LE GRAND-BORNAND, France – Well, that didn’t take long.
After missing the first stop on the World Cup calendar due to illness and showing less than her usual ski speed in Hochfilzen last weekend, Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier picked up her first International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup win of the season in the women’s 10-kilometer pursuit on Saturday.
The 24-year-old German, who was the overall IBU World Cup champion last season as well as three-time individual gold medalist at 2017 World Championships, took an opening early in the race when Anastasia Kuzmina of Slovakia, the winner of Thursday’s sprint, missed a surprising three shots in her first shooting bout.
“It was not easy to concentrate on the first shooting for me,” Kuzmina said in a post-race press conference. “Maybe it was [too much] emotion.”
Dahlmeier, the second woman onto the range after being the runner-up to Kuzmina in the sprint, hit all her targets. Then again, and again. She looked on pace to clean the entire competition, but missed the last shot of her final standing bout.
“She made three mistakes on the first shooting and then the door was a little bit open for me,” Dahlmeier said of her rival. “Then I was in front the whole time. In my last shoot was my first mistake. Then I thought, OK, she will win the race.”
Kuzmina had climbed back to second place, and also hit the first four targets of her final shooting bout. But then she took a long, long pause before the final shot – and missed it anyway.
“I was in the penalty loop,” Dahlmeier said. “But then she didn’t come. I couldn’t see her. I heard the sound of the spectators. And she had also this mistake. I’m very happy to be in front now.”
“I gave a chance to Laura,” Kuzmina said of her earlier misses. “And also she gave me a chance on the last shooting, but you see the result.”
Kuzmina held on for second place, finishing 14 seconds after Dahlmeier. Italy’s Lisa Vittozzi placed third (+31.8), up from fourth place in the sprint, after shooting one penalty. Selina Gasparin of Switzerland followed in fourth (+52.8), Denise Hermann of Germany was fifth (+55.2), and Susan Dunklee of the U.S. placed sixth (+1:12.1).
Recalibration Brings Dunklee to Flower Ceremony
Sometimes, you have to go slow to go fast.
Dunklee had a tough start to her season, not breaking into the top 50 and missing both pursuits in the first two weekends of racing. On Thursday she broke the pattern when she placed tenth in the sprint.
As she explained then, she tried slowing down her shooting and going back to basics after missing so many shots in the first competitions. It was a strategy that she continued to pursue in the pursuit.
“This year I have been doing a lot of speed shooting, like over the summer,” Dunklee explained. “But I have really gone away from that in the last two weeks. I have been trying to go back to the basics, mostly with trigger squeeze. That was all I was thinking about on the range, just trigger squeeze. And not worrying about speed at all.”
Dunklee missed one shot in her first prone stage, dropping from 10th to 17th place. She climbed back up before again missing a shot in the first standing stage.
When she came into the range the final time, she was in 10th place, just where she had started. And she calmly – more slowly than some races in the past – hit all the targets, leaving the range in seventh place and passing Ukraine’s Valj Semerenko to earn sixth place and a spot at the flower ceremony.
It was a big turnaround from such a disappointing start to the season, one where she said the term “shooting struggles” would be an “understatement.”
“After Thursday, I was just feeling relief, to be honest,” she said. “It’s so huge to get a top ten and then get a flower ceremony today.”
Besides improving her shooting, Dunklee had the 12th-fastest ski time of the day and the sixth-fastest closing loop.
“This was one of the first real head to head ski situations I have had since the relay in Östersund,” Dunklee said. “And it is so much easier to ski with a pack and behind people. So much more relaxed. I had some very fast people around me — I think two loops with Maren [Hammerschmidt], and a couple loops with [France’s] Anais Chevalier. I also had a lot of energy left on the last loop, which I don’t normally have for the last loop, so that was good.”
With that performance, Dunklee qualified for Sunday’s mass start, which will give her another crack at a course that she said was unusual among the other World Cup venues.
“Different, very narrow,” she said of the French venue, which the World Cup last visited four years ago. “You have to be smart tactically. The hills are really short and steep.”
Career-Best for Canada’s Lunder in 18th
Emma Lunder of Canada has been on a tear this season, with a number of top results. Today she had a career-best day, missing just one shot to move from 34th in the sprint up to 18th in the pursuit (+2:06).
“We were talking about it yesterday — I just feel more solid in my position on the team,“ the 2017 World Championships team member said. “I think this year, honestly, I just feel a little bit more relaxed. Instead of thinking every day, ‘Oh you have to have a good race to stay on the circuit,’ I am just saying, ‘Just go doing what you know how to do,’ and it’s turning out well.”
Not perfectly – but well. Like Dahlmeier and Kuzmina, Lunder missed the last shot of the competition. With clean shooting she would have made the top 15.
“I tried to get focused on the range,“ she said. “And on that last shot I did everything trying not to collapse. The second I yanked the trigger I was like, ‘Oh my God, Roddy [Ward, her coach] is gonna kill me’. But I was so happy with the race.“
Despite skiing into the top 20, a somewhat unfamiliar position, Lunder said she didn’t feel more pressure than usual. Instead, it was a bonus – she had better competitors around her.
“There were just faster girls to ski with,“ she said. “I got passed by quite a few on the first loop, but I just tried to relax. After [the first shooting] I seemed to pick it up skiing and was able to stay with more people, so that was really fun, too.”
With her for much of the race was teammate Julia Ransom, who had started in bib 39. Ransom accumulated two penalties, but still moved up to 27th (+2:29.8). She used the 17th-fastest course time of the day to maintain a position despite the shooting errors.
“There was a few shots that I knew I was like, ‘Wing the prone and wing the standing,’ ” Ransom said. “But you know, overall, I’m very happy I kept it together. I could see Emma the entire time. We skied together on the first couple laps, and I was just thinking, ‘This is the dream’.”
“Who would have thought when I was twelve and I first met Julia that we’d be skiing together in the front half of a World Cup pursuit?” Lunder said. “It was really special.”
“Our skis were so amazing,” Lunder continued. “I was just cruising on the downhill passing people. I felt like I could keep up with so many more people just by gliding longer than they were.”
Canada’s third woman qualified for the pursuit, Rosanna Crawford, did not start due to illness.
— Harald Zimmer contributed
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.