After a frustrating weekend of sitting in third place after both the sprint and pursuit competitions in Oberhof, Martin Fourcade of France made his way to the front with a five-second victory in the 15 k mass start on Sunday.
After a penalty in the very first shooting stage, Fourcade was careful and clean on the range and climbed his way back up through the standings. He left the last stage with a three-second lead over Alexey Volkov of Russia and was able to extend it over the final three kilometers of skiing. Tarjei Bø of Norway placed third.
“I was not happy about my last shooting yesterday, and found the power inside to win [today] and I am happy,” Fourcade said in a press conference. “This was the only World Cup venue where I had never won before, so I am quite happy…Once again, the organization did a great job this week. I do not like this kind of weather or snow but they did a great job with what came out of the sky.”
Also salvaging his weekend was Tim Burke of the United States, who had a dismal day on the range in the sprint and placed 61st, missing qualification for the pursuit.
Without being able to score any World Cup points for those two competitions, it was unclear whether Burke would be able to hold onto the 18th-place ranking in the World Cup overall that he owned coming into the weekend. The top 25 ranked racers are given spots in the mass start, as well as the next best five performers from that particular weekend – which Burke definitely was not.
“It was really hard to watch the pursuit, knowing my Mass Start race was on the line and there was nothing I could do about it,” Burke wrote in an e-mail. “Before the pursuit I was confident that it would not be a problem to still make the mass start. Then it was pretty much the perfect storm, with everyone around me in the overall having great races.”
Initially, he dropped out of the top 25 once the pursuit points were tallied. But two of those 25 racer weren’t on site, which gave the next men in reserve a chance to toe the line. Burke squeaked in with bib 24.
Like Fourcade, he missed a shot in his first stage. But he then also missed a shot in the second stage. At that point, he was in 19th place.
In the sprint, Burke had said he didn’t feel like he was skiing great, having just come off a major training block over the holidays. But in the mass start, things began to turn around. He had the fifth-fastest time on each of the middle three loops, and with clean shooting in standing began to move up.
“I felt much better today on the skis,” he wrote. “I feel like I am still absorbing my holiday training, but I am headed in the right direction.”
Burke came out of the last shooting stage in fifth place, but was unable to hang with Bø, who took off towards the podium.
“I feel like I played the tactics well on the last loop,” Burke wrote. “After the first few climbs I realized that I was not going to catch Bø so I settled in to fight for fourth place with [Andreas] Birnbacher and [Ondrej] Moravec.”
But at the last minute, his likely appearance at the flower ceremony was derailed by something as unglamorous as a stone.
“I was positioned well in their draft before the last climb but unfortunately I hit a rock, which stopped my ski and caused me to fall pretty hard,” Burke explained. “This happened at about the worst time because I lost all of my speed heading into the last climb and the next group caught up.”
Burke fought hard anyway, and was able to come away with ninth place. But it was one in a series of crashes so far this weekend: Fourcade did a bit of a pirouette in the pursuit, and Canadian racer Marco Bédard crashed very hard in the sprint, among others.
“The course was definitely in pretty rough shape because of the warm weather,” Burke said of the rash of mishaps. “They had to salt the course a lot to keep it firm. The downside to this is that some of the corners get pretty icy. My problem was simply because of a rock in the tracks. There were a lot of these ‘ski stoppers’ on the track today.”
Still, though, it was positive to have a top-ten performance to finish up the weekend, rather than being left with the bitter taste of that sprint result.
“Despite the tough ending, I am still happy with my performance today and I am looking forward to the next weeks,” Burke wrote.
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.