With a dramatic come from behind win in Friday’s 4 x 7.5 k relay in Annecy, France, the Russian men’s team established themselves as the team to beat on home snow when the Olympics come to Sochi in under two months.
The quartet of Ivan Tcherezov, Alexander Loginov, Evgeniy Garanichev, and Anton Shipulin trailed until the final leg, before tacking down Germany and winning a sprint to the line.
Austria finished third, 26.8 seconds back.
Led by Erik Lesser, Germany came out of the gate strong, and did not relent until the final meters. With solid shooting — the Germans needed just five extra rounds over the course of the day — the team skied from the front, opening a a gap that fluctuated over the course of the race.
After the first leg, it was Lowell Bailey of the United States holding second, 13.4 seconds back with a surprising Latvia, and an always dangerous Norway, just behind.
Russia meanwhile was over thirty seconds down.
As is so often the case in a biathlon relay, the standings continued to change rapidly, with Germany as the only constant. The U.S. began to drop through the standings, while Russia, on the strength of Loginov’s blistering leg, climbed up to second.
Andreas Birnbacher used just one spare round, giving the German men just three spares after two legs. Birnbacher had a 14 second lead over Russia and Austria as he tagged Arnd Peiffer. Peiffer stretched the gap to 20 seconds after his prone stage, with the home team, France in fourth, 32 seconds down. Peiffer added a single spare round in standing, giving his team just four total going into the anchor leg. At the exchange it was Germany 21.5 seconds ahead of Austria, with Russia another four seconds back, then Norway.
On the final leg, Norway’s Johannes Bö could not keep pace with Shipulin and Simon Eder of Austria, falling out of contention on the skis, before needing three extra rounds in standing, and dropping to 5th, behind Sweden.
Eder needed three spares as well on his final shooting, and lost over 30 seconds to the Russian. Shooting accurately, and fast, Shipulin also had the form on the skis. He picked 20 seconds on the solid-shooting German Simon Schempp in standing shooting, and the pair left the range together, setting up this final sprint to the line.
Shipulin tried to get away earlier, but Schmepp responded, and eventually took the lead back, staying in from until the homestretch.
The U.S. slipped to eighth. Tim Burke, on the second leg, need four spares rounds, and while Jeremy Teela, skiing third, shot well, needing just two spares, he struggled to keep pace on the snow. Leif Nordgren brought the team home in eighth, 1:58.1 back.
After the race Shipulin said he was confident heading into Saturday’s sprint.
“I felt that I had good power out on the tracks and saved my energy for the finish,” he said at the press conference.
Conditions were excellent, with a firm track, sunny skies and no wind. The event was held at the Le Grand Bornand Biathlon Arena, a new World Cup venue.
Parts of this article were drawn from an International Biathlon Union press release.