BMW IBU World Cup 8: Return to Kontiolahti
Two years ago today, Kontiolahti stadium was in the early stages of the IBU World Championships; Erik Lesser and Marie Dorin Habert were crowned World Champions in the pursuit. Now many of the 2015 Champions and a couple of hundred of their closest friends return this week for BMW IBU World Cup 8, relocated from Tyumen.
Long Trip, Heated Battles, and The Wall
After very long trip that ranged from 26 to 43 hours from Pyeongchang and the end of the season nearing, this week will focus heavily on recovery from jet lag and sleep before anyone thinks about the three weekend days of competitions. No one wanted to miss the chance to preview the 2018 Olympic Winter Games venue, but two long trips, and the late night competitions were taxing. Therefore, no surprise if some of the favorites look a bit weary when they step into the start house for Friday’s sprints. Still, with some crystal globes still up for grabs, expect to see a few heated more heated battles in the Finnish forest this week.
There are a couple of things to consider beyond the long trip. The tracks in Kontiolahti are brutal, especially with “the Wall,” a climb big and tough enough to bring even an experienced mountaineer like Laura Dahlmeier to her knees. Additionally, this is a notoriously windy shooting range; some weather will move through in the coming days, so the penalty loop could see a lot of business.
The Sprints: *Martin, Julian, and the Boe Brothers
As long as he is standing and picks up a few more points, Martin Fourcade is the winner of the small crystal globe. However, this sprint will be no piece of cake. Julian Eberhard has relaxed and sharp after the IBU WCH and seems ready to challenge in any sprint as long as he does not spend much time on the penalty loop. His clean shooting last week is a warning shot across the bow of anyone wanting to win the sprint. Yet this week, the rested Boe brothers return after skipping Pyeongchang. Johannes won his first IBU World Championship here two years ago and Tarjei won an armload of Bronze medals. They are surely thinking they can ambush their jet-lagged rivals. A great sprint just might break out!
Home Turf for Kaisa
Although it is not her main training venue, Kaisa Mäkäräinen is on home turf this week. No one likes to lose at home and the Joensuu resident is no exception. She had a good week in Pyeongchang, with 4th in the sprint and 2nd in the pursuit. However, this week, even though she would never admit it, Mäkäräinen’s goal is to be standing about 6 inches higher than the Yellow Bib Dahlmeier on the podium. Hearken back to 2014, when Mäkäräinen in Yellow, had a hat trick in this stadium. Her knowledge of the tracks and still amazing ski speed could carry the day. Dahlmeier will surely give her a run for the money, but no surprise if the Finn wins the sprint. Beyond those two, if Koukalová has anything left in the tank and finds her shooting touch; she could be the spoiler.
Martin, Martin, Martin, Martin, Martin, Martin, Martin and Martin
Say it seven times fast! Fourcade has won six pursuits in a row, so the chance of Kontiolahti being number seven is pretty high. After arriving late on Tuesday, Fourcade should be recovered by Saturday and ready for another win. Anton Shipulin looked especially sharp in Pyeongchang, so he will surely be in the close group of chasers along with the fast-shooting Austrians Eberhard, Simon Eder, and Dominik Landertinger. Oh, and then there are those pesky Norwegians; every men’s competition is a battle.
Pursuit Queen Kaisa
Mäkäräinen has more pursuit victories (10) and podiums (28) than in any other competition; she currently leads the battle for the pursuit globe by a hair over Dahlmeier. If Dahlmeier gets the upper hand, it will probably mean another win for her. However, Dahlmeier can take no chances with the local hero; the thought of winning at home, in what is probably the last home World Cup in her career could carry the blonde with a headband for every day of the week to pursuit win number 11. Everyone else has to battle it out for third place.
It will be interesting to see who decided to go for broke with their best team in the single mixed relay, then maybe their second best team in the mixed relay. Dream a bit to see these teams: Martin/Marie, Simon/Laura, Gabi/Ondřej, Johannes/Tiril, and Lowell/Susan; that would be fun.
Germany holds the upper hand in the mixed relay with an almost endless supply of speedsters who can win. France is unquestionably competitive, with the Anais Chevalier, Justine Braisaz and any of two or three men. Of course, the Italians and Ukrainians fit in too.
These two competitions will determine the Mixed Relay Cup, which Germany leads by eight points over France. Bragging rights are on the line: this will be a Sunday Funday! Stay tuned for a weekend of excitement in Kontiolahti!