When Norway’s Emil Hegle Svendsen starts a pursuit race in bib 1, it’s a pretty good bet that he’ll stay there.
Gamblers today, however, would have been sorry to put their money on the overall World Cup leader. As soon as the 12.5 k pursuit started in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, Svendsen began making errors. After being caught by Frenchmen Simon and Martin Fourcade, who had started second and third, the trio skied into the range together – and all missed one shot.
Capitalizing on their errors, Anton Shipulin of Russia cleaned that initial prone stage, took the lead, and never looked back.
Shipulin only accrued one penalty over four shooting stages, which tied him for the best accuracy on the day. The next five finishers all had three penalties, and predictably couldn’t catch the Russian. With the luxury of being in front – in only one loop did he ski in second place, briefly, before catching Simon Fourcade and regaining the lead – Shipulin did not have to work as hard on the trails as his competitors, either.
That meant that he could focus on shooting.
“The fourth place from yesterday was a good place to start, but I was disappointed not to be on the podium,” the 24-year-old said in a press conference. “After watching the women’s race, I knew that everything depended on the fourth shooting. So I was very focused and now I am not disappointed since I am in first place.”
While Shipulin was cool as a cucumber at the front, the racers behind him had to attack.
The two Fourcade brothers, who shared the podium for the first time in Saturday’s sprint, were never far from one another and for much of the race it appeared that they would od so again, with the only question being whether Simon’s superior marksmanship or Martin’s more aggressive skiing would win out.
In the final standing stage, Simon missed two shots and Martin one, and Martin led to the line, sprinting hard to try to close a 14-second gap to Shipulin but making little headway.
The family party, however, was broken up by an unusual error. A target had malfunctioned while Arnd Peiffer of Germany was shooting, and had not dropped even though he had hit it. Peiffer had headed off to the penalty loop and crossed the line fifth. But after the race, officials decided to subtract the penalty loop from his time, which moved him into second.
But instead of simply bumping everyone down, they also decided that it was unfair to predict the outcome of how a sprint between Martin Fourcade and Peiffer would have played out. Instead, they awarded a tie for second, and moved Simon Fourcade into fourth.
“I think the IBU took a good position,” Martin Fourcade said. “I am proud of my federation who stood up and helped make this fair for all of the sportsmen.”
Peiffer dealt with the issue in a stereotypically German fashion – and probably the most productive one, too.
“I stayed focused even after this happened,” he said.
The decision was toughest on Simon Fourcade, who had worked hard to maintain his podium position as a chase pack – including Peiffer – tried to overtake him. Simon is the older brother, and so far the less successful one, but has had a string of career-best results in this period of World Cup racing. Third place would have been the eighth podium of his career.
Svendsen was never a real factor in the race, and dropped to ninth on the back of five shooting errors. He still leads the overall World Cup, but his lead has dropped to 24 points over Martin Fourcade, with Simon Fourcade in third.
The biggest mover of the day was Sweden’s Bjorn Ferry. The Olympic champion missed only one shot, tying him with Shipulin for the best shooting of the day. Starting 53rd after a disastrous sprint, he managed to jump to 17th in the pursuit.
Stay tuned for a North American report.