RUHPOLDING, Germany – Two Canadians had high hopes for Sunday’s pursuit: Jean Phillipe Le Guellec was 14th after Saturday’s World Championship sprint, and teammate Zina Kocher 18th. They were poised, it seemed, to have career-best finishes.
Le Guellec had never finished in the top ten at World Championships, but started just 12 seconds outside it on Sunday. Kocher was shooting for a top-16, which would have guaranteed her funding through Athletics Canada for the next season.
But neither of them hit the mark, and both ended up 26th at the end of the day.
Le Guellec later wrote in an e-mail that he “wasn’t in such a good mood” after his 12.5 k, four-stage race.
“Looking at results, obviously I stumped down quite a bit,” he said. “The race was going ok until the last shooting basically.”
Le Guellec started off strong, cleaning his first stage and moving into the top ten, where he skied with Lowell Bailey of the U.S. and Andreas Birnbacher and Simon Schempp of Germany. Even after missing a shot in the second stage, he dropped no lower than 11th, and was back into ninth after a clean third stage.
But in the last stage, he missed two shots. Le Guellec’s ski speed also didn’t do him any favors – he said after the sprint, too, that he had felt slow – and rather than regaining places on the final loop, he lost them.
“I came out of the penalty loop in 17th,” he explained. “The last lap was no different [than the others], and I got passed by seven guys in the last kilometer of the race. I had nothing in the tank to fight back and dropped to 26th.”
The Canadian, who placed 11th in this event at the 2010 Olympics, was very frustrated with his skiing; his course time was just the 38th-fastest of the day, and with only a single athlete (Roland Lessing of Estonia) cleaning the race, his solid shooting could have gained him more spots.
“My skis were fast once again, but my ski shape was not great, and it’s not like the sprint where I felt not so good but actually did decent,” Le Guellec lamented. “I was getting passed by trains on all laps. With only a day of rest before the individual, I’m hoping my form will be better.”
Kocher faced an opposite problem in her 10 k pursuit. Starting 18th, she immediately missed two shots and dropped to 27th.
“Right off the bat, it had me a little bit off my game from the get-go,” she told FasterSkier in an interview at the finish line. “At the beginning I kept it easy, that was kind of my plan, just to draft and come in sure of myself. It didn’t quite work out when I missed two.”
Kocher had discussed earlier the difficulty of dealing with the 16th-place requirement, and she said that after her initial errors, some of the pressure actually disappeared. After cleaning the second stage, she skied in the low twenties, and it seemed that with half the race still remaining, she might reach her goal after all.
“When I was around 20th, I was like, ‘okay, I’m back in the game,’” Kocher said.
But she struggled in standing, missing one and two shots in the two stages, and wound up, just like Le Guellec, in 26th.
“I guess it was just a really hard race,” she said. “On that last standing I was getting pretty shaky. It was pretty hard work skiing today. So it’s not what I wanted, I really wanted 85 or 90% shooting, and that would have put me in that top 16 for sure.”
Now, both racers are left looking forward to the longer, four-stage individual races which will be held Tuesday and Wednesday. His next race would be a challenge, Le Guellec admitted, especially in the deep, soft snow that has characterized the competitions so far.
“The 20 k course is very demanding, and this is without taking conditions into account,” he wrote.
Kocher was more positive, and pointed out that with two top-thirty finishes, she was in good shape to snag a position in the exclusive mass start race.
“I’m psyched for the individual, and now I might have a good chance for the mass start,” she said.
The Rest of the Canucks
Team Canada started the day on Sunday with lots of opportunities – they had put a total of three women and four men in the pursuit out of four possible starters in each race in the sprint. The rest of the team had started much lower down the results sheet, but there potential to move up.
Of the remaining starters, Megan Imrie and Megan Heinicke both gained at least ten places, with Imrie advancing from 51st to 39th and Heinicke from 52nd to 42nd.
Imrie used strong shooting to make her move, only missing a single shot and gradually picking up a few places in each loop. Her racing earned her World Cup points, which are awarded to the top 40, for just the sixth time this season.
Heinicke just barely missed that cutoff, but had a strong race as well, cleaning both prone stages and then missing a single shot in each standing stage.
In the men’s race, Nathan Smith started 45th and after going zero-one in prone had moved up to the low 30s. But in his first standing stage, he had difficulty with the wind and missed three shots, dropping back down further than his starting position. He missed a single shot in the final stage and finished 43rd.
“Even the [stage] where I hit four, it was a hard four to hit,” Smith said of the standing stages. “It wasn’t easy. Maybe I should go a little bit easier into the range – I went a little bit too hard on the last large hill because I was trying to stay with guys.”
Despite the frustration of his shooting, Smith told FasterSkier that he thought his skiing had improved from Saturday, and that it was good to have head-to-head competition and better peers on the trails, compared to the sprint where he was seeded with mostly slower skiers.
“It was fun,” Smith said. “Especially on the flat part, there was some headwind, so it was a lot easier to stay behind someone. I think I only got to do that one lap – sometimes I had to pull the guys. But you could tell that there was a big difference.”
Scott Perras started 50th and ended 54th on the back of six penalties, while Marc-Andre Bedard moved up from 55th to 52nd.
Bedard said the race was “rough, but fun,” and that his four penalties were not enough to gain spots at this level of competition.
“The fastest skiers are already up front,” he explained. “So to climb up from far behind – if you’re top 30, that’s good for moving around, but if you’re in the back, like 50s, to climb up then the others in front have to do very badly, because usually on the World Cup nobody shoots under 80%.”
Like Le Guellec, Bedard said his skiing could use some work – but he wasn’t completely discouraged about his prospects for the individual race.
“The skiing was not so strong, so I really concentrated on my shooting,” he said. “That pace was good for the individual, but a little too slow for the pursuit.”