Back to Hochfilzen: Traditional Schedule, Daylight Competitions
Ten months after a very successful 2017 IBU World Championships, the small village of Hochfilzen is back in the biathlon spotlight as the BMW IBU World Cup circuit returns for its traditional December stop. After the 10-day extravaganza last season, this year’s program reverts back to Hochfilzen’s typical Friday-Sunday schedule with sprints, pursuits and relays.
Many years after weeks in cold, dark Scandinavia, the World Cup circus arrives in Austria’s Tirol only to be greeted by a ribbon of stored snow winding through meadows of brown grass. However, this year, that is not the case. The tracks had been prepared with stored snow, but Monday night, the skies opened up, dropping about 50 cm of fresh wet snow over the whole area. The tracks may have an artificial base, but they are now well-covered with natural snow.
Sunshine; Daylight Competitions
Although Tuesday was cloudy, with some light snow still falling at times, every athlete was happy to be back to longer hours of daylight, almost 8 hours in Austria compared to a short and sometimes dim 4.5 hours in Sweden. All of the competitions this week will be conducted during the day in natural light; the sun is expected to be strong and bright at least for the next two training days, with maybe some clouds and snow on the weekend. The daylight morning and afternoon competitions in the beautiful winter alpine backdrop should bring out the smiles in the stadium.
On the Podium This Week?
Of course the thing that always brings out the smiles is a good result and a podium appearance. After some surprises atop the podium last week, the big question is who will be on top in the two individual competitions. Will a history of success or a 2017 IBU WCH title in Hochfilzen have any bearing on who makes the podium this week?
Martin in Yellow
Martin Fourcade arrived in Austria in the usual position, wearing the Yellow Bib, the same as he has every year since 2011, except for 2014 when Emil Hegle Svendsen was in the top spot. By the end of the Hochfilzen pursuit that year, Fourcade had the Bib back, and the rest is history. Fourcade was on the podium three times last week with one win. Last year, he won the WCH pursuit and took home four other medals; over the years, he has an armload of wins and podiums here. Tarjei Boe pipped him in the sprint last week and Johannes took the individual; Fourcade dominated the last half of the pursuit for a convincing win. The French star lives and trains at a similar altitude at home in France so he will feel comfortable at this lightly high venue. His shooting was a bit off last week, but look for that to change. He is the favorite.
Norwegians and Germans
Nine of Joahnnes’ victories are in sprints; his chance of success goes up with only two shooting stages. He is fast enough to outrun a penalty and maybe two. His shooting can be slightly erratic, so he needs to use the caution from his clean-shooting 20K win to get that win. His brother Tarjei had to dig very deep to finish just a tick faster than Fourcade last week; it might take that effort again to get close. Emil Hegle Svendsen is on the rise but has struggled in sprints/pursuits at Hochfilzen; this might be the year he gets on the podium. The other man to watch is Simon Schempp; two years ago he won the sprint and was second in the pursuit. He had a nice 5th in the sprint last week; clean shooting will put him in the mix. World Champion Benedikt Doll struggled on the shooting range last week, with three sprint and five pursuit penalties. His skiing looks strong but he needs a big shooting range improvement.
Shooting Range Challenge; Austrians at Home
The shooting range here can be intimidating. It features a sharp uphill to the range, with virtually no recovery time in the last minute. At the same time, it can be quite windy coming up the valley from the left and down the valley from the right. This is where the home team Austria comes into play. Julian Eberhard went 19-for-20 in the 20K last week, had three penalties in the sprint, but finished 7th. He trains in this stadium all the time, has the ski speed and could pop a home stadium win. Simon Eder and Lisa Theresa Hauser combined to win the single mixed relay last week. Both can easily shoot clean but both will need a strong performance on their home tracks to get on the podium. Still, it would be no surprise to see either capture some home stadium magic and get a top 6 finish.
Braisaz and Herrmann
The 21-year-old Braisaz was a surprised as anyone to find she was atop the World Cup Total Score and in control of the Yellow Bib. Of course, she did shoot clean in the sprint and pursuit, finishing second in both. She will have to perform like that again to stay in Yellow, because of a German lady right on her heels. Denise Herrmann was on fire last week, shooting just well enough, handling the pressure and skiing like the wind to win twice. She is still a rookie of sorts and will have some days not as good as Östersund. Still, Herrmann has that ski speed on her side, matched by just a few other women. It will be interesting to see how she handles the shooting range and the large predominantly German crowd; conquering those two things will probably see her on the podium and possibly in Yellow.
Solemdal and Dzhyma
Synnøve Solemdal has to be considered for a win this week after two clean-shooting days with second and fourth places. Solemdal also has a good Hochfilzen history; she won the pursuit in both 2012 and 2013. Likewise, Juliya Dzhyma had her first career podium behind Solemdal in 2013. The Ukrainian’s shooting is spot on right now which should put her in the podium mix.
Laura’s Return and Kaisa
Laura Dahlmeier is expected to make her season debut this week. That will disappoint many of her rivals; she stated her season in the same way in 2015, but after an injury. Dahlmeier promptly finished sixth in the sprint and won the pursuit. She will no doubt come ready to delight her fans. Her unprecedented success last February makes Dahlmeier a heavy favorite for at least one victory this week. The other woman with a good Hochfilzen track record is Kaisa Mäkäräinen who won the sprint/pursuit double in 2014. The Finnish star was as fast as ever on the tracks last week; hitting a couple more targets and she will be on the podium.
The relays on Sunday will be the first of the new season. The women’s favorite is easy: Germany with any number of combinations. Just give them the medals before the start; that is how good they are! After that, Ukraine as always will battle for the podium. The Sochi Olympic Champions are simply good in relays; beyond them, think Italy and France.
Norway looks like the top men’s team while the German men will battle with France. Olympic and World Champions Russia seems far from the podium at this stage of the season.
There are many others who will probably do well this week; as always it will come down to hitting targets, good ski preparation resulting in fast skiing, good health and of course everything going perfectly.
This week’s schedule (all times CET):
11:30 Men’s Sprint
14:15 Women’s Sprint
12:15 Men’s Pursuit
14:45 Women’s Pursuit
11:30 Men’s Relay
12:30 Women’s Relay