, I am convinced they could hold a WC Biathlon race in my home province of Saskatchewan ”
Bailey wasn’t happy with a penalty in both bouts despite feeling good skiing, especially on the first lap.
“Then, to miss my first shot, right off the bat, was pretty frustrating,” he wrote. “I regrouped after that and was hoping to clean prone and ski back into the race. After hitting the first four targets, I resettled on the last, and missed. It always hurts to miss your last shot.”
Sunday, he’ll try to focus on doing his “own thing.”
“It’s extremely tight in the results so there will be a lot of head to head skiing and anything can happen on the shooting range!” Bailey wrote.
Le Guellec cleaned his prone then missed two standing for 49th, a result he hope will kick him into “better shape” on Sunday. The course in Annency doesn’t exactly suit him, he explained, with flats and bumps that wreak havoc on his back.
“It’s all the one skate followed by tucking and opening again for more one skate that takes its toll,” Le Guellec wrote. “So I could feel my back being pretty tight in standing, which definitely is an issue… But these two missed targets were very close… so maybe just a hint of bad luck in there too.”
“All in all I’m just really happy, and mostly relieved, that I get to race tomorrow,” he added. “Hopefully feel better on the skis and just end this trip on a good note.”
Outside the top 60, US Biathlon’s Leif Nordgren and Jeremy Teela placed 83rd and 87th, respectively. Norgren missed one prone and two standing, and Teela had two penalties in prone and one standing.