Who looks for the 70th guy, especially when most of the top competitors started first?
While France’s Martin Fourcade drew the bulk of the attention during Saturday’s 10-kilometer sprint at Holmenkollen in Oslo, Norway, Arnd Peiffer of Germany snuck up from behind to win his first IBU World Cup since the pursuit in Oslo three years ago.
“It was big surprise; it was a long time since my last trip to the top of the podium,” Peiffer, 27, told the IBU after the race. “On the last loop, everyone was telling me that I could win.”
Peiffer was in it from the start, cleaning prone to tie Norway’s Lars Hegle Birkeland for the fourth-fastest time through that stage. Another Norwegian, Johannes Thingnes Bø, led through the first stage with rapid-fire shooting that put him 4.4 seconds ahead of Switzerland’s Benjamin Weger and Germany’s Erik Lesser, respectively.
Bø’s range speed ended up costing him in the second bout, as he missed one to drop to ninth overall. Weger as the first starter missed two on the second stage and Lesser in bib 24 missed two to fall out of podium contention. Nearly 50 starters later, Peiffer came through the range for the second time, where he cleaned to move into second behind Birkeland, who also shot 10-for-10.
While Birkeland lost time on his last lap with the 24th-ranked course time on that loop, Peiffer skied the third-fastest final lap to give Fourcade — the longtime leader at the finish — a run he wasn’t expecting.
Like all of the eventual top seven, Fourcade cleaned both stages, then took the lead by 9 seconds with 1.5 k to go. He bumped Russia’s Anton Shipulin, who started 11th, out of first at the finish by crossing the line 12.1 seconds faster. The 27th starter, Fourcade remained in the top spot without any foreseeable threats.
Peiffer’s last lap lifted him to the victory as he bested Fourcade by 3.3 seconds with a winning time of 24:57. With the second-fastest course time overall, it was Peiffer’s seventh-career World Cup win.
“Recently I always had one miss and that was the difference,” Peiffer said. “Today, I shot clean and I had good skis.”
Despite pulling the upset, the German said he didn’t feel any pressure leading up to World Championships. “I am not one of the favorites,” he said.
“I was confident until I saw that Arnd cleaned,” Fourcade told the IBU. “He ran the last loop 3 seconds faster than me and that was the difference between the winning and being second.”
The overall World Cup leader, Fourcade added that his main goal for the rest of the season is to finish in the yellow bib.
“I want to shoot slow but secure in the races, even if I lose a few seconds,” he said. “I think that is a good strategy to win it.”
Shipulin placed third, 15.4 seconds back from Peiffer, with clean shooting and the seventh-fastest ski time. Birkeland ended up fifth (+19.1), France’s Quentin Fillon Maillet was sixth (+27.4), the Czech Republic’s Ondrej Moravec placed seventh (+29.4), and Bø was eighth (+29.9). Lesser finished 14th and Weger was 26th.
Smith, Nordgren in Top 30
Canada’s Nathan Smith was the top North American in 22nd, 1:02.1 after Peiffer, with a single standing penalty. The fifth fastest in shooting and seventh fastest on the range, he explained in an email he had some confidence going into the sprint after the last few races. He placed 12th in Thursday’s 20 k individual and a career-best fifth in last weekend’s pursuit in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic.
On Saturday, he was looking for a top 16 with 19-for-20 or 20-for-20 shooting.
He got one of the two.
“I knew with a clean race a top 10 was realistic. But also that there was probably going to be a lot of perfect shooting just like in the individual,” he wrote.
The 16th starter, Smith cleaned prone then missed one in standing, putting him in seventh leaving the range for the last time.
“I felt nice and focused,” he recalled of his standing stage. “Just on doing the tasks and not rushing. Unfortunately one standing shot was a split that didn’t quite commit to dropping.”
He closed his last lap with the 23rd-ranked ski time to finish seventh at the time, 46.7 seconds behind Shipulin, the finish-line leader at that point. Ultimately, Smith placed 22nd with the 29th-ranked overall course time.
“I wasn’t sure exactly where crossing in 7th would end up after the entire field finished. I knew it would be respectable but probably not quite at the same level as last week’s sprint,” Smith noted. “I’m really happy to have another solid day of shooting under my belt. It’s coming easily these days which is nice. The result is something I can build off the next couple weeks. I’ll look for small things that’s I can work on to get a little more ski speed.”
Also shooting 19-for-20, Leif Nordgren led the U.S. men for the fourth-straight race, placing 29th (+1:21.7).
The 25-year-old Nordgren started eighth and missed one prone before cleaning standing, which initially put him in fifth. He finished 10th, 1:06.3 behind Shipulin, before being bumped to 29th.
“I was completely dead after the individual on Thursday,” Nordgren wrote, referring to the race in which he placed 20th. “It was a tough race in tough conditions, so I put a lot of focus into the recovery yesterday.”
He went for a “really easy classic ski and a short run,” he explained, “just to get the body moving, and hopefully flush out anything bad that was still left in the muscles.”
On Saturday, he aimed for a top 40, like usual.
“I’m not used to having multiple top 20’s like the last few races, but I decided the approach and goals shouldn’t be any different than any other race,” Nordgren wrote. “Maybe I knew that with good shooting a top 20 was possible, but that didn’t change anything.”
Without any wind for his prone stage, he explained that should have been an easy clean.
“I’m not sure what happened on that missed shot, but once it happens you just have to deal with it,” he wrote. “I am really happy with standing though, I knew coming into standing that I had to clean to have a chance at a good result, but I didn’t let that go to my head, I still just focused on my process.”
He finished with the 15th-fastest shooting time and 18th-fastest range time overall.
“Overall I’m happy with this performance,” Nordgren wrote. “Had I hit that prone shot it probably would have been another top 20, which is a shame, but before last week I would have been totally psyched to have a top 30 so I can’t complain too much.”
Also for the U.S., Lowell Bailey placed 63rd (+2:15.6) with two standing penalties, and Tim Burke was 68th (+2:23.9) with three standing misses.
Canadian Scott Gow had one of his top-five World Cup results in 36th (+1:34.9) with one prone miss, and teammate Brendan Green had a single prone miss as well to place 39th (+1:40.7).
“My focus was on smooth skiing and following my shooting rhythm,” Gow explained in an email. “I knew I would need both for a good result, and thankfully I was able to have both come together.
“I’m not a very fast shooter and my opening laps are always slow relative to the field, so I made a lot of time on my last lap and more or less maintained on my middle lap,” he added. “The biggest hurdle for me earlier in the season was trusting myself and having the confidence to shoot my normal rhythm. Now I’ve gained some confidence with my shooting and as long as I follow my shooting procedure I know I can shoot well.”
Green knew shooting well wold be critical on Saturday, and he was right: nine of the top 10 cleaned.
“Standing I’ve found a bit more difficult here in Oslo, so one of my focuses for today was trying to have that more dialled in,” he wrote in an email. “My standing turned out great today which I’m happy about. It’s too bad about the one prone miss but I’m happy with my shooting.”
A crash on his last loop took him out of the top 30.
“The skiing felt a bit harder for me today in general, but I think it did have the potential to be a decent day on the skis,” he wrote. “Unfortunately on my last loop I crashed pretty hard on one of the downhills … I lost my pole, took a face full of snow, and lost all my momentum for the next long climb.”
In training the day before, he had a “pretty solid crash” as well.
“I was coming down a hill and weaving my way through a bunch of school kids that were on the trail, and then just when I thought I had a clear line one of the kids unknowingly ran right in front of me,” he reflected. “He went between my skis and I sort of gave him a big hug before wiping out and slamming down on top of him. We were able to laugh it off, but hopefully I have all my crashing out of the way for the rest of the season and can stay on my feet tomorrow.”
The Canadian men will race Sunday’s relay, while the U.S. will not with just three men in Oslo.
“Tomorrow will be my 12th race over the span of about a month, so I’m definitely looking forward to a well needed break and catching up on some rest,” Green wrote.
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) 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.