HOCHFILZEN, Austria – The snow was supposed to stop. Then again, Friday’s International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup 7.5- and 10-kilometer sprints were held in a place that eventual men’s winner, Lars Berger, called “snowfilzen.”
Five minutes before the start of the men’s 10 k, it started snowing – and the weather deteriorated throughout the race.
That was especially frustrating to Biathlon Canada’s JP Le Guellec, not because it threw him off his game, but because he thought the conditions would improve as the race went on. Anticipating that, he asked his coach Matthias Ahrens to give his teammates Brendan Green and Nathan Smith the benefit of starting later.
“I wanted to give priority to Nathan and Brendan because they have criteria to meet for the Olympics,” Le Guellec said after starting 22nd and placing 13th in Friday’s sprint. “We thought it was going to be snowing at the beginning of the race and then stop snowing at the end.”
With Le Guellec, 28, already prequalified for the Olympics, his teammates need a top 30 to do the same. Green finished 31st, one second out of 30th, with two misses after starting 53rd. Smith, who started in bib 105, placed 48th with a single penalty.
“It’s a bit frustrating, but it is fun for me to have had the better conditions,” Le Guellec said after cleaning the prone and missing one on the standing. “The tactic missed though.”
Green described the weather as “a little bit nasty” in the middle of his race, adding that it did let up a bit. His nemesis was shooting, he said. After missing the last shot of his prone, Green repeated with a final miss in the standing.
“Missing the last shot in standing was not good,” he said. “There was a little bit of wind, but I think it was manageable. I just got a little bit too excited and shot it off a little too soon. … I was really hoping for a top 30 to finish off my Olympic criteria, so hopefully in the pursuit I can do that.”
Smith hit nine of 10 targets, missing just one in the second bout.
“I felt better than the last sprint, but not as good as the individual in Östersund,” he said after notching a World Cup career-best 16th in the 20 k individual in Sweden last week.
“The last lap, I had no chance. It was so much slower,” Smith said of Friday’s race. “There was nothing I could do.”
While earlier starters enjoyed better conditions, it wasn’t easy for anyone out there, and Le Guellec used his experience to manage the increasing wind.
“In prone, it was pushing a little more than in zero so I shaded a bit instead of correcting, and ended up cleaning,” he said. “I did the same thing [last week] in Östersund in the sprint and I missed two, but then after the race, my coach told me I didn’t shade enough.”
Lesson learned. At the first World Cup in Östersund, Le Guellec came out firing with a fourth-place finish in the 20 k individual on Nov. 28. Two days later, he placed 29th in the 10 k sprint with four penalties – two in each stage.
Heading into Friday’s standing, Le Guellec noticed the wind was coming from the opposite direction and heard German Andreas Birnbacher (who ended up 33rd) coming out of shooting “pretty frustrated with three misses,” Le Guellec said. “I had a clue and setting up, I really took my time. I ended up missing one anyway, but it was pretty decent considering the wind.”
Overall, he was pleased with his result, 55 seconds behind Berger (who won in 25:02) and feeling like might have been able to push harder earlier. With the 27th fastest first-lap time, he improved to 11th fastest the second time around.
“I don’t know if I went [out] too conservative, but the skis were definitely good,” Le Guellec said. “I hammered on the last lap and I had some guys to follow.”
Another Canadian prequalified for the Olympics, Rosanna Crawford placed 17th with two penalties – both standing – in the women’s 7.5 k. She finished 47.1 seconds behind Selina Gasparin, who became the first Swiss biathlete to win a World Cup (finishing in 23:16.9).
“I got lucky,” Crawford said of starting 90th, a bib number she initially dreaded fearing the conditions would worsen.
“The course sped up a lot,” she explained. “If I’d started early, I don’t think I would have been that high.”
In last week’s Östersund sprint, Crawford missed three standing for 51st overall. After cleaning her prone again on Friday, she was disappointed with two standing misses, but recognized that “the potential is there.”
“The season always seems to start off pretty bummy for me for some reason,” Crawford said. “Today, 80 percent, I’m not very happy with it especially since it came in one bout, but it will come together. I think we have a big potential for a great relay. Three of us had great races today.”
Zina Kocher was the second Canadian woman in 25th with two misses – one in each stage. Megan Imrie placed 35th with two penalties as well (0+2), and Megan Heinicke finished 70th with four misses (1+3).
“Skiing was quite good, but shooting was a disaster,” said Heinicke, who posted the 38th-fastest course time overall. “I’m waiting to see if I’m in the pursuit. It will be pretty tight I think.”
Similar to the men’s race later in the day, the wind picked up significantly for the women from zeroing to prone.
“I clicked four left, which is a lot, but … I only missed one,” Heinicke said. “Standing, [the wind] wasn’t very strong, but it was sort of on and off. It was just tough and I was pretty disappointed because I had really good windy shooting in that [Östersund] pursuit that was canceled so I was thinking, ‘be confident,’ but it didn’t work out.”
Heinicke finished 56th in last week’s sprint with three misses (1+2). The following Östersund women’s 10 k and men’s 12.5 k pursuits were canceled because of high winds, a decision that was made midway through the women’s race. Both Heinicke and Imrie were skiing in the top 10 when it was called off.
“I was disappointed at first, but then when I saw the footage, I was like, ‘Okay, be realistic. I would never have been in that position in normal conditions,’ ” Heinicke said. “I was just happy that I had managed the wind well, and I felt good skiing that day. It was fun while it lasted.”
World Cup racing continues in Hochfilzen this weekend with the women’s 4 x 6 k and men’s 4 x 7.5 k relays on Saturday, and the women’s 10 k and men’s 12.5 k pursuits on Sunday.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.