OSLO, Norway — Henrik L’Abée-Lund took his first World Cup win on Thursday, on home turf in Norway no less.
As the kilometers and shooting stages ticked by, it looked possible that L’Abée-Lund would do it again, or at least come close. After two prone stages, one standing stage, one penalty lap, and 7.5 kilometers of skiing, L’Abée-Lund hit the trails together with the man who is always a pre-race favorite: Martin Fourcade of France.
Over the next 2.5 kilometers, Fourcade skied faster, but wasn’t able to put too much of a gap on the Norwegian. Fourcade came into the range with a 4.5-second lead and hit his first target before L’Abée-Lund started shooting.
Fourcade kept right on going, hitting all five targets for a score of 18/20 on the day, and cruised to victory.
When asked at the post-race press conference whether the win was easy, Fourcade replied, “It wasn’t, because the fight on the beginning was really tight. I had a lot of pressure on the standing shooting. So I must say I’m really satisfied about the win today. I heard it’s my 10th win in Holmenkollen and I’m the most-awarded biathlete in Holmenkollen. It’s probably my favorite place on the World Cup. I’m really happy I did that.”
L’Abée-Lund missed two and fell out of podium contention.
In his absence, Johannes Thingnes Bø – the more favored Norwegian – also missed a shot on the final stage. Italy’s Lukas Hofer cleaned and went past him into second, and that was the podium at the finish.
It was Fourcade’s seventh win in a season where he has never been off the podium in a World Cup race (although he was twice off the podium at the Olympics), and he now has a 49-point lead over Bø in the World Cup Total Score standings with three individual races to go.
“It’s really nice fight,” Fourcade said in a press conference. “I must say, I’m surprised [to say it], but I like it. Johannes is an amazing opponent. No matter what happens in Tyumen, I know that I will thank him for the fight we had. Even if he wins the World Cup, I don’t want that, but I will thank him. I really appreciate the good fight, the fair fight we had, and the good biathlon show we made for people.”
“I think I have maybe 10-percent chance to win this,” Bø said of the overall World Cup title. “So it’s not a big chance, but you know, many things can happen. I know for sure that Martin will probably on the podium every race next weekend. And then there is no chance for me to win the globe. So then I have to just do my best and then we see, but it has been a good season no matter what happens, and it’s a big step in my career.
Hofer finished 18.1 seconds back in second place with one penalty, and Bø 32.5 seconds back reached the podium despite four missed shots.
“I went out [from the last shooting stage] and my trainer told me, ‘It’s only a small gap, only four seconds,’ ” Hofer said, although he actually led Bø by nearly 15 seconds at that point. “I think they told me this so that I keep pushing on the last loop. I tried to keep some energy for the last 600 meters a the end. When I saw Johannes and that I had a bigger gap to him, I was really happy.”
“I knew that Hofer is one of the strongest guys on the last laps,” Bø said. “But I was feeling really good today, so I was thinking there was a chance [to catch him]. We had really good material and skis. And I had good shape today, but in the end of the last lap, I saw there was no chance. So then it was just to look behind and secure the third place. “
Fourth place went to Russia’s Maxim Tsvetkov (+42.7), who cleaned the whole race and moved up from bib 28. L’Abée-Lund finished fifth (+45.2).
US Biathlon’s Sean Doherty started the day in bib 14, and cleaned all his prone targets to stay in contention for a top 10. He missed a shot in each standing stage but still finished 17th on the day (+1:34.2), tying his second-best result of the season.
“I’m really happy with today,” Doherty said. “I really had a goal in mind to stay in my own lane, on the range there. Skiing with these top guys, the pace is really high, so stay focused on my [shooting], and I did that well. I’m happy with how I shot and how I executed this race. I obviously left two in standing there, but those were just my mistake … Standing is usually stronger for me, but I was kind of pushing the limit, which you have to do if you’re still trying to make up some time on the range. So I was just a little hasty at times, and that’s just kind of my nature.”
Doherty had the 23rd-fastest course time on the day.
“It’s been a pretty lousy season in a lot of ways,” he said. “There were some good moments before Christmas, and it’s good to finish on a really strong note with Finland and with these races here. So I’m really happy about that – it’s nice for the body to be picking up. But it’s a little bit of a bummer that we are not going to Russia, because I’m starting to ski better, and really feeling like I’m in good form for some more racing.”
Teammate Lowell Bailey started in 42nd and had two missed targets to move up to 28th (+2:07.2), thanks to the 19th-fastest course time of the day. For both him and Tim Burke, who finished 47th (+4:12.6) with four penalties, it was the last individual World Cup starts for long careers, as the U.S. is boycotting next weekend’s World Cup stage in Tyumen, Russia.
Leif Nordgren finished 40th (+3:07.5) with four penalties, three of which came in the second prone stage. He had the 27th-fastest course time.
“It was a really good race except for one stage,” Nordgren said. “That second prone stage set me back quite a bit. But I was really happy with my skiing today. [Ski speed] came just a couple weeks late after the Olympics unfortunately. I definitely feel a lot stronger now, and it’s too bad it’s the end of the season. But it’s nice to end on a high note. You don’t have to be pissed off all spring.”
For Canada, Scott Gow finished 51st (+4:59.7) and younger brother Christian Gow 54th (+5:07.4) with five and two penalties, respectively.