Just one leg into the men’s 4×7.5km relay the top contenders were already whittled down to four and while on most days this means little in the highly dynamic world of biathlon, the race quickly became a two team affair.
France and Russia fought to the end with overall World Cup leader Martin Fourcade gaining the upper hand on Russian counterpart Dmitry Malyshko, good for an eight second win.
Out of the gate however, it was Anton Shipulin, winner of the previous two race, setting the pace with the fastest leg time and just two extra rounds.
He tagged to teammate Evegeny Ustyugov 5.8 seconds up on Sweden, with the Czech Republic and France, led by the “slower” Fourcade, Simon, close behind.
The quartet shuffled over the course of the second leg, with the Czechs rising to the top at the halfway mark, though just, holding 2.5 seconds on the French and Swedes.
Ustyugov needed three spare rounds to the other teams’ two, leaving the Russians 7.6 seconds back in fourth, still well within striking distance.
Magnus Jonsson shot the Swedes out of contention incurring single penalties in both prone and standing, plummeting the team to eighth.
Czech Jaroslav Soukup was the virtual opposite on the range, cleaning both times through the range. But he did not have the course speed to match his rivals, and while he held onto the third spot, he tagged off for the final time 36 seconds off the pace.
Malyshko cleaned prone, and when Fourcade needed two spare rounds, the Russians held an 8.5 second lead with just a single shooting session to go.
With the pressure on however, Malyshko, faltered, clearly tiring on course. He lost 11.9 seconds on the second loop, and with both men using two spares, there was no opportunity to make up ground in the range.
Fourcade is routinely one of the fastest skiers on the circuit and never showed signs of cracking on the final loop, cruising down the homestretch for the win.
Austria, despite earning a penalty on the final leg, systematically skied up through the field to finish 3rd, almost a minute in front of fourth place Sweden.
The Czech team lost their shot at the podium when anchor skier Zdenek Vitek followed up his clean shooting in prone with two penalty laps in standing, dropping the team to 6th just seconds in front of a hard charging German team.
Mixed Bag for U.S. in 12th Place Effort
The U.S. team was unable to regain the magic of their performance at the beginning of the month in Oberhof, Germany, where they placed fifth, though the squad moved up two places from Ruhpolding.
Lowell Bailey took the team out strongly, cleaning prone before using three spares in standing. Combined with the fourth fastest ski time Bailey tagged off to Tim Burke 21.5 seconds off the lead in 6th.
Burke ran into trouble in standing, hitting the penalty loop after burning through all three spares. After going out hard on his first loop, skiing the fourth fastest, Burke slowed considerably, ultimately dropping the team to 11th.
Russel Currier moved the U.S. back up to tenth with the best shooting of the day for the team. He used two spares in prone and cleaned standing.
Like Burke, anchor Leif Nordgren used just a single spare in prone, but ended up on the penalty loop in standing, dropping down to 12th.
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Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.