Best Overall Men’s Performance: Quinton Fillon Maillet. There were a handful of really great unbelievable performances this weekend that I’ll touch on shortly. However when I think back (all of 24 hours) to the men’s competitions QFM is who comes to my mind first. Being back in France for the first time in 2 seasons you could feel the enthusiasm and excitement the fans had for everybody but you could especially tell they were doing their best to lift the French athletes to the top of the podium. There were several great French performances(both men and women) this weekend but QFM had the best all around for the men. He started with a 4th in Sprint, had a perfect Pursuit victory, and closed with another podium in 2nd place in the Mass Start. He ever so briefly wore the Yellow Jersey as well! QFM is having a terrific season so far. Much more to come on him and the men’s season in general soon.
Best Overall Women’s Performance: Elvira Öberg. Just like with QFM, the women’s weekend was defined by Elvira Öberg. All season long everybody has been saying that if only she could shoot relatively cleanly she would start to get some W’s. Well this weekend she did exactly that. 3rd in the Sprint with two misses even followed by two huge victories in Pursuit and Mass Start. She had 2 misses each in the Pursuit and Mass Start as well but when spread over a race with 5 total laps and her top notch speed it doesn’t matter nearly as much. One of the single moments I will remember most from this weekend was Öberg’s standing shooting during the Mass Start. She absolutely needed to go 10/10 standing which with her history was nowhere close to a sure thing. She nailed it though. Unbelievable tenacity! Unlike QFM she didn’t grab the Yellow Jersey but the overall women’s race is shaping up to be quite a race with Elvira Öberg right in the mix!
Best Young Athlete Men: Filip Fjeld Andersen. Not a lot of terrific performances by the men under 25 but Filip Fjeld Andersen did grab his first podium finish of his career. Perfect shooting in the Sprint race and he even beat out the man of the weekend QFM! The rest of the weekend didn’t go quite as well but a first career podium cannot be argued with.
Best Young Athlete Women: Elvira Öberg is really the only choice. But we just highlighted her above. Of the next several on the top under 25 list: Davidova, Voigt, Kazakevich, Lien, Kalkenberg I would have to say Kazakevich but nothing too overwhelming about her performance. Her Sprint finish of 17 was the 5th best finish of her young career though.
Best Men’s Race: Mass Start. The men’s Mass Start race felt wide open for nearly the entire race. Going into the last shoot there were still 15 men within 26 seconds of the lead time meaning that none of the podium spots were assured. Even with that close tight race though it was completely defined by Jacquelin.
The first lap was pretty well bunched as most Mass Start races are. After the first shoot though Jacquelin began to impose himself on the race. He started the 2nd lap 4 seconds back on Bakken who briefly held the lead. By the first split of the lap at the 4km mark he already had built a 9 second advantage. He extended it a bit further prior to the next shoot which allowed him to take his time with the 25th fastest shooting time and shoot clean. Once again he built a 17.4 sec lead for himself heading to the range for the first standing shoot. This time he needed that lead as he did have a miss and exited the range with a very narrow edge of Leitner, Christiansen, and Claude. Leitner held the gap to 7 seconds but shot clean and pulled away easily on the last lap.
I’m focusing just on Jacquelin because it was just such an impressive show of force but the rest of the race was pretty wild. You had QFM at one point 47 seconds down after the 2nd shoot come back to get 2nd. Tarjei Bø hung tight with just 1 miss (at the same juncture as Jacquelin) and wasn’t able to take advantage but did grab 3rd on the day. I know I didn’t do this race justice but it was fun!
Best Women’s Race: Mass Start. The women’s Mass Start race had a very different feel from the men’s race but it was still one of my favorite races of the season. It was a lot more chaotic at the head of the race than the men’s, which as documented in lengthy fashion above, was dominated by Jacquelin. The women meanwhile had 4 different leaders by my count: Elvira Öberg, Hanna Öberg, Julia Simon and Dorothea Wierer. It also featured a big fall and big comeback for Elvira Öberg who started the race at the head of the pack. After 2 early misses, 1 each prone, she ended up 47 seconds back. She couldn’t have any further slip ups with Wierer, Hauser, Simon, Sola and others ahead of her. All she did was have her best standing shooting of the season. She took just a few extra seconds to settle in and went 10/10 before sprinting away with the fastest lap of the race, as you would expect.
I wanted to highlight this race though, not just because of the racing by Elvira Öberg, but also because there were some really important races by other competitors, namely Julia Simon and Dorothea Wierer. Both of them have had underwhelming seasons. Wierer has been in regression the last 1.5 seasons but she had fallen back at an alarming rate this season. This weekend though she grabbed 19, 10, and 4th. Nothing like her prior peak but it was a breath of fresh air. Julia Simon meanwhile has been an absolute mess on the range this season but this weekend she found herself with only 5 misses total. She’s had that many in single races this season. As a result her 3 best finishes: 13th, 2nd, and 2nd. I’ve said this several times this weekend but she is completely a boom/bust biathlete and this weekend was total boom.
1) Career Weekends:
a) Filip Fjeld Andersen – Mentioned him earlier with his first career podium. Can only imagine that this is the first of many more to come.
b) Kristina Reztsova – She did Andersen one better. She had her first career podium, also a 3rd place but in Mass Start, and put that together with a 5th in Sprint and 9th in Pursuit which are her 2nd and 4th best finishes all time with an 8th in this season’s opening Individual race her 3rd best. This was easily the greatest weekend of her young World Cup career!
c) Jessica Jislova – Just like Reztsova she also had 3 of her 4 best career races this weekend. She peaked with a 5th in Mass Start to go with 12th in Pursuit and 15th in the Sprint. She has 108 total races in her career so she isn’t new to the game but 5 of her 10 best finishes ever have been this season. 2 of her other top 10 races were in Pyeongchang at the 2018 Olympic Games. Maybe she is just an Olympic year performer?
d) Lotte Lie – She keeps getting better! This weekend she had her best two career finishes (to date!) finishing 13th in Pursuit and Mass Start. There was a moment during both races she looked to have her first top 10 in her grasp but a miss in her last shooting both races dropped her out. Her truly exceptional shooting is going to keep her in it though! Oh, almost forgot her 4th best career finish was also this weekend with a 16th in Sprint!
e) Alexander Povarnitsyn – Okay not exactly a career best finish (that was 12th at the Pursuit at Presque Isle in 2016), but he did have 3 of his 5 best ever finishes going 14, 12, 22 on the weekend.
f) Thomas Bormolini – No career best finish but he went 17, 19, and 18 this weekend which are his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best all time finishes!
g) Said Khalili – 11th in Pursuit and 8th in Sprint were his 2nd and 3rd best finishes of his career behind only a 6th place in the Individual at last season’s World Championships. He was one of the young men I was watching this season and while he hasn’t quite hit the highs I was hoping for he’s starting to show some form.
2) French Fans: Saving the absolute best for last. Holy cow these fans were tremendous. They were lining the course and it felt like they were 10 deep all the way around. The energy was so infectious that it was hard not to cheer for the likes of Jacquelin, Simon, and QFM. Sitting at home you could feel their disappointment at missed shots but they also swept you away in their joy with clean shooting and top finishes. Some day I’ll get to Annecy for a weekend of racing!