IBU World Cup (Annecy, France): Men’s 10 k sprint
(Note: This rundown has been updated to include quotes from US Biathlon’s Tim Burke and Sean Doherty.)
Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Bø racked up his third-straight individual win of the International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup season on Friday (and fourth non-relay win of 2017/2018), topping the men’s 10-kilometer sprint in Annecy, France. And he did so in head-turning fashion, beating French superstar Martin Fourcade, the race’s runner-up, by 21.1 seconds on Fourcade’s home turf.
On a pristine day in Annecy, Bø started 24th and consistently clocked the fastest times throughout the race. He cleaned prone, then standing, and finished 41.8 seconds faster than Germany’s Simon Schempp, the race leader until that point who also shot clean (0+0).
Fourcade started 31st and shot a flawless 10-for-10 as well, yet trailed Bø from start to finish. After prone, Fourcade was 8.3 seconds back in second. After standing, he was 14.7 seconds out of first with one loop to go. Bø skied the fastest course time on every loop to remain out of reach, and also shot faster than Fourcade, who clocked the second-fastest overall course time.
Ultimately, the 24-year-old Bø crossed the finish line with the fastest time of 22:16.9 minutes, Fourcade was second and France’s 26-year-old Antonin Guigonnat achieved his first World Cup podium in third (+34.7) with clean shooting. In fact, the top-four finishers all shot clean, with Schempp in fourth and the third Frenchman in the top five, Simon Desthieux in fifth (+45.7).
Guigonnat’s previous best World Cup result was 24th in a 20 k individual in 2015 in Oslo, Norway.
“It seems unreal to be here besides two monsters like these guys,” Guigonnat told the IBU, according to a press release. “After standing I was informed I had 7 seconds on Schempp and at that moment I trusted myself to hold that gap. I always trust in myself to be able to do something great like today.”
Fourcade, who has either placed second or third behind Bø in three consecutive races, was not excited about second place.
“Never cool, because I expected to win,” Fourcade said in an English interview with German broadcaster ZDF. “… But when you find someone better you just have to congratulate him and wait for the next chance. For now, with zero mistakes Johannes is not beatable. I will take the Christmas break to work on my shape, and expect to have a better shape in January to try and challenge him, because for now in the three last competitions I didn’t challenge him enough. I want to be faster, but he is good, he is really good.”
“That’s good words from the World Cup leader,” Bø replied to ZDF in English. “… Every victory I had this season Martin has been right behind me, so I just have to continue being at 100 percent. I always have to think about myself, and then afterwards we will see if I am in front or second, but it has been a good start.”
Only one man in the top 11 didn’t shoot clean: Russia’s Anton Shipulin in sixth (+54.9), who missed one in prone (1+0), but made up for it with the sixth-fastest overall course time and fifth-fastest overall shooting time.
US Biathlon’s Tim Burke achieved his first top 10 in two seasons, placing 10th, 1:08.2 behind Bø with clean shooting.
“I feel like I executed the perfect race for the shape I am in right now,” Burke wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “I know I am not in top form right now so this was about the best I could do considering that.
“I have worked a ton on my shooting in the past year and I know that I’ve reached a higher level in training than ever before. It was nice to be able to show some of those improvements today,” he continued. “It feels great to be back in the top ten. Last season I was only racing in about half of the races and I had a top finish of 11th. But I have to say that I am more pleased with how I executed the race today than the actual result.”
In a US Biathlon press release, Burke noted that “perfect shooting conditions and a fast track” made for a tight race, as he had expected. “This was a good confidence boost for me heading into the holiday break,” he said.
Also for US Biathlon, Sean Doherty placed 17th (+1:20.2), also with 10-for-10 shooting, for the second-straight individual race to tie his season best from last week’s pursuit in Hochfilzen, Austria.
“I feel I executed a great race plan today,” Doherty wrote in an email. “The sprint is all attack right from the start, and this aggressive racing demands that you are on every transition from the first 100 meters. I carried this mentality through the range and the last lap.”
After starting in bib 7 and cleaning the first shooting stage, Doherty took the race lead by 22 seconds.
“Prone was solid and I was happy to execute my plan on the range, had no idea I was leading, just keep the pedal down for another lap,” he wrote. “Being an early bib you can’t look too hard at the place number on the split times. … Coming into standing I just reminded myself of the same focus points I have been working on since May. Focusing on those fundamentals really helps block out any extraneous thoughts that might want to sneak into your mind.”
Biathlon Canada’s Scott Gow notched his second top 16 of the season to put himself at the top of the list for Olympic team selection, based on Biathlon Canada’s “Priority 2” criteria. Gow started near the back of the field in bib 99 and ended up 16th (+1:13.5) with clean shooting.
“I’m very happy with another top 16,” Gow wrote in an email. “This result has solidified my priority 2 Olympic criteria which is a big relief. I’m also happy with my performances so far this early in the season. I’m normally a slow starter so it’s a good sign that I’m hitting good results before Christmas. I just hope I can make it last…”
“Conditions were rock solid today,” Gow explained. “The fresh snow we got overnight mixed with the wet snow and created a very hard glaze. It was hard to hold a solid edge and the downhills were squirrelly. There was zero wind all day today, so range conditions were perfect.”
His younger brother Christian Gow tallied Canada’s second-result in 30th (+1:44.2), also with clean shooting. He was one of 19 men (out of 103 finishers) that hit every target on Friday.
A total of four Americans qualified for Saturday’s pursuit, with Lowell Bailey placing 35th (+1:49.5) with a prone penalty (1+0), and Leif Nordgren finishing 56th (+2:18.1) with one prone miss as well (1+0). Paul Schommer placed 85th (+3:19.3) to miss the top 60 required for the pursuit.
“… It was a strong Nations Cup points day for the team as a whole,” Doherty noted.
Canada’s Brendan Green and Nathan Smith did not qualify for the pursuit, after Green finished 86th (+3:21.0) with five penalties (3+2) and Smith was 91st (+3:36.4) with two misses (0+2).
The women’s and men’s pursuits will be held Saturday in Annecy, with the women’s 10 k race starting at 5:45 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST) and the men’s 12.5 k at 8:45 a.m. EST.
“It’s always chaotic with a lot of action during pursuits and I’ll try to filter all of that out,” Scott Gow wrote. “As for skiing, there’s a lot of transition areas where I think a lot of time can be made.”
OPA Cup (St. Ulrich, Austria): Freestyle sprints
With this weekend’s World Cup races in Toblach, Italy, being solely distance events, five U.S. Ski Team (USST) sprinters ventured to St. Ulrich, Austria, to compete in the Alpen Cup (also known as OPA Cup) skate sprints on Friday.
Longtime couple Sophie Caldwell and Simi Hamilton came away with wins, with Caldwell winning the women’s 1.2 k freestyle sprint final ahead of Russia’s Natalia Matveeva in second and Caldwell’s USST teammate Ida Sargent in third. Another World Cup regular, Switzerland’s Laurien van der Graaff placed fourth, while Germany’s U23 World Championships classic sprint silver medalist Antonia Fräbel finished fifth. Italy’s Greta Laurent was sixth, Germany’s Hanna Kolb seventh, Austria’s Lisa Unterweger eighth, and Julia Kern (USST) ninth.
In the men’s 1.4 k, Hamilton took the win in a photo finish, just ahead of USST teammate Andy Newell in second and Switzerland’s Gianluca Cologna in third. France’s Jean Tiberghien placed fourth and Russia’s Gleb Retivykh finished fifth.
“#OPA men’s sprint was a nail-biter,” U.S. Ski Team Women’s Coach Matt Whitcomb wrote on Instagram with a finish-line photo on Friday. “Super close race for @simihamilton, @andynewellskier and @gianlucacologna. Well-run race by the OC in St Ulrich…
Earlier in the day, Caldwell won the qualifier by 2.82 seconds over Matveeva with a top time of 2:27.85. Sargent qualified sixth, 4.6 seconds behind Caldwell, and Kern qualified ninth (+5.54). Canadian-born Swiss skier Heidi Widmer qualified 11th (+6.66) and went on to place 14th overall.
In the men’s qualifier, Newell clocked the fastest time in 2:47.93. Retivykh was 2.01 seconds back in second, and Hamilton qualified third (+3.26).
Two more days of OPA Cup racing remain in St. Ulrich, with the 5/15 k classic individual starts on Saturday and 10/15 k freestyle pursuits on Sunday, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS) events calendar.
NorAm Mini Tour (Rossland, B.C.): Classic Interval Start)
The NorAm series continued this weekend with the Black Jack Ski Club hosting the first Canadian mini-tour of the season.
Racing started Friday with classic interval start races, with 10 kilometres and two laps for the men, and 5 k and one lap for the women.
Brian Gregg, representing Loppet Nordic Racing (LNR) and Team Gregg, dominated in 29:34.0 minutes, for his second win of the season after topping the 15 k classic mass start in West Yellowstone. Team BXC’s Scott Hill followed 28.2 seconds back in second. Last weekend’s sprint winner Bob Thompson, of the National Team Development Centre (NTDC) Thunder Bay, notched his second podium of the season in third (+39.4).
Fresh off the World Cup, Canadian national team sprinters Jess Cockney (World Cup Team) and Julien Locke (U25 Team) finished seventh and 13th, respectively.
It was a big day for Team Gregg with Brian’s wife Caitlin Gregg winning the women’s 5 k in 16:08.0. Annika Hicks, of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA), finished 46.8 seconds back in second, while Sophie Carrier-Laforte of the Centre National d’Excellence Pierre Harvey/Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre (CNEPH) narrowly edged out a group of women to take third (+1:16.1).
The Rossland NorAm continues with freestyle sprints on Saturday, followed by 10/15 k freestyle pursuits on Sunday.