Finally IBU World Cup Biathlon returned this weekend!! I really missed it, and I enjoyed being able to do all the work and write the pieces I did during the break but I’m really happy to be seeing new races and get new content to break down. It was definitely an entertaining weekend so lets dive in and review the week!
Best Overall Men’s Performance: Sturla Holm Lægreid. I struggled with this one. I considered QFM but I think if we’re being honest it was Lægreid, not just for the results but for showing his form. These were his best two solo finishes since his season opening victory. He’s also in the middle of a much greater streak of consistency. Over his last 5 races he’s finished 5, 6, 21, 3, 4 with the worst of those the Mass Start in Annecy. No that’s not quite what he was doing last year but its certainly better. More importantly his ski speed is well up with ski ranks of 7 and 2 this weekend. 7 would have been a good rank for him last season. 2 is his best ski rank ever. He’s definitely got legs like he’s never had before. All that held him back from 2 wins was uncharacteristic misses. I would bet on his accuracy improving again and I would bet on Lægreid winning again sooner rather than later.
Now the question is did he have to do this? Did he have to more or less sacrifice his ranking in the first month of the season to set up the Olympics? Quinton Fillon Maillet certainly made his feelings known after the race saying in no uncertain terms he’s not sure why so many chose to prioritize the Olympics this season over the crystal globe saying those two things can both be achieved without sacrifice. I’m not sure we can ever answer that question. Even after Beijing I don’t think we can answer that question because of the fact its Beijing. There are so many things about this particular Olympic competition, primarily the “uniqueness” of the venue, that mean that even those athletes at their absolute peak won’t win. So Lægreid to work this all out to perfection and get blown off course by whatever happens at the Olympics. He may end the season ranked 3rd overall and with 3 individual medals. Or he could end the season ranked 6th with 0 medals. Hard to say at this point but I have to feel like at this time I’m leaning a bit towards QFM’s perspective.
Best Overall Women’s Performance: Marte Olsbu Røiseland. She made the choice easy this weekend. She won the Sprint and followed that up with a commanding win in the Pursuit. It wasn’t just the wins though it was the way she did it. She was 6th fastest in the Sprint and 4th fastest in the Pursuit. Shooting was terrific as well going 9/10 in the Sprint and 18/20 in the Pursuit. The 9/10 in the Sprint was especially good with the wind and snow. The entire weekend she looked like by far the best biathlete out there. It’s fun to watch an athlete really come into their own and Røiseland is doing that this season. She was very good last year but operated a little bit in Eckhoff’s shadow. This season she’s in the spotlight and looking great.
Best Young Athlete Men: Sturla Holm Lægreid. Due to his incredible year last year I often will forget that he is still so young. But he really is still just 24. But since I just wrote extensively about him let’s take just a moment to discuss Sebastian Samuelsson. Samuelsson may be young but he has developed a bit of a pattern for the structure of his season. He likes to go big early, do some heavy training over the holiday break, and then aim for a second peak for Championships (Worlds/Olympics). This seems to be the pattern for all of Team Sweden. He discussed his heavy training over the holidays and during the Sprint it was apparent he didn’t have the speed. A speed ranking of 14th was his worst of the season by far. When Samuelsson doesn’t have his speed that’s usually it for him. He was able to hang on for 14th. In the Pursuit his ski speed improved back to 7th. What was nice to see was he shot well! 19/20 and he moved all the way up to 2nd. Bumps him up to 3rd overall. It’s obviously come and go with his shooting as just the day before in the Mixed Relay his shooting was barely better than atrocious but if he can have a 19/20 day when his ski speed catches back up it will be fun to watch.
Best Young Athlete Women: Marketa Davidova. None of the women under 25 really distinguished themselves this weekend which is unusual because Elvira Öberg has been so great in the early part of this season. This was definitely her least successful weekend of the season though. Elvira’s speed was off a little bit ranking only 5th and 8th in the two solo races this weekend and she didn’t shoot well enough to make up for that finishing 15th and 7th. She had 2 misses in the Sprint and 3 in the Pursuit. With Røiseland performing as well as she did 3 misses, even at peak speed was never going to get Öberg there. However I honestly would have expected better in the Sprint with 2 misses. Those who finished ahead of Elvira Öberg also with 2 misses: Hanna Sola 2nd, Alimbekava 4th, Reztsova 7th, Hanna Öberg 9th. In the first month of the season that would have never happened.
Davidova meanwhile didn’t have a stellar weekend finishing 11th and 8th but it was her most complete weekend since her season opening win. Usually her path to success is good shooting and decent if not great ski speed. This season she is ranking 13th in skiing and 36 in shooting which would usually indicate that she’s been competitive. Unfortunately though she hasn’t been able to put it all together since the Individual to open the season. This weekend though she hit her marks ranking 11 and 13 in skiing with 2 misses in Sprint and 3 in Pursuit. She also moved back up to 10th in the overall for the first time in a few weeks. Maybe with this weekend we’ll start to see a little more consistency.
Best Race Men: Pursuit. Now this was biathlon. Alexandr Loginov was leading the entire race until the very end. Pretty clear to say he got a little anxious on the last shoot and threw up 3 misses. It let Quinton Fillon Maillet the now and future king of Pursuit to complete the comeback from 9th and +29.5 to win yet again. QFM started off the day with 2 misses on the range and looked to be well out of it leaving the range about 20th overall. But like I said, this is biathlon. He had 0 misses the rest of the way and steadily improved from 18th, to 11th, to 4th, to first. QFM’s mental game is on a different level this season and he himself acknowledged that today. This is a huge advantage for him both in the race for the overall and the Olympics in February
Meanwhile as mentioned above Samuelsson was having a great shooting day to come back from 14th. Tarjei Boe and Lægreid while struggling a little on the range showed terrific form on the skis. Lægreid was taking charge and leading on several laps which is just not something you would have seen last season. Rees and Lesser grabbed top 10’s for the home Germans. The Claude bros were briefly skiing together before Fabien Claude so rudely left Florent behind. No matter both had excellent finishes! All around good day for many many competitors. (No I didn’t forget about Jacquelin…I cover him below).
Best Race Women: Pursuit. If you’re making me pick one I’m going to pick the Pursuit race. It wasn’t exactly a tight race at the top but there was a lot of jockeying for position a little further back. Interestingly though no major collapses. However the reason I pick it is because Røiseland just looked awesome. I said this above already but I’ll say it again, her performance this weekend with top notch skiing and excellent shooting makes her formidable. If she goes on to win the overall crystal globe we may look back at this weekend, and even this race, as the turning point.
Behind her, in the real race, Hanna Öberg had a nice comeback from 9th and +33.5. She got herself near the lead earlier and she managed to stay there without any major slip ups. It was best shooting performance since the 2nd race of the season and she looked confident again. Hopefully that carries forward. Dzinara Alimbekava got her very first podium of the season! Man did she wait a long time. She had finished 4th place in 5 of the 10 races on the season. Well earned. Julia Simon continued her nice stretch of the season following up a 2nd with a 4th. Hauser had a nice rise up the standings from 18th to 6th with some bounce back good shooting. There was a lot to like in this race no matter who you were pulling for except maybe Reztsova who had a tough final shoot.
1)Yellow Jersey Update:
a) Women: Røiseland has grabbed control of the overall race. She entered the weekend with a 30 point lead and leaves the weekend after two victories and a much larger 88 point lead. At this point Røiseland has to be like 60% chance to win the overall if not higher (was 35% coming into the weekend). I’m going to leave the table out this week as we’re down to basically 2 (maybe 4 if you want to include Hanna Öberg and Alimbekava at basically 1-2% each).
b) Men: If you had asked me on Friday I would have said that Jacquelin was looking like a champion. I did say that he was showing all the makeup of an overall crystal globe champ. Then the Pursuit happened (more below) and QFM did what QFM does in Pursuits. But Jacquelin did not. And this is why QFM was the favorite for me before the weekend. I also liked what I saw from Lægreid a lot. This is what he needed to do to improve his chances except he still would need a lot of help from the French. Samuelsson bumped up to 3rd while Christiansen looked like his career average. Tarjei Bø was nice and steady Tarjei Bø just as we would expect. JT Boe was…not good. Smolski had his worst weekend of the season. And Latypov missed the entire weekend with COVID.
So where are we? Overall the French become overwhelming favorites due to their decision not to skip any solo races before the Olympics while all of their top competitors will skip races. At this point, if they stick with that plan, you basically have to cut the race down to those two. The only thing that would change that would be an injury or one of them having a horrible Sprint race and missing points there and the Pursuit. Fair warning I’m dramatically underestimating QFM and Jacauelin’s true and realistic chances winning as I’m not really ready to accept that the race is down to 2 (maybe Samuelsson) yet.
|Athlete||Chance at Winning Crystal Globe|
|Quinton Fillon Maillet||40%|
|Sturla Holm Lægreid||2%|
|Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen||1%|
|Johannes Thingnes Boe||1%|
1)Belgian Success: We’ve talked A LOT about Lotte Lie here for most of the season. I feel like a lot of that has been justified. She definitely will be mentioned again today but I am going to also include her teammate Florent Claude. Claude had a career weekend that hopefully will lead to move. In his IBU World Cup Career he has been involved in 113 total races. Before this weekend he had 1 career top 10. This season he finished in the top 10 in twice and just missed once again. He started off with an 11th in the Sprint. He finished the weekend with a 9th in Pursuit, his best solo finish ever.
In the middle though, he and Lotte Lie combined in the Single Mixed Relay to finish 6th. This matched the best Belgian finish in any discipline on the World Cup level ever. Lie pulled them back into the race with good shooting in the second leg. Then Claude in the 3rd leg was 9/10 which put Lie in terrific position. She had 5 misses in her last leg but she put in an incredible effort on the last lap to secure 6th for the Belgians. Couldn’t be happier for them!
2) Jacquelin Pursuit: Nobody seems to be clear about what happened to Jacquelin during the Pursuit race but he was fighting it from the start. From the very first meters he was dropping time to Loginov (and everybody in the field). He ended up with the 38th fastest course time (which was impacted a bit as he did admit to shutting it down on the last lap). However, considering coming into the weekend he was the 2nd fastest man on the World Cup this was a dramatically poor performance. There are LOTS of theories floating around from poor form, to poor wax and poor skis.
Jacquelin adamantly denies that it was form saying that he was feeling well and believes it was related to the equipment and the wax. To support him he was 6th fastest on the course in the Sprint just 2 days prior. The French ski techs are adamant that it wasn’t the skis or the wax. This is also believable as QFM had the 6th fastest day on the skis presumably using the same wax, and Fabien Claude was 18th fastest using the same skis and the same wax. QFM entered the day 4th in overall skiing and obviously won the race. Claude is ranked 7th in overall skiing so he was a little slower but he was 13th in the Sprint and has generally been fading after a very fast start to the season so finishing 18th isn’t really that remarkable.
So what happened? Truthfully we’ll never know. As far as his overall form goes I tend to believe Jacquelin that he felt good. There was no indication at all that this was coming as he’s been pounding away in good form. Of note his previous worst ski performance was in the Pursuit at Hochfilzen when he finished 30th. We’ll know a lot more next weekend because if it is his form then we’ll find out quickly. If it was just equipment then he should be right back to normal.
3) Norwegian Legs: You know who didn’t have bad legs? The Norwegians. We’ve all discussed at length how the Norwegians have been slower than expected to start the season. That might be starting to change.
|Athlete||Overall Ski Rank||Weekend Ski Ranks|
|Sturla Holm Lægreid||24th||7th and 2nd|
|Tarjei Bø||7th||1st and 1st|
|Johannes Things Bø||3rd||2nd and 4th|
|Svetle Sjaastad Christiansen||9th||24th and 30th|
|Sivert Bakken||25th||12th and 14th|
|Marte Olsbu Røiseland||7th||6th and 4th|
|Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold||18th||15th and 9th|
|Ida Lien||16th||13th and 6th|
I don’t think you need to see anything else. Nearly everybody except for Christiansen is trending upwards and sometimes (Lægreid!) dramatically. I think at this point we can see that maybe there was a plan or the Norwegians are starting to figure out the new waxes. Christiansen obviously the exception but to be fair he was also the only one faster in the first month than his career average so he’s just atypical. Really though he’s the exception that proves the rule. Long story short, look out the Norwegians are coming and I think we’re about to see a lot of Lægreid at the top.
4) Career Weekends
a) Florent Claude: Already listed him above but he’s worth listing twice!
b) Alina Stremous: Don’t recognize the name? Don’t worry because the Moldovan woman has 23 total races. With the Pursuit in Oberhof though she snagged her best ever finish with 16th.
c) Danil Serokhvostov: Yet another Russian with their first career top 10 this season. This is the 22 year old’s first season on the World Cup and he’s been slowly trending upward. This week he nabbed 9th in Sprint for his first top 10 and backed that up with 11th in Pursuit.
d) Fengming Cheng: I believe the 12th in the Sprint is the Chinese man’s best ever finish. I say that because he’s got a bit of odd career being absent for entire seasons of competition. I’m sure there is a reason for that but I don’t know what it is.
e) Renee Zahkna: 132 career races and he’s got his first career top 25. In the Sprint this past weekend he finished 17th! Took advantage of some wild conditions with 10/10 shooting.