Both Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey had their moments in Saturday’s mass start race in Antholz-Anterselva, Italy.
After two shooting stages, Burke was in the top ten. After three, Bailey was 11th. But in the end, after four stages and 15 k of skiing, the Americans ended up in a race with each other – for 20th place.
“It was an up and down race for me today,” Bailey wrote in an e-mail to FasterSkier. “I started out with one penalty in prone, which put me back into 28th place – the level is so high in this event that even one miss in the initial stage can put you in the back of the field. However, I was able to get back into the mix with two clean stages.”
With only one biathlete in the 30-man field shooting clean (Michal Slesingr of the Czech Republic, who finished fifth), an early error would have been possible for Bailey to overcome. Unfortunately, however, he wasn’t able to keep it at one.
“I missed my second and last shots during [the final] bout, which was definitely a disappointment,” he wrote.
After two trips around the penalty loop, Bailey was in 18th, but he ran out of gas and slipped several places in the final three kilometers. Those loops, he said, were not part of his plan.
“I felt good going into the race today,” Bailey explained. “I had a gameplan for the shooting range. And it just didn’t come together for the last stage.”
Burke had an even tougher time on the range. After cleaning both prone stages and sitting in ninth, he had a disastrous initial standing bout, missing three shots, and dropped to 24th. Then, in his second standing stage, he missed two more.
Despite all that, he had more juice in his legs than Bailey, and turned in the second-fastest closing loop of any skier in the field. That enabled him to move up four spots and outsprint his teammate at the finish.
Good skiing, however, was no consolation for Burke, who has watched initial top-ten splits disappear on the back of shooting errors after blundering in one standing stage after another.
“I am very frustrated with my standing shooting,” he told FasterSkier. “I have been working so hard on my shooting, but the results only seem to get worse with this added effort.”
After the Antholz races finish up, World Cup will take a break before resuming in Oslo in early February. Burke will be hitting the trails for a significant block of training, but he won’t be using a rifle – at least initially.
“For the break I am going to stay right here in Antholz so that I can get two full weeks at altitude,” he explained. “I will be working on putting in some hours after having so many races in the last three weeks. I think I also might try putting the rifle away for a few days, so that I can get a little mental recovery before the next races.”
While he wasn’t happy with today’s effort, Burke was confident that if his shooting came together, he’d be able to turn in some of the best performances of his career.
“I am very happy with how I feel skiing now,” he said. “My form is good enough for a podium performance.”
Bailey, too, was looking forward to moving on from the disappointment of the mass start.
“I need to take the frustration and channel it into focus for tomorrow’s relay,” he said. “We have a great team and I’m excited to show that to the rest of the world.”
Andreas Birnbacher of Germany won a sprint finish with Anton Shipulin of Russia and Martin Fourcade of France to take his second World Cup victory of the season.
Fourcade and Fredrik Lindstrom of Sweden had been leading going into the final stage, but each missed a shot, allowing Birnbacher and Shipulin to catch up after cleaning the stage. The four men skied the last loop together, providing the crowd with a thrill as the sprinted into the stadium the final time.
The Canadians did not qualify any athletes for the 30-man race.