It’s hard to believe it but somehow we are already three full weekends into the season. Eight races down and 13 more to go plus the Oberhoff World Championships. How is that possible? It feels like the summer lasted for ever and now the season is flying along. It’s already time for us to do our first trimester recaps, reactions, and predictions for the rest of the season.
As a last stop before the holidays Annecy did not disappoint. Over the last several years it has developed into one of the marquee weekends on the schedule. The crowds seem to get larger and louder every year. This year they braved some pretty ugly weather and it didn’t slow them down at all. I can’t wait to make the trip some year. With the Christmas holidays just around the corner it would be an amazing trip.
Amazing biathlon races. The crowds lining the course and packing the stands. The sweeping vistas from the track back over the town are gorgeous. It’s going to happen some time and it’s going to be phenomenal. That’s looking ahead though and we’re here to look back at the action from this weekend. So let’s dive right in!
Best Men’s Athlete: Stula Holm Laegreid – I’ll be honest I struggled with picking the best athletes this week. What I tried to do was close my eyes and picture who came to my mind first for each of these categories. For the men it was Laegreid. That might not be entirely fair because JT Boe very well may have won twice this weekend if not for the Fischer ski debacle on Saturday for the Pursuit races. It was very close. At the end of the weekend Boe had a win and two third place finishes vs. Laegreid having a win and two second place finishes. Different conditions/skis in the Pursuit could have changed that but we’ll never know. We can only deal with what we know. Plus we’ve celebrated JT Boe already and in all likelihood will several more times this year.
Sturla Holm Laegreid had an amazing weekend. I already mentioned it above but in three races he went 2, 1, and 2. Can’t do much better than that unless your name is Johannes Thingnes Boe! In proving the incredible fluctuations possible with the new scoring system he went from 79 points down after the Sprint to just 34 points down at the end of the weekend. That’s with JT Boe finishing 3rd in both races. We’ll definitely come back to that in a little bit.
Laegreid did it by being an all around great biathlete. No surprise there. He had great all around finishes! His course time ranks were 2nd, 16th, and 7th. He shot 47/50 (94%) for the weekend. That’s pretty good and still doesn’t tell the whole story. He was so close to actually coming away with two wins. He was in the lead pack the entire way in the Mass Start. He shot clean and got out first but was chased down by an amazing Dale final lap. If not for that Laegreid has two wins! So yeah he doesn’t get this by default he won it legitmately. We just don’t know what could have happened had JT Boe had good skis in the Pursuit.
Best Women’s Athlete: Elvira Oeberg – We have been waiting all season for Elvira to show us what she can do. She chose to do it in Annecy where she first dominated the field last season. The weekend looked like it was off to a bit of a rough start when she placed 8th in the Sprint. It seemed to be more of the same. Her season had thus far been marked by somewhat stagnated progression. She hadn’t seemed to be preforming any more strongly than she did last year. We had anticipated a leap forward and it just wasn’t there.
In the Pursuit though she finally broke through for that win. She started 8th but by the end of the first shooting had joined the lead pack. She never went backwards. She was joined momentarily by a very game Julia Simon on the third lap. I was so impressed by both of them there. Simon took the race right to Elvira and took the lead. Elvira though was mature and let Simon do the work. Then at the next shooting Elvira was clean and Simon wasn’t. That made Simon do even more work on lap 4. Once again Elvira clean and Simon missed. Elvira cruised to victory here.
We discussed the skis and conditions earlier. I don’t think this played a role here. Elvira Oeberg went 20/20. If Elvira is going to go 20/20 it doesn’t matter what skis she is wearing. She’s too good for that. She’s going to win. Also congratulations to Elvira for the first 20/20 of her career!
She ended the weekend with a 4th place finish in the Mass Start. To be fair she was going against a Lisa Hauser who flashed the best speed in two seasons. Even still Elvira made a phenomenal effort to try to catch up at the end. She finished less than 2 seconds from another podium. At the end of the day Elvira climbed up to 2nd in the overall standings. Definitely the best weekend of any of the women in Annecy.
Best Young Men’s Athlete: FF Andersen – Coming off of last season you might have expected to see FF Andersen and Sivert Bakken jump up to consistent top 10s. Both ended the season very strong. But Bakken has health concerns holding him out and FF Andersen just hasn’t quite reached those incredibly high expectations. Don’t get me wrong, he’s been good including a 6th and a 4th in Kontiolahti and Hochfilzen each. This weekend though was his first weekend with multiple top 10s this year.
Andersen started off the year with a decent if not terrific 15th place finish in the Sprint. In the Pursuit though he rode good skis, both literally and figuratively, up the standings to 5th. His 7th ranked course time was his 2nd best of the season. He definitely benefitted from not racing on Fischer skis but he also shot 19/20 and that can’t be ignored either. In the Mass Start he wasn’t quite able to link up with the Norwegian pain train at the front of the race. However he still was in position for a top 5 until his only two misses of the day at the last shooting.
Look, FF Andersen isn’t having a stellar year. Coming into the year it felt like he was ready to make a bit jump up. However he is having a very good year. He’s 10th in the overall for goodness sakes. That’s on me for not recognizing what he’s been doing. He’s been solid week in and week out. Nothing spectacular (yet!) but he’s been good. This was easily his best weekend of the year. I think we’ll see more going forward.
Best Young Women’s Athlete: Sophie Chauveau – Filip Fjeld Andersen had all of last year to show us what he was capable of and get us excited. Chauveau on the other hand had 0 World Cup races prior to this season. She was 7th overall in the IBU Cup last year but that still had her only as the 3rd best French woman. So far this season she hadn’t shown an exceptional racing. In her 4 total World Cup races this year she had finishes of 37, 34, 19, and 71. Over that time she did show good ski speed with all course times top 26. Her shooting was decent if not spectacular. This weekend though she put it on together.
Chauveau racing on home snow and in front of friends and family she put on a show. She had ski ranks of 5th, 11th, and even 1st in the Mass Start. She shot no less than 90% in every race. The end result was three amazing finishes: 4th in the Sprint, 8th in the Pursuit, and 5th in the Mass Start. It was truly remarkable. You could have easily forgiven her for having two down races after the amazing success in the Sprint. She didn’t at all. She came back stronger than ever.
It was truly a tremendous breakthrough weekend. Looking at her IBU Cup racing she has clearly shown a history of good ski speed. If she can keep up the shooting she can be for real. Maybe not this every weekend the rest of the way. But certainly something she can build into becoming on a week in and week out basis.
Best Men’s Race: Mass Start – This race didn’t win so much for the quality of the race but for the winner: Johannes Dale. The race was memorable for what I described earlier as the Norwegian pain train. Every lap until the end had 3-4 Norwegian men leading the way and pushing the lead out. It was like a team time trial in cycling. More like something you would see in cross country skiing than in biathlon. From a recognition of greatness it was pretty awesome. Team Norway flexed their muscles in amazing fashion. I don’t know if this was the plan to start the race or just how the race unfolded but it was impressive to watch. At no point after the first shooting was there a non Norwegian in the top 3. Stalder made a run for it but he just couldn’t crack the top!
For me though it was the winner that made the race. We’ve talked about it plenty but Johannes Dale was a victim of the depth and strength of the Norwegian men’s team. In 2020-2021 he finishes 5th overall at the end of the season. However after two disappointing weekends in 2021-2022 he was bumped down to the IBU Cup. He only returned when several top men went to a pre-Olympics training camp.
This season he returned full time mostly when Sivert Bakken had to sit out due to his pericarditis. Dale has made the most of his return to the World Cup with four top 10’s in the seven races leading up to the Mass Start on Sunday. Nearing the end of the race it looked like Dale was set for another top 10. Heading into the final shooting he was in a group roughly 5th-7th on the course. He shot clean and exited the range in 3rd. Then he went on a tear. He blasted his way up to Laegreid. It looked like Laegried maybe let up as Dale was closing in. In the final uphill Laegried tried to power around Dale but he couldn’t do it. Dale was just too strong. He pulled away down the final stretch and was able to celebrate his finish across the line.
After the finish you could see how much it meant to him and his team. He repeatedly fought off tears during the interview. His teammates clearly knew how much it meant and obviously weren’t that upset to lose to him. It is a really great redemption story that at times last season seemed almost impossible. But here he is and currently sitting 7th in the overall its hard to see him going anywhere.
Best Women’s Race: Sprint/Mass Start – I wanted to actually mention both races this weekend, not because there wasn’t a great race, but because they were both really good races. In fact I thought every women’s race this weekend was fun. Yes, once again, the Pursuit was impacted by the conditions and the skis, but watching Elvira go 20/20 and her and Simon battle head to head in the middle of the race was fun!
The Sprint was great because it was so unpredictable. First off all the French fans were truly in a frenzy. If a French woman went clean prone like Cheavlier-Bouchet the stadium exploded like France won the World Cup (sorry too soon?). That alone made it an exciting day. But when Denise Herrmann-Wick finished with the best time you knew that she would be difficult to beat. You could tell pretty early on that Elvira, Simon, and Tandrevold weren’t going to challenge her time either so it looked like that would be that. There didn’t seem to be that much competition left on the board even though it was still so early in the day. That’s when things got wild.
First Mari Eder continued her torrid start to the year and put up what would be the 2nd fastest course time of the day. She was just 7 seconds back of Herrmann-Wick. At the time it seemed like it might be a sure podium for Finland but it was not to be. Racing with nearly back to back bibs, Magnusson in 34 and Persson in 37, the Swedes shot clean and put up the 4th and 3rd best course times of the day. For each of them it was easily their best ski ranks of the season. For their careers it was by far Magnusson’s best ever and Persson’s 2nd best ever. They ended up taking over 1-2 on the day and would never give it up. A 1-2 sweep by Sweden that nobody would have ever predicted. At the time that gave them better finishes on the season than even Elvira had.
The excitement on the day still wasn’t done yet. Way at the end of the race, Lou Jeanmonnot in bib 72 and Sophia Chauveau in bib 86 put a final charge through the crowd. Jeanmonnot was a perfect 10/10 but didn’t quite have the skis on the day and finished 9th. Chauveau had the crowd in a frenzy when she left the range after the standing shooting 10/10 on the day and with a very real shot at the win. She held on until almost the very end when her legs began to fail her. In the end she slipped down into 4th place still an amazing accomplishment for the young woman. As soon as she was able to stand again her teammates lifted her onto their shoulders in celebration. Truly a remarkable moment. Sprint races aren’t always exciting but this one really was!
While the Sprint kept the excitement coming the whole race, the Mass Start on the other hand was more of a slow build. The race stayed incredibly bunched through the first half with almost the entire French team staying in contention. It seemed inevitable that the French were going to get their win in the last race of the weekend.
Anais Chevalier-Bouchet who has had a middling season so far was looking very strong. Chloe Chevalier, not to be outdone, was just a few seconds back. Then there was a bit of separation back to a grouping of Tandrevold, Hauser, Magnsson and Julia Simon with Wierer, Femsteinevik, and Jeanmonnot all not much further back. Remarkably as they came towards the last shooting Hauser and Tandrevold made a little surge with Hauser doing much of the work. You could see that she felt good and I’m sure there was some motivation to keep the gap to under a penalty loop. That way if the leaders missed she was there to pounce.
Looking back it was an absolutely brilliant move at that point in the race. Hauser made the push and closed the gap just enough. Entering the range she had cut the gap down to 17 seconds after being down by as much as 25 seconds early in the lap. We truly cannot underestimate how smart that move was. She knew exactly what she needed to do considering the way the race was unfolding and the competition both ahead and around her. Congratulations to both her and her team for being on top of the situation and being able to take advantage of it.
It paid off in the most brilliant way possible. She comes on to the range and starts to shoot just as Chevalier-Bouchet and Chevalier and heading to the penalty loop. She gets out onto lap 5 first with a slim 7 second lead over Chevalier-Bouchet and Simon who had also gone clean. At the time I mentioned that considering those two athletes working together it wasn’t that much of a lead. Hauser though could taste the win and had the legs to make it happen. By mid lap the lead was up to 15 seconds and that race was over. Truthfully it might be the best race I’ve ever seen her run. As a biathlon fan, and admittedly a Hauser fan, it was truly a beautiful race.
Crystal Globe Update:
Men: Game On – There was some discussion after the Sprint race whether the Crystal Globe competition was over. Chad Salmela called it a “1.5 man race” noting appropriately that it all seemed to hinge on JT Boe’s performances. Laegreid seemed “maxed out” so to speak and it was difficult to see him improving enough to overtake JT Boe unless Boe came back to the pack.
Well this weekend I wouldn’t say necessarily that Boe came back to the pack. He fought the skis and conditions in the Pursuit and still pulled off third. Then in the Mass Start he finished 3rd again. Both quite respectable finishes. Laegreid though was able to cut the deficit basically in half showing how volatile the new scoring system can be. I’m going to do more on this tomorrow but this race is FAR from over. I still have a hard time believing somebody further back like Jacquelin, Christiansen, Claude, or QFM is going to push for the top spot. But they are tightly bunched together and there is going to be A TON of position changing in the 3-10 spots the rest of the way.
Women: Wide Open – I’ve been saying all season long that this feels like a wide open competition and nothing about this weekend changes that for me.
Julia Simon (471) continues to lead and will wear the Yellow jersey likely through the entireity of the weekend in Pokljuka when we return. However after that it could be interesting in a hurry.
Elvira Oeberg (395) grabbed her first win on the season and moved up a spot to 2nd. She still hasn’t shown her “A” game and is in 2nd place. Definitely still the favorite in my opinion
Lisa Vittozzi (373) still holding steady at the 3rd position. I would say my hopes for her have dimmed slightly. Not because she’s been bad by any means. She has actually been very good and long term I still think she can be a crystal globe competitor.
Denise Herrmann-Wick (356) at her best is still one of the best in the game. All you need to know is that it was a surprise when she was surpassed for the Sprint win this weekend. Still one of the fastest and has a chance to win the Sprint every single weekend. That’s going to keep her piling up points. If she can put together a little run she can be in the top spot really quickly.
Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold (349) She had maybe her “worst” weekend of the year and was still solid and didn’t move down at all. Through three weekends she has proven that she’s no longer standing in Roeiseland and Eckhoff’s shadow. This isn’t a gimmick while we wait for those two to come back. Tandrevold is a legitmate leader of the Norwegians. Doubt her at your own risk. It might not be this season but she’s going to compete for the overall for at least 2-3 years coming up.
Linn Persson (326) We just saw this weekend how good she can be at her best. She can get the high finishes she needs to get into this race, she just needs to do it. Just 69 points back of Elvira is a good place to be.
Lisa Theresa Hauser (320) I’ve got a longer piece coming this week about why Hauser has to be considered a threat for the overall this season. I’ll save my thoughts until then.
Marketa Davidova (293) We haven’t seen her best yet and based on what we have seen she has the talent and potential to get a couple of wins. If she can do that in Pokljuka or Ruhpolding she might be able to challenge.
Hanna Oeberg (280) We have seen her best just not consistently. When she is at her peak she can be better than everybody. If she can do that for 2-3 weekends in a row she’s in the game.
Dorothea Wierer (276) – I don’t know that an overall is even her goal anymore. She’s going to wins and especially World Championship medals. But if she were to win a Pursuit or Mass Start she could get into the race as she is less than 200 points back still.
Anna Magnusson (246) – Included here for RJ