Say what you will about Martin Fourcade, but when he’s on, he’s on.
Opening IBU World Cup mixed relay in Östersund, Sweden, last weekend: on. The star helped his French biathlon team to victory despite shooting errors in his final stage. Instead of winning on the range, he outjostled and outsprinted his German and Norwegian rivals in a three-man photo finish.
Wednesday’s 20 k individual race, on the same trails: not on. Fourcade missed four shots in his very first shooting stage, two more over the next three stages, and limped home in 81st place, over ten minutes behind Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway.
“I have competed here 18 times with 10 wins and all in the top 8,” Fourcade said in a press conference. “I knew the 20 k was not normal for me.”
So today in the 10 k sprint: back on. Fourcade had the fastest ski time and perfect shooting, and decimated the field. He won by 28.3 seconds over Ondrej Moravec of the Czech Republic, with Jakov Fak of Slovenia another 0.4 seconds back in third. Both men also shot clean.
Overcoming the disastrous 20 k result was not a big deal, it seemed.
“We talked about it,” French coach Sigfried Mazet said, according to an IBU press release. “We knew it would happen someday. He’s only human.”
Nevertheless, the French star was relieved to be back to his winning ways. And it did temper his plans for the race.
“I worked really hard this summer to be more aggressive on the shooting range, to shoot faster,” he told the IBU’s Jerry Kokesh in a video interview. “I know I can do it. But after the disappointment I had in the individual, you have sometimes to go back to the roots. I’m happy that my strategy worked today. I wanted to shoot clean and ski fast. I didn’t care about the victory. I just wanted to have some real personal satisfaction. Victory is the consequence of that.”
Fourcade is, as has been so often discussed, coming back from a stint of mononucleosis this summer. With his confidence high after the sprint victory, he sent a clear message to the men’s field that they should worry about what’s coming next.
“I’m happy, and I think I need some confidence to be more aggressive, to attack,” he said. “With more competition and with victories like this, I will find my new level, what I worked on this summer, and I will be more relaxed and more natural.”
Fak and Moravec battled for the second-place position, with Moravec eventually coming out on top. He had the faster ski time (fourth on the day to Fak’s ninth); Fak had faster shooting, by 8.5 seconds.
“Just one push,” was how Fak characterized the distance between them. “You have to push hard with every step if you expect to be on the podium.”
For Moravec, who earned three podiums last season including silver in the pursuit at the Olympics, this was a perfect way to start the season. He had shooting errors in the relay and fell in the 20 k, but a second-place finish salvaged the weekend as his best opening ever.
“I am so satisfied with the results,” he said. “ Today was quite perfect and I hope to continue with results like this.”
Fourth place Michal Slesingr, Moravec’s Czech teammate, and fifth-place Evgeniy Garanichev of Russia also shot clean to finish +38.9 and +45.0, respectively.
Svendsen finished seventh with a single penalty, and will retain the overall yellow leader’s bib by five points over Slesingr, who placed third in the 20 k.
“The fitness and the feelings are good, but I can’t have that feeling that you need if you will really fly, until after the Christmas break,” he told Norwegian broadcaster NRK, according to a translation. “To me, it feels like it is a little bit away.”
Nathan Smith of Canada turned in his first top-ten of the season, placing ninth with clean shooting. Tim Burke led the United States in 17th. Stay tuned for more.
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.