NOVÉ MĚSTO NA MORAVĚ, Czech Republic – Saturday’s sprint races couldn’t have been considered a big success for either the Canadian or U.S. teams, with only one of the 16 total athletes making the top 30.
But Sunday was a fresh day, and two of the North Americans woke up on the right side of the bed, kept their focus and positive attitudes, and turned what could have been a bummer of a starting position into strong race efforts.
Starting in the mid-30’s, Lowell Bailey of the U.S. and Jean Philippe Le Guellec of Canada skied and shot their way all the way into the top 15, with Bailey finishing 13th and Le Guellec 15th. Only one man, Dominik Windisch of Italy, moved up more places than Le Guellec – 25 to the Canadian’s 21.
But Windish was jumping from 58th, among the very last starters, to 33rd. Bailey and Le Guellec may not have been the biggest movers, but they were certainly among the most successful.
“It’s nice to have had this type of day because I haven’t really pulled anything worthy in pursuits this year,” Le Guellec wrote in an e-mail to FasterSkier. “So it’s nice to kind of ‘Feel like myself’ again in the hunt!”
Bailey climbed 19 places, and was similarly thrilled after a frustrating sprint.
“I’m really happy with that result,” he told FasterSkier at the finish line. “I started 1:38 back and ended 1:20 back, so I gained time on the winner. I feel like I’ve prepared for that race all year, and I’m just glad to put one together finally… It’s always a disappointment to have what you think is a good race and then not end up where you want to be on the results list, so today was definitely a good day for my confidence. I’m really happy with the top 15.”
More than that, Bailey was pleased to have shot a perfect 20 for 20. He was one of only four men to do so, and it was a first in his career.
“I’ve shot clean a fair amount in two-stage races, but as far as World Cup races go, this is the first time I’ve shot clean in a four-stage race,” he explained. “It is a big marker for me career-wise. I’ve had that goal written down on paper going back as far as the Vancouver Olympics. I’ve come really close a lot of times, and I’ve done it in training and time trials, but to do it at World Champs, that was my goal.”
Le Guellec came close to doing the same, but missed one shot in the final standing stage; before that, he had been a bit ahead of Bailey.
“Shooting was on today and I was really happy with that considering it has been going since Oberhof and that it wasn’t an easy day in the range either,” Le Guellec wrote. “As for the missed shot, I was 19/20 with the wind pushing on the barrel and tried to compesate for that by pushing the round into the target. I ended up overcompensating and sending the shot slightly out of the ring. It didn’t go down.”
Le Guellec had the 14th-fastest ski time of the day, but said that he did most of his moving on the range: he’d come in, shoot clean, and then cruise past skiers who had been ahead of him as they headed to the penalty loop.
“I’m always aggressive in prone since it’s my strong position and it’s the best way to climb in ranking,” he wrote. “I kept my cool in standing, took the time to set up properly and they went down is the only way I can explain that feat.”
Bailey took a similar approach. In many World Cup races, particularly with head-to-head formats, he has been in the running late in the race, but then had an error or two in the final stages. Today, he focused a little harder, and managed to block out the din of the 20,000-plus screaming fans in the stadium.
“I really told myself each time going in, don’t worry about what’s going on around you, just focus on fundamentals,” he said. “It’s nothing new – that’s what coaches tell you, that’s what you train to do. But today I was able to really stay in my zone and not get distracted.”
Bailey and Le Guellec skied around each other for much of the race, and Bailey – who had the 18th-fastest ski time, a relief after a slow sprint race – reported that it was cutthroat out on the trails.
“It was a fiercely contested race out there,” he said. “It’s World Championships and everyone has a little bit of extra fire underneath them. So it was a fight from the start. A lot of pack skiing, a lot of jockeying for position on the course. You have to just keep your head in the game.”
He started trying to move up immediately, as is usually the strategy in pursuit races.
“The first lap was really hard,” he said. “I forget who was setting the pace, but it was me and Tim [Burke], and some other guys who are really quick on the skis. When you are starting in the 30s area, you’re still close to the top so you know you can have a good race, but you know you have to have a perfect race to do it. So everyone on that first lap was really trying to make up time.”
Le Guellec agreed.
“The pace off the bat was pretty aggressive,” he wrote. “But I’ve been feeling pretty good ski shape-wise since the begining of World Championships so I was able to hang on without stepping out of my comfort zone too much. It was nice to ski in packs today and made it to be a fun and interesting race.”
Both are now re-energized for Thursday’s 20 k individual race – where shooting matters, a lot. Each miss is penalized by a minute of added time, but the two have now proven that they can shoot as well as the best in the field. Paired with their fast ski times, things are looking up.
“See you on Thursday after the Individual!” Le Guellec wrote as the conclusion to his e-mail. “To be continued…”
* * *
The pair’s teammates were’t quite as lucky – or, perhaps, not quite as focused. For whatever reasons, things didn’t quite work on the course today.
In the men’s sprint, Tim Burke dropped from 28th to 32nd, and Russell Currier from 44th to 52nd; Leif Nordgren managed to improve ten spots from 53rd to 43rd despite six penalties.
For Canada, Scott Gow had a great start to his pursuit, hitting all ten prone targets and skiing from 45th up into the mid-30’s. But standing proved a challenge, and he missed five targets, dropping to 50th.
In the women’s race, his teammate Megan Heinicke improved ten places from 54th to 44th, missing three shots along the way. For the Americans, Susan Dunklee and Annelies Cook both collected five penalties; they finished 47th and 51st, respectively.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.