What a fantastic week in Otepää! The fans were fantastic and the racing was fun. The result is a pretty interesting version of the Power Rankings. Lots of movement this week as some men and women are finding their peak forms at the end of the season. At the same time there are other athletes who are slipping a bit and doing their best to hang on to their form as best they can. Also as a reminder we’re leaving out athletes who for one reason or another have shut down their seasons. This includes JT Bø, in addition to the Ukrainian, Belarussian, and Russian athletes. So let’s take a look!
Women’s Power Rankings
1.Elvira Öberg (Previous 2) – For the first time since week 2 there is a new woman in the #1 slot! Market Davidova briefly led the Power Rankings and since then its been all Marte Olsbu Røiseland. And that’s been completely justified. But for the first time all season Elvira Öberg has taken the final step up to the top of these rankings. It was going to be close but it was that final lap of the Mass Start that put her over the top
I’ve talked about it at length in the weekend recap but it was still incredible to see. They came onto the range together. The both shot clean and Öberg shot just a bit faster. Elvira Öberg shot clean and faster than Røiseland which just isn’t something that you see. She left with a 2.2 second lead. A little over 1km later that was nearly an 8 second lead and the race was basically over. The name of this game is, who There is no guarantee that Elvira is in this position after next weekend but for this week she holds the top spot.
2. Marte Olsbu Røiseland (1) – Marte Røiseland falls from her top spot after some less than extraordinary races. Let’s be honest about this, Røiseland is easily the best woman this season. She has a solid lead in the overall standings and will win the crystal globe except in the most disastrous of circumstances. However for right now Elvira Öberg is just every so slightly better. Elvira finished 2 places and within 5 seconds better in both races. As I said above though, Røiseland places 2nd though because of the last lap of that last race.
3. Denise Herrmann (4) – How about this close to the season for Denise Herrmann? In the 8 wins since the start of the Olympics she has 2 wins and 5 podium finishes. Those are the exactly same numbers as Røiseland over that stretch. The difference is when Røiseland hasn’t been on the podium she’s just been a bit better than Herrmann. Denise Herrmann has always been terrifically fast. That hasn’t changed at all recently. But her shooting is on on a decided hot streak. Only twice in that streak has she shot less than 85%. Even with that stretch she’s still shooting just 82% for the season which tells you how rough it was previously. She’s also climbed all the way to 11th in the overall standings with a good shot at finishing in the top 10 after next weekend!
4. Vanessa Voigt (8) – After winning the IBU Cup last season she came along this year to the World Cup level. She’s been slowly improving all season long to the point where now she’s regularly finishing in the top 10. She very nearly won her first race in Otepää only losing out to Julia Simon having an absolutely tremendous performance. I mentioned it in the weekend recap but in addition to her “normal” incredible shooting (going 40/40 this weekend!) she is starting to add in the speed. She ranked 9th and 12 this past weekend in ski speed. Also if you look at her last lap ski ranks they are all very very good indicating she has the speed in there. There is a very good chance that Vanessa Voigt is a regular in the top 5 in the coming seasons. As it is she’s an incredibly talented youngster that I’m quite excited to watch next season.
5. Tiril Eckhoff (3) – A slight bump down for Eckhoff this week as she wasn’t quite as successful in Otepää as she was in Kontiolahti. She was still fast. She ranked 7th fastest in the Sprint race and 3rd fastest in the Mass Start which was actually slightly better than she ranked in Kontiolahti. She even shot 90% in both races this weekend. However with the overall better shooting conditions even that wasn’t quite enough. These performances are still better than what she was showing before the Olympics and she deserves to remain in the top 5 for now.
6. Hanna Öberg (9) – With two more top 10’s over the weekend in Otepää it is hard to justify ranking her any lower than this. The difficulty is that it feels like she’s never a threat to win any race, but she continues to have higher finishes than I would expect. Her course time ranks are slipping slight to now just top 15 as opposed to top 10 or even top 5 as she was early in the season. Her shooting remains mostly good but with some very poor shooting outings as well. Over the last 8 races her total hit rates have been 85, 70, 70, 65, 90, 70, 90, 90. As with Eckhoff those two 90% shootings in Otepää are not quite as good as they appear compared to the rest of the field. And yet having said all of that she had two more top 10’s this weekend and there is nobody else lower on this list I have more faith in at the moment.
7. Franziska Preuss (unranked) – Making her triumphant return to the Power Rankings for the first time since her injury, Franziska Preuss comes into the rankings at #7. We started to see Preuss’ turn around coming during the Olympics with her comeback turn the Pursuit race. Since then her momentum has been building. Her best moment yet came while she held the lead during the 4th lap of the Mass Start race this weekend. She had one miss too many during the race which was the same problem that hampered her efforts early in the season. Honestly that reassuring. Then when we look at her course time ranks they have been getting better each week. This week she cracked the top 10 finishing with the 5th best Sprint time and the 10th best Mass Start time. She is closing in on her normal self again. I think if I was going to rank who I wanted to see win a race this weekend she might be pretty close to the top of that list.
8. Ingrid Tandrevold (Unranked) – Another woman breaking back into the Power Rankings is Ingrid Tandrevold. Similar to Franziska Preuss she is battling back from health concerns, but hers appeared to be a bit more serious during the Olympics. Since that major health scare, completely collapsing at the line after the Pursuit race, Tandrevold has somehow seemed to be better than ever. She’s stared down Elvira Öberg in a relay race that Norway won, and this week she finished 5th in the Sprint and 12th in the Mass Start. She’s maintained her ski speed quite well as the season comes to a close. She does seem to be shooting just a little better and better as the season winds down though. She also, and this is not something that can be measured, seems tougher than I’ve ever seen her before. Hopefully that’s something we continue to see! I mentioned above how much I want to see Preuss win a race? Add Tandrevold to that list.
9. Anais Chevalier-Bouchet (6)
10. Justine Braisaz-Bouchet (7) – If you look back at prior rankings you’ll see many times that I say I don’t quite know what to make of the French women. With just 1 week left in the season that remains the case. More than any other women on the World Cup I am least able to predict their outcomes from week to week. Any given week they have the ability to get the podium or even win. This week for example Chevalier-Bouchet finished 7th and 17th while Braisaz-Bouchet finished 35th and 7th. They continue to have ski speed including Braisaz-Bouchet being the fastest woman in both races. However the shooting is, pardon the pun, very hit or miss. Maybe they are a little too low on the rankings or maybe this is where they’ve belonged all along? As I said, I don’t know what to do with them.
Men’s Power Rankings:
1.Quentin Fillon Maillet (Previous 1) – Hard to make much of an argument that we should change QFM from the top spot. He had a win, his 10 of the season, and his 5th in 8 races. Those 10 wins are tied for 8th most in a single season. He then followed that up with a 2nd place finish, just a few seconds behind Christiansen, giving him 12 total podiums in his first crystal globe winning season. Somehow he is getting stronger as the season goes along.
2. Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen (2) – As with QFM there is no reason to drop Vetle Christiansen down after his successful weekend. He finished 4th in the Sprint and then had a gritty Mass Start win which included another successful 5/5 final shooting and holding off QFM down the stretch. The win was his 4th top 5 in the last five races. Since the bonze medal in the Olympic Mass Start he’s shown the same ski form and shooting accuracy, including three straight races of 100% shooting, that brought him into the yellow jersey earlier this season. With the way he is racing at present I hopeful he can find a way to show well for the home fans in Oslo.
3. Erik Lesser (5) – As Lesser’s last season draws to a close he seems to race better and better. He’s shot worse than 90% just one time in the last six races. After never ranking better than 10th in course time this entire season he’s ranked in the top 6 in the last three races. It seems that the closer he gets he’s absolutely draining the tank to make sure he has no regrets and no lost opportunities. As a result his last eight finishes have been 8, 6, 6, 67, 12, 2, 7, and 5. It’s his best stretch of racing in several seasons including his best finish since 2017. I’ll be honest I hope he goes for the top of the podium this weekend.
4. Benedikt Doll (6) – Speaking of Germans finishing the season strong we can’t forget about Benedikt Doll. He’s finishing nearly as strong as Erik Lesser is. In his last 10 races he’s gone 12, 1, 6, 8, 32, 8, 25, 11, 3, 14. He had just one top 10 finish in the entire season prior to that. Just as with Lesser he’s showing his best ski form of the season including 7 times with a top 10 course time over those 10 races. After what he’s shown in the last two months of racing its hard to count him out of any race. He has shot 90% or better in five of these races and 70% or worse in three races leaving very little middle ground. For his sake hopefully he has the good shooting this weekend.
5. Stula Holm Laegreid (9) – This weekend we saw more evidence of the “good” Sturla Holm Laegreid. He shot 10/10 in the Sprint finishing 2nd for his best finish since a win in the first race of the season. He hadn’t had a podium since the Antholz Mass Start. But we also saw the “bad” Laegreid with 3 misses early in the Mass Start leaving him behind and out of the running early on. With the good shooting in this race, and the whole weekend, 3 misses was just too many. Finally in the Single Mixed relay we saw the “good” Laegreid again when he combined with Roeiseland to have just 1 extra shot and a convincing win.
So what do we think of Sturla Holm Laegreid? Personally I think he’s a terrific talent and I will continue to count him amongst one of the best as we enter next season. Maybe he’s not as good of a shooter as we saw last season but we’re seeing right now that he has incredibly high ski potential. In the last five races his course ranks are 3, 7, 3, 2, and 2. Regardless of who isn’t racing, those who are contain many of the fastest men still. If he can find a way to maintain 95% of this speed next season, as well as be even just a touch closer to shooting as last season, he’s going to be one of the top men in the World Cup. As for this season and this coming weekend, with these ski speeds he continues to have high potential for a win.
6. Sivert Bakken (Unranked) – Sivert Bakken makes his debut in the Power Rankings. I’m sure that this won’t be the last time we see him here. I mentioned last week that I had considered adding him to the rankings but I wasn’t convinced that he would be able to do that again. The Sprint race this weekend was his first time outside the top 10 since the Olympics. He followed that up with his best finish of his career reaching the podium with 3rd place. He seems to be only getting stronger as the season progresses. He’s ranked inside the top 10 of course speed in three of the last five races with his 5th best time in the recent Mass Start the best of his young career. It’s hard to predict what will happen for him this weekend. Will he continue to get stronger as he has, maybe even be lifted by being in front of home fans? Or will he feel pressure to perform for the rabid Norwegian fans. Hopefully the former!
7. Lukas Hofer (Unranked) – Lukas Hofer continuing his return to form after early season struggles has returned to the Power Rankings. In the first 11 races he had just one top 10. In the last 10 races he has 5 including 3 times in the last 4 races. His ski form is only getting stronger and in these most recent 10 races of such success he has shot 90% or better 7 times. He has a clear upward trajectory this season and may even wish the season was a few weeks longer so he could keep improving!
8. Sebastian Samuelsson (4) – Unfortunately Sebastian Samuelsson is showing increasingly irregular form. These last weeks of racing continue to show that. In the racing that just completed in Opteaa he finished 18th in the Sprint over one minute back. He returned to the top 10 with a 9th place finish in the Mass Start. The Mass Start showed his true form as he had only one miss but was still out of the race finishing 55 seconds back. At this stage of the season it is hard to expect too much. However as he continues to try to empty the tank it is possible he could still find his way to the top 5 or even a podium so ignore him at your own risk.
9. Emilien Jacquelin (3)
10. Martin Ponsiluoma (7) – These two seem to be the ultimate wild cards. At their best they have incredible speed and if they shoot well they can be quite competitive. Ponsiuloma showed this with his silver medal in the Olympic Mass Start and Jacquelin has three top 10’s in the last two weekends. Why then are they so low? Well they also have finishes worse than 20’s place. Every time out it seems they are just as likely to shoot above 85% or below 75%. I have no idea what to expect this week which makes them rather fun!