Still suffering from the aftermath of an illness earlier this weekend, French biathlete Martin Fourcade was back to his usual strength in Sunday’s 15-kilometer mass start in Ruhpolding, Germany, winning in a time of 34:07.2 with one penalty while skiing the second-fastest course time of all starters. Ondrej Moravec of the Czech Republic finished second, (+13.7), and Norway’s Tarjei Bø third, (+29.7).
With the 41st win of his career, Fourcade extended his lead in the overall World Cup standings to his biggest rivals, and is now also leading the mass start score after two competitions.
Fourcade was one of the best performers in Ruhpolding, finishing fourth in the sprint and second in the pursuit.
“That’s cool, after two competitions close to the victory I am really satisfied to win this competition in Ruhpolding,” he added in an IBU video interview. “Yesterday it was a really close gap from the victory. Today I am satisfied about my whole competition, but especially my shooting spirit.”
Fourcade had one missed target in the first shooting stage, but then climbed up through the standings as he cleaned round after round.
On the penultimate loop, he caught the leaders and with Norway’s Emil Hegle Svendsen managed to create a gap to a chase group led by Moravec and Russia’s Evgeniy Garanichev.
Fourcade came into the last shooting stage with Svendsen. But while Fourcade managed to clean the stage again and leave it still in first place, Svendsen lost his position in the race by shooting three more penalties for four total. He only finished in 13th place, 1:12.3 minutes back.
Fourcade meanwhile took the lead after the final stage, and extended it from 5.8 seconds to his eventual comfortable margin.
“I was really confident on my last shoot, about my chances to shoot clean,” Fourcade said in a video interview after the press conference. “I thought that Emil will be with me on the last loop, but he had three mistakes and so he didn’t fight with me. And on my last loop I was confident to keep my gap to Ondrej Moravec. So that was a quite good and exciting competition.”
Moravec was the only one of the 30-man field to clean in all four stages. It was the first podium of the World Cup season for the three-time medalist from the 2014 Olympics.
“For sure it is a relief; I feel much more comfortable now,” Moravec said in the press conference. “I think this is the third zero [shooting competition] in my life. That was good work … especially in standing, because yesterday I was too risky on the range in the pursuit. So today I am satisfied with my work on the shooting range, focusing on the job.”
Bø, who had placed second in the sprint and fourth in the pursuit this weekend, shot three penalties.
“I cannot quite understand that I managed to get back up there, because I got the worst possible start,” Bø told NRK. “There were strong winds on the first shooting, and I got two misses … I struggled my way into third. I was determined to go well on the last shooting.”
Even after cleaning the final round, Bø left the range in seventh place.
Fourcade’s older brother Simon left the shooting range in third position, skiing out on the final loop 27.3 seconds back. But three athletes from a chase group were still able to pass him, with Bø ultimately able to secure the last spot on the podium in a sprint on the finish stretch. He finished just ahead of Ukraine’s Dmytro Pidruchnyi in fourth (+31.4, two penalties), Germany’s Arnd Peiffer in fifth (+33.3 with one penalty), Simon Fourcade in sixth (+36.9 with one penalty), and Garanichev in seventh place (+38.4 with two penalties).
Bø skied the fastest course time of the day and was able to prevail in a larger chase group on the final loop.
“To be honest, I am not so surprised,” Bø said in the press conference regarding his season so far and this race in particular, achieving a podium despite three penalties. “I have not been so good on the overall World Cup in many years due to a lot of things, I missed events due to sickness, and so on. I was happy to win medals last year [at the World Championships], but in the total score I have been really bad for three years. This year I had no trouble at all, and I know I will fight every race. So I am really happy about the total score.”
Bø currently stands in third position after this race, behind Martin Fourcade and his teammate Svendsen.
Two North Americans in the Mass Start
Two North American men — American Lowell Bailey and Canadian Nathan Smith — had qualified for the mass start by virtue of being ranked in the top 25 of the World Cup.
US Biathlon’s Tim Burke, who was narrowly outside that group and had hoped to be called up from a “reserve athletes standby list”, did not get his wish granted. Norway’s Ole Einar Bjørndalen, who is ranked ahead of him, returned from illness for his first race of the weekend. Bjørndalen finished the day in 12th place, with three penalties.
Bailey’s race got off to a good start, with clean rounds in both prone shooting stages despite difficult wind conditions. In the third stage, Bailey had the first miss of his day, and came out of the penalty lap still in ninth place, 27.1 seconds back, as several athletes at the top of the field incurred penalties as well.
He came into the last shooting stage in a pack of athletes still with a chance for at least a top-10 position, but two more misses set him back. He left the range and penalty laps again in 15th place. On the final loop he slipped to 16th, 1:15.2 back.
“Ahhhhhhh!!!!” That about sums it up! So close. Thx to USBA wax crew… INCREDIBLE SKIS!!!“ Bailey tweeted after the competition.
Canada’s Nathan Smith, who had hoped to build on the strong skiing and shooting form he had demonstrated to achieve a sixth place in the pursuit on Saturday, struggled through a difficult day on the shooting range.
With changing winds repeatedly forcing athletes to adapt their sights – for example blowing strongly left-to-right in the first stage and then almost not at all on the second stage – Smith recorded six misses on the day, only shooting clean during his final stage (1+2+3+0).
He finished the day in 25th place, 2:23.4 back from Fourcade.
— Chelsea Little contributed reporting