French Women: How Much Depth Is Too Much?

Okay that’s ridiculous. You can never have too much depth. Just ask the Norwegian men! I needed to frame the piece though which is how is it possible the French women have this much talent? It’s incredible. Before the season I was convinced that the team with the most depth is the Swedes. I may have even put the Germans ahead of the French team because of the potential for top 10 seasons from Denise Herrmann-Wick, Franziska Preuss, and Vanessa Voigt with additional depth from Vanessa Hinz, Janina Hettich-Walz etc.

As we head into the World Championships it is actually the French women who are the surprise. It really hit me back in Annecy-le Grand Bornand but it seems like every weekend it hits me all over again. Week after week it there seems to be a new woman reaching the top 10. On top of that almost all of these women are still so young!

Before we take a look at the top French women this season let’s compare the top three nations:

Athletes with Top 10467
Athletes with Podium441
Athletes with a Win311
Total Wins532
Total Podiums10133
Total Top 10s293018

Looking at that you can make an argument for any of the three nations to be the “deepest.” It really depends on if you want to focus on the number of athletes who have shown the ability to get a top 10/podium/win or just the pure number of top 10s/podiums/wins the team has achieved. For me it isn’t about whether or not France is the #1 it’s that they are here in the mix. And at the end of the day, who is #1 in the Nation’s Cup? France.

Julia Simon (26) – Starting with her improved shooting in the second half of last season and continuing into her tremendous season so far this year Simon has established herself as the inarguable #1 for the team. Last season it was very much a rotation between herself, Justine Braisaz-Bouchet, and Anais Chevalier-Bouchet with a little Anais Bescond thrown in. It seemed that every week one of them would have a top finish but nobody was able to consistently do it. Well the retirement of Bescond and the maternity leave of JBB left open a need for a leader and Simon stepped right into the opening.

Current Rank1
Top 1011

Julia Simon is one of the big surprises of the season. Not because we didn’t know she had this level in her. Every biathlon fan has seen her ability to do this. What we didn’t know was that she could do this so consistently! Her ski skills have never been in doubt but she even took those to a new level currently ranked 3rd overall in skiing. Meanwhile Simon’s shooting is on an absolutely different plane. While her prone shooting got all of the attention earlier, to me it is her standing shooting that is the real story. The last three seasons she has been in the upper 70’s. This year though she is up to the low/mid 80s.

Clearly this is a great combination as Julia Simon is not only the leader of the French team, but the leader of the entire women’s World Cup! She just turned 26 prior to the start of the season so she’s really in the early days of her prime. This feels like a real transformation for her. There is every reason to believe that Julia Simon is going to be a force for several years to come!

Anais Chevalier-Bouchet (29) – While Anais Chevalier-Bouchet has not had a phenomenal season she is still the 2nd highest ranked French woman as we break for the World Championships. After coming back from her own maternity leave three seasons ago she has ranked in the top 10 of the overall both seasons. Right now she sits in 11th overall just 42 points back of Hanna Oeberg and the top 10. Certainly within reach!

Current Rank11
Top 104
Season’s Best 3rd x2

While Chevalier-Bouchet’s season may not have started out quite as strong as she would have liked with bumpy races in Kontiolahti and Hochfilzen, since then she is showing signs of her old self. She had three top 10s in Annecy-le Grand Bornand, a dip in Pokljuka, a podium in Ruhpolding and finally two top 15’s in Antholz. She also had a very strong relay leg in Antholz as well. It’s another very solid season from the 29 year old. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all if she were to wind up in the top 10 at the end of the season. The only “knock” against her is that she is 29 years old so by the standards of the French team she is old. It actually will become a problem as there are so many young women who are pushing up from below.

Lou Jeanmonnot (24) – What is a bigger surprise this season, Julia Simon wearing the Yellow Jersey for most of the season or Lou Jeanmonnot establishing herself as a consistent top 10 contender? Prior to this season the young Jeanmonnot had just eight races on the World Cup with most of those in the COVID-impacted 2020-2021 season. She has certainly earned the opportunity to start consistently on the World Cup finishing 6th overall on the IBU Cup in 2020-2021 and 1st overall in 2021-2022. With Bescond retiring she was an obvious replacement to step right up.

Current Rank12th
Top 106
Season’s Best2nd

After starting the year with a 12th place finish, Jeanmonnot disappeared for a little bit. She was re-invigorated by a return to France with the racing in Annecy-le Grand Bornand. She had her first two top 10’s of her career and that seemed to spark her. Since then she’s had four top 10’s in the six races of the 2nd trimester including a career best 2nd place in Ruhpolding. Over that period her worst finish has been 13th.

Jeanmonnot is establishing herself as a very good shooter who skis fast enough to put herself consistently in contention. Right now she is shooting 90.4% overall. Anything over 90% is very good! Meanwhile she’s ranked 23rd overall in skiing. Think of her like a Marte Olsbu Roeiseland (except not quite as fast…yet). These stats are not a surprise at all because this is just who she is and has been throughout her career.

The surprise for me about Jeanmonnot is not that she is a regular in the top 10, its that she did it so fast. The last few years watching her on the IBU Cup you knew she had the potential. But she is just 24 and it took her just 2 weeks to become a top 10 contender. At just 24 years old there is a very good chance that she can continue to get a little faster as she grows up on the World Cup. If she can do that she has a chance to fight for the overall title in the future!

Chloe Chevalier (27) – I have been very excited about Chloe Chevalier for a couple of seasons now. Before this season she was one of my picks to have a breakthrough season. I really thought she would be the surprise of the French women, taking advantage of the openings from Justine Braisaz-Bouchet’s leave and Anais Bescond’s retirement to make a leap. While she has certainly made a leap, including her first career podium(!), it’s hard to call her the surprise when Simon and Jeanmonnot are on the same team!

Current Rank16th
Top 103
Season’s Best2nd

For Chloe Chevalier the reason I predicted she would be able to make an improvement is because she had already made significant improvements to become a top 20 skier. The shooting looked like an obvious weak spot where even a moderate improvement would allow her to have a breakthrough. Looking at her IBU Cup stats she actually was a better shooter than she had been the last two years on the World Cup.

This season though it’s been an improvement in every aspect. She’s skiing a little faster with her overall ski rank up to 18th, the best of her career. Her shooting has taken a significant leap with her overall shooting percentage up from 81.9% to 86.5%. That would be better than she was doing on the IBU Cup all but one season. She’s also shooting consistently faster as well average 30.3 seconds per shooting this season, down 2 full seconds over last year.

Last weekend Chloe Chevalier grabbed the first podium of her career. In fact she was just 3 seconds away from her first win. Her sister, Anais Chevalier-Bouchet, was clearly emotional watching Chloe climb the podium after the race. With the depth and youth of the French team, Chloe Chevalier at age 26 is going to need a few more races like that to continue to earn her position. It’s tough for her but its a great problem for the French to have as a whole. However she does continue to make improvements and right now sits 16th overall. Her finishes really improved every weekend in the last trimester. If she keeps that up she’s going to secure her spot with no concerns.

Sophie Chauveau (23) – If Lou Jeanmonnot is a surprise then Sophie Chauveau is a stunner. We knew that Jeanmonnot had talent having finished 6th and 1st overall on the IBU Cup the last two seasons. Chauveau though, had less in her history, having just last season finished 7th on the IBU Cup and before that never higher than 25th.

Current Rank18th
Top 104
Season’s Best4th

Chauveau was flying under the radar until Annecy-le Grand Bornand when racing in front of home family and friends. Once she got home she raced to a 4th place finish in the Sprint. Over the next four races in Annecy and Pokljuka she backed up that high finish with finishes of 8th, 5th, 8th, and 11th. While the Ruhpolding and Antholz weren’t quite as successful Chauveau has already shown her potential.

Chauveau profiles like a young Julia Simon, Justine Brasiaz-Bouchet, and Anais Chevalier-Bouchet. She is French, young, and fast with inconsistent shooting. When she shoots well she’s going to compete for top 10’s and podiums. To wit during that high performance stretch she shot higher than 85% every race but one. Since then she’s shot lower than 85% every race but one. It turns out the French team is very good at developing these types of athletes. I have faith they can do it again!

Caroline Colombo (26) – There just isn’t enough time to talk about all of the French women this season. Seriously, the focus all season has been Simon racing for a crystal globe, and the emergency of Jeanmonnot and Chaveau. The left over focus went to the Chevalier sisters. I don’t think anybody mentioned Colombo all season until Antholz.

Current Rank22nd
Top 102
Season’s Best6th

Well joke is on us because Colombo is also in the top 25 giving France six women in the top 25 of the overall right now. Five of those six women are below age 27!

In a normal year Colombo might have been the odd woman out with Jeanmonnot and Chauveau racing so well. But with Braisaz-Bouchet and Bescond off from last year’s team she’s been able to hold her spot. And she’s rewarding the team. She’s having a career best season with massive leaps in ski form. Right now she is skiing about 2.7% faster than the average biathlete. That’s a full 1% better than her best season before this. Her shooting percentages could certainly stand some improvement. But she’s got the legs so that any time she does shoot clean she’s going to be in contention!

Coming soon:

Justine Braisaz-Bouchet? (26) – While missing this season due to maternity leave Braisaz-Bouchet has shown every intention of coming back to the team next season. If that is the case she is clearly another major addition to this team. Last season she started to show more consistent great performances with three wins including a gold medal winning performance in the Beijing Winter Olympics Mass Start. She is certainly nowhere close to old so there has to be optimism within the team that she will be able to recapture that level of form if not next season certainly by 2024-2025 and well before the Milan Olympic Games. If so she’s another potential top 5-10 level overall woman for the French team.

Gilonne Guigonnat (24)
Paula Botet (22)
Camille Bened (22)
Fany Bertrand (20)

This quartet are currently ranked 2nd, 5th, 9th and 12th respectively on the IBU Cup. They profile a little differently though.

  • Guigonnat right now looks like the most well polished of the four. To be fair she is also the oldest and has the most experience. She is shooting at 88.3% overall which is very very good. She’s also been consistently in the top 20 in course time rank this season. Being ranked #2 overall on the IBU Cup is all you need to know about where she is.
  • Botet looks like your classic French woman. Very fast and shooting well enough to compete at a high level. Right now Botet is at 86.3% overall. If she can get that up to the high 80’s she’s going to be able to compete on the World Cup. The speed is very good.
  • Bened is a bit of an “all around” biathlete. Currently ranked 22nd on the IBU Cup with an 88.8% total shooting percentage and ranked 38th in skiing. She’s good at both but not great at either. She’ll need to either become great at one of them or steadily improve both to be a contender on the World Cup.
  • Bertrand is the shooter of the group. Right now she is hold a shooting percentage of 93.7%. Knowing she is ranked just 7th overall you can guess that the skis aren’t quite as good. You would be right as she ranks 54th right now on the IBU Cup in skiing.

They are all very young. France is about to run into the problem the Norwegian men have…what do you do with all of your excess talent?

In all seriousness the list above contains five women currently in the top 25 of the World Cup Overall Rankings, one on maternity leave who almost certainly would have been in the top 10 of the Overall, and three more in the top 10 of the IBU Cup who could break through soon. All of those women are under the age of 27 and most under 25. Then you have Anais Chevalier-Bouchet, the old woman at 29, who could be in the top 10 for her third straight season this year.

If France maintains their position in the Nations Cup they are going to be eligible to put six women in Sprints and Individual races. Who do you choose? The rest of the season is going to be a battle. And training camp next season is going to be a real fight. Clearly the French women are going to be in contention for years. They have high level talent like Simon, and potential in athletes like Jeanmonnot, who could compete for the overall title for the next several (10?) years to come. Every woman I mentioned except maybe Colombo has the potential to finish in the top 10 of the Overall. And once you decide on a six woman team how do you draw up the four women for the relays?!? The French team is absolutely stacked. I hope their fans enjoy the ride for the next decade because it could be fun!

3 thoughts on “French Women: How Much Depth Is Too Much?

  1. Great analysis! Nice to see more numbers than my ‘feelings’ of this depth. Also Richard worth to notice – maybe not now but she’s even younger than described ones (02′!)


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