10 Days until Östersund: Martin and the French Team
10 days and counting until the new BMW IBU World Cup season starts in Östersund; the French team looks balanced and as strong as ever. Last season, the French women finished 2nd in the Nations Cup led by Marie Dorin Habert's spectacular season, while the men were 4th as Martin Fourcade had another chart-topping year. While those two are expected to lead the French team once again; they have strong teammates like Anais Bescond, Justine Braisaz, Quentin Fillon Maillet, Jean Guillaume Beatrix, Simon Desthieux and Simon Fourcade as a supporting cast. They basically dominated last season's IBU World Championships and could do the same this season.
Little more can be said about Martin Fourcade, his fifth big Crystal Globe in a row, three individual WCH titles plus the mixed relay and ten victories last season. Fourcade was simply the "big dog" in the biathlon stadium all year, stopping all of his rivals in their tracks. After his 21st in the Östersund 20K, he reverted back to his Mr. Consistency persona, with just one result outside of the top 10 (28th in the Antholz sprint) and just one other outside of the top 6 (7th, Pokljuka mass start) all the way through the IBU World Championships. The 28-year-old started the season skiing faster than anyone else with his 51.6 second margin over Arnd Peiffer in the Östersund sprint. He went on to shoot as consistently as anyone all season; fast if necessary but always focusing on hitting targets and avoiding the penalty loop. Fourcade was always confident he could and would whatever was necessary on the tracks to win or be close and hold onto his Yellow Bib.
This summer he trained with his usual meticulous attention to detail, always pushing the envelope, with one goal in mind, winning it all once again. He put all of his rivals on notice with a clean-shooting season opening last weekend win by 12.9 seconds over Johannes Thingnes Boe in Sjusjøen. Once again, Martin Fourcade looks to be prepared to lead his team and stay atop the World Cup Total Score for possibly the sixth year in a row!
Fourcade is not the only story on the French team. Fillon Maillet had a breakthrough season and looks headed to new heights this season. Last year the 24-year-old finished 12th in the World Cup Total Score, up from 23rd in his rookie season, taking home his first IBU WCH Gold medal in the mixed relay. He rewrote his career best results with 9 of his 12 best-ever last year, starting in Östersund. Two fourths and a third in the season opening BMW IBU World Cup set the tone for his year, going on to the top 10 in seven of the eight individual competitions in December. This youngster slowed a bit after that but continued to score points, capping a career-best season with the mixed relay Gold in Oslo. With another year of training and maturity, he could easily add to his career bests once again.
Simon Desthieux is only 24 but now in his fifth World Cup season. Last year, he got back on track with personal best 16th in the World Cup Total Score after a disastrous 56th the previous season. He was at his best, showing great poise with a clean-shooting sixth place in the WCH pursuit, just 12 seconds out of the Bronze medal spot. Shooting like that and his 10-for-10 in the Presque Isle relay always make him a relay candidate.
Simon Fourcade is the "greybeard" of the French Team, with 293 World Cup starts dating back to 2004; the same year that he won his fourth YJWCH title. Simon was the person his younger brother looked up to in biathlon. Always a fighter, Simon battled through illness and injuries last season to finish 27th and far from his best of 5th in the World Cup Total Score. Still, he had a few highlights, with several top ten results including 10th in the IBU WCH 20K. When he is on, Simon is among the best shots on the circuit. After a couple of injuries this summer, he seems ready for a solid season. Simon proved his fitness and shooting skill with a clean-shooting win last weekend in the Sjusjøen mass start.
Jean Guillaume and Fabien
The depth of the French team shows up when Olympic medalist Jean Guillaume Beatrix who won the Pokljuka mass start last season is the fifth man on the team. Despite this win, he had an off season, missing the Total Score top 30 (31st) for the first time since 2012. Beatrix has always been known as a fast skier and when his shooting matches that, he will be chasing the podium. That was evident in his season opening competitions, missing only one of 30 shots in two competitions.
Not to be forgotten is the rookie on the men's team, YJWCH World Champion Fabien Claude. Back in 2014, after his first title, he commented about his biathlon ambitions. "I want to be like Martin Fourcade, but now I am just Fabien." He may not be at the same level as the team leader, but now is on the World Cup team and will get a chance to prove himself this season. Like most of the French team, he is consistently accurate on the shooting range; everyone knows where accurate shooting has taken the man he wants to emulate.
Marie Dorin Habert, according to rival Laura Dahlmeier "is always good for a big surprise." That happened in 2015 when she came back from the birth of her daughter Adele in September to win two Gold medals and a Silver medal at the IBU WCH less than 5 months later. This past season obviously was no surprise as Dorin Habert continued her winning ways with two more WCH titles and six total medals. She finished 2nd in the World Cup Total Score, battling for the top spot until the final competitions of the season. The affable Dorin Habert struggled at times on the shooting range, but could always rely on her skis to keep her near the podium, where she finished 11times.
Dorin Habert is the key for the women's squad as their big star. She has struggled a bit with fatigue recently after a hard summer training schedule, but expects to be on the starting line in Östersund, chasing more medals and the Yellow Bib once again.
Anais Bescond had three fourth places last season before she did something new in her career; she won the Silver medal in the women's 15K individual in Oslo. She added a Gold medal in the mixed relay and the women's relay Silver to her collection before she left Norway. Her strong point is shooting as the 15K medal attests to. All of this propelled her to 9th in the World Cup Total Score. Now expectations are high for the new season that might see her skip over those repetitious fourth places directly onto the podium.
Justine Braisaz finished 21st in last year's rankings, quite impressive for a 19-year-old who earned her second IBU WCH relay medal. She finished last year with 12th, 10th and then 4th in the final competitions of the season. That seems to mean that the next step for the now 20-year-old veteran is the podium this year.
Behind these three women are Anais Chevalier, ex-cross-country skier Celia Aymonier and Chevalier's younger sister Chloe. This group gives the French women nice depth and potential for an even bigger season than last year.
Best Combined Team?
If all of the pieces hold together; Martin and Marie battling for Yellow, the younger men and women continue to improve, plus Simon Fourcade and Jean Guillaume Beatrix at their best; the French team could possibly challenge Germany as the top combined team in biathlon. 10 days to go!