Martin Fourcade was pretty pumped about his 12.5-kilometer pursuit win on Sunday on the last day of the Hochfilzen IBU World Cup in Austria. Like, eight exclamation points excited.
“Yes!!!!!!!!” the two-time Olympic gold medalist and five-time world champion from France wrote on Instagram, posting a photo of himself holding his arms high above his head at the finish line.
Bø cleaned as well to leave the first stage with a 19-second lead on Germany’s Andreas Birnbacher, who started 18 seconds back in third.
After the second stage, Fourcade was up to fifth behind Bø, Slovenia’s Jakov Fak, Germany’s Simon Schempp, and Norway’s Emil Hegle Svendsen, respectively — all of which cleaned back-to-back prone stages.
On a calm, bluebird afternoon with warming conditions, the men’s race was clearly going to come down to mistakes — or who could escape without any.
Fourcade and Schempp turned out to be those guys. Both cleaned the two standing stages to shoot 20-for-20 and finish first and second, respectively. Schempp had started second, 14 seconds after Bø.
The 21-year-old Norwegian leader dropped to fourth on the third shooting stage with two standing misses, putting him 27.8 seconds out of first. Svendsen, Fak, Fourcade, and Schempp entered the ranged together after him, and Fak, Fourcade and Schempp emerged without any misses. Fak took the lead, 1.5 seconds ahead of Fourcade and 3.6 seconds over Schempp, and Svendsen dropped to ninth with two penalties.
On the fourth lap, Fourcade passed Fak, leading the Slovenian by one second at 8.7 k. Schempp was right there in third, trailing by another half a second. Meanwhile, Bø led the chase 31 seconds back in third, just ahead of Austria’s Dominik Landertinger and Russia’s Anton Shipulin.
Entering the range first a few seconds ahead of Fak and Schempp, Fourcade cleaned once more. Fak missed one and Schempp hit every target to move into second, 8.1 seconds behind Fourcade.
The penalty put Fak into fourth, 26 seconds back and 0.6 seconds behind Bø, who cleaned to leave the range in third.
“I knew Johannes was the best skier, but I tried to give it my all in the last uphill and that tactic paid off,” Fak told the IBU, after attacking on the last climb to pass and drop Bø, along with Shipulin in tow.
Fourcade held off Schempp on the last lap by 4.1 seconds for the victory in 32:53.7. Fak powered to third, 10.9 seconds after Fourcade, and Bø finished fourth, 5.3 seconds later. Shipulin fell off the pace on the last climb, but held onto fifth (+28.5), and Bø’s older brother Tarjei Bø placed sixth (+45.1), ahead of Birnbacher (+48.8) in seventh.
Landertinger, the fourth starter, ended up eighth with three penalties (+56.2), Ondrej Moravec of the Czech Republic was ninth (+56.5), and Russia’s Dmitry Malyshko took 10th (+1:02.6).
“This was a great weekend for me,” Fourcade told the IBU, after placing seventh in the sprint with clean shooting. “I am happy that I gave 100 percent of myself today and shoot 20. I am very happy with that … My instinct on the shooting range was not to go too fast but to hit the targets and win the race.”
Second twice this weekend, Schempp was satisfied.
“I am really happy with my start to the season,” he said. “The first two weeks have been really great for me. This is the result of good preparation for the season with no injuries and illness.”
Burke Top North American in 25th
After starting 13th, 40 seconds behind Bø, American Tim Burke ended the pursuit with five penalties and 25th overall (+2:35.6).
“I am definitely disappointed with my pursuit race today,” he wrote in an email. “I felt like I had really good ski form but I struggled with the shooting until the last stage.”
Burke missed one on each of his prone stages, then three in the first standing. He went from 16th after the first shooting to 34th by the end of his third bout.
“I was a little frustrated with my mistakes in prone because I felt like I had taken good shots and I was surprised with the penalties,” he wrote. “On the first standing stage I just never felt comfortable and was not able to get into any flow.”
As for his finish, he was pleased to land in the points, especially before the first mass start of the season next Sunday in Pokljuka, Slovenia.
“I feel like I am in great shape right now and Pokljuka is one of my favorite courses,” Burke wrote.
His US Biathlon teammate Lowell Bailey started 18th and 58 seconds behind first. With four penalties, one on each prone and two on the final standing, he finished 32nd (+2:53.2).
“It was just one of those days where nothing went totally wrong but nothing went right either,” Bailey explained in an email.
His prone penalties put him in 25th, nearly two minutes out of first, halfway through.
“I recovered a bit with a clean stage in the first standing but I set myself pretty far back with two misses in the end,” he wrote after leaving the range for the last time in 31st. “I’m not sure why I missed in the last standing. I felt good with the position and I felt stable. Sometimes you just miss!
“My legs were a little heavy, this being the third of a three-day mini-series… But that too is biathlon, three races a week, three weeks in a row,” he added. “It’s a brutal schedule but normally I’m able to handle it ok. The trick now is to get some recovery in before the next races in Pokljuka.”
The third U.S. man, Leif Nordgren skied up to 37th after starting 51st and 2:19 back. On Saturday, Nordgren and the rest of the U.S. men’s 4 x 7.5 k relay were lapped on the final leg after a tough day on the range. After getting tagged in 11th, Nordgren used all his spares and skied four penalty loops.
He tried to forget it soon after.
“It was such a spectacular mess that it wasn’t worth even giving a second thought to,” Nordgren wrote in an email. “I know that I’m better than that, sometimes those things happen and it doesn’t help to worry about it! Not really sure what happened, or why, but like I said I’m not really trying to think it out.”
For Sunday’s race, he figured anything could happen and aimed to land in the top 30.
“The first lap is my least favorite, everyone in the back just guns it as fast as they can, I think this is the second week in a row where I’ve been the last one into the range for the first shooting!” he explained. “But I like starting out a little more conservative and hopefully having some more gas for the last loop.”
Nordgren cleaned his first two stages, missed one standing, and cleaned his last standing.
“I was a little too relaxed in the first standing, I took it shot by shot instead of getting into a nice rhythm,” he wrote. “So it was just a bad shot, I was more aggressive in the second standing and it worked out perfectly.”
Without much left to give on the last loop, he went from 36th to 37th at the finish (+3:30.1).
“Overall I’m pretty happy with the weekend,” he wrote. “It was a step up from Ostersund for sure, hopefully I can keep climbing into next week as well.”
The two Canadian men in Sunday’s race — Brendan Green and Nathan Smith — struggled on the range, with Green missing five and Smith being penalized two minutes for another racer’s crossfire. While it appeared he cleaned his first and last stages, Smith didn’t actually clean his last standing — the person next to him did.
“This has never happened to me in all my years of biathlon,” Smith explained. “I wasn’t exactly sure what to do so I waited for a good 40 seconds, the target did not reset, so I took my partially full magazine out, cleared the chamber and left.”
It didn’t take him long to realize that he’d be penalized for not firing all five shots.
“Right after I left I was like f***, I’m disqualified now!” Smith wrote. “Turns out it’s actually a 2 min penalty for failing to use each bullet. So that mishap cost me close to 3 minutes total.”
With two misses (0+1+1+0) and the added time penalty, Smith finished 49th (+5:19.6) after starting 44th and 1:57 behind the leader.
“I was really happy with my ski form in yesterday’s relay, so I was optimistic about how today could go,” he wrote, referring to his team’s sixth-place relay on Saturday. “I felt absolutely wrecked yesterday evening though and just hoped that I would feel a lot more energetic after a good night’s sleep.”
Yet on Sunday, he realized his skiing wasn’t there.
“It was a tough race for me and I couldn’t really find the extra motivation to give 100% because it was just hurting too much,” Smith wrote. “I made good time in the range, but suffered on course. I was mostly able to maintain position thanks to shooting quickly.”
Green started 49th and ended up 44th (1+0+1+3), 4:21.9 back. In an email, he explained that his race was “fairly decent” up until the last standing. For one, he was feeling good skiing and posted the 32nd-fastest course time overall.
“I had my best ski of the year today which is a step in the right direction,” Green wrote.
Hovering around 42nd before his last bout, he knew he could potentially move up with a clean last stage.
“Unfortunately I ended up with three misses,” he wrote. “I just kind of went for it with a nothing-to-lose attitude in the last shooting and the first miss felt very close to a hit so I continued with my rhythm and kept missing by what felt like just a small margin. It was frustrating and in hindsight I should have taken a second or two to reset after the first miss, but the shots were feeling good and not out of control. Lesson learned on that front today I guess.”
Overall, he felt the weekend was an improvement, although, “I’m still not content with my form and know I’m capable of a lot more,” he added.
On the bright side, after he and his teammates tied a team-best relay result, Green watched his girlfriend Rosanna Crawford achieve a career-best fifth in Sunday morning’s women’s pursuit.
“When it hit me that if she shot clean she would be leaving the range in 3rd or 4th I held my breath until she was done shooting,” Green wrote. “That’s when I started yelling at the TV and things really got intense! It was a little more action then I’m used to in the morning while I’m getting ready to race, but it was awesome.
“She’s had a taste of what it’s like to fight it out for a podium today and there’s no doubt it will happen any day now,” he added. “I think she’s finished in the top 10 just once prior to today, so as soon as she accepts that she belongs in the top 10 and then the top 5, a podium will be the next step.”
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.