Martin, Marie plus a Strong Supporting Cast for France
Although Germany was the top combined team last season, winning both Nations Cups, the Martin Fourcade/Marie Dorin Habert-led French squad chased for supremacy right down to the wire, finishing second in both categories. As the new season approaches, the same two-team battle for the Nations Cup crystal will come back into focus.
Last season was the culmination of the seemingly ever-rising fortunes for France. Both teams have been among the top five teams for the past 10 years, but they never have both been in the runner-up spot simultaneously.
Fifty BMW IBU World Cup Podiums
This accomplishment was fueled not just by the two big stars, but with a supporting cast of veterans like Jean Guillaume Beatrix, Anais Bescond and rising stars like Justine Braisaz and Anais Chevalier. The team amassed 50 BMW IBU World Cup podiums in the 2016-17 season, with Fourcade contributing 22 of those, but Braisaz and Chevalier stepped up career bests on the podium and almost everyone on the team contributing to at least one post-competition prize giving ceremony.
It is hard to say much that has not already been said about the six-time, multi WCH and Olympic Gold medalist. Everyone admits he IS the man to beat, with talent and abilities that every one of his rivals to try to emulate, but with little success. He started the season in Yellow, with a 20K victory in Östersund, never was threatened in the top spot, won 14 times while on the podium 22 times and closed the year with a dominating mass start win in Oslo wearing a Yellow Number 1. Reflecting on this amazing season, he commented, “I never imagined a season like it. It's the best season in biathlon ever and honestly I didn't think it was possible!”
Martin: Strengths Abound
Fourcade’s continuing success is simple: he goes from strength to strength with no weak spots. He is not the same impetuous biathlete who won the 2010 OWG Mass Start Silver medal; the one that opened the medal floodgates for him. Since that time, he has three more Olympic medals and 25 IBU WCH medals. Always a strong skier, he has over the years become a master of the tracks, able to sum up devastating ski speed almost on demand. At the same time, his shooting has evolved into the “hit the targets policy,” many times cautiously, knowing that he can kill off those few lost seconds on the tracks with his flashing skis. Yet, he can shoot almost as fast and accurately as anyone when necessary. The 29-year-old has honed these skills with an ever-demanding, never-shirking training plan that makes him stronger, faster and more confident than anyone else. Friend Simon Schempp explained the Martin mystique. “Martin has shown all of us the limit; what is possible. That gives me the motivation to train harder and get better. When I am training and shoot maybe three mistakes, I know that he probably had one or zero, so I have to work harder to match him.”
Adding to the Legend
Fourcade comes into the season as the man to beat, as has been the case for the past six years. Despite a small downturn in October, due to fatigue, his training has gone well from all reports. He will likely try to start the season at the top and carry that through Pyeongchang, where four individual medals and a relay medal or two are not out of the question. Another season like last year and a neck full of Gold medals will put him solidly in the legendary category, behind only one person, a certain 43-year-old Norwegian. Expect nothing more than another great year from “Martin the Magnificent.”
Comeback Year for Beatrix
A comeback season in 2016-17 for Jean Guillaume Beatrix did nothing but strengthen the French men’s team. After two sub-par seasons the Sochi pursuit Bronze medalist finished 15th in the World Cup Total Score last season. He started slowly in December but was in the points in every competition except the Kontiolahti sprint. Beatrix, was a solid and reliable leadoff leg for the IBU WCH Silver medal relay team. His best days were in the mass start with 4th, 6th and 7th in three of those competitions. Always quick on the tracks and a solid prone shot, his standing shooting improved last season and that helped his results. With just a few more downed standing targets this year, he could add a couple more podiums and maybe a medal to his trophy case.
Quentin Fillon Maillet
Fillon Maillet equaled his personal best BMW IBU World Cup result with second place in the Antholz mass start, but slipped a bit from 12th to 20th in the Total Score. Like Beatrix, his second leg slot on the relay was steady especially at the IBU WCH where he tagged in first position. Generally quick on the tracks like his French teammates, his calling card in the 2015-16 season was solid shooting, with generally two or less penalties in most competitions. Last season that jumped to closer to 3-4; he shot clean on two of his best days of the season with 5th in the Pokljuka sprint and 3rd in the Nove Mesto pursuit. A little better shooting will put him closer to the top 10 and add to the French relay potential.
Two Times Simon
Simon Desthieux and Simon Fourcade line up next for the French team. Desthieux, like Fillon Maillet is just 25 while Fourcade is the veteran presence on the team at 33. Desthieux, with his 25th in the Total Score continues to show promise, but his shooting struggles have cost him frequently.
Comeback Season for Simon Fourcade
The talented veteran Simon Fourcade is the man who could help the team maybe the most. He missed the IBU WCH last season for the first time in his career as well as a big chunk of the season with illness. Always solid in the standing stage, a struggle with prone shooting left him with a less than desired season. Still, this multi-WCH medalist can add a big boost to the team. The elder Fourcade is a determined and focused athlete. Only two things are missing in his career of 311 World Cup starts: a victory and an Olympic medal. If healthy and the prone shots fall, no one would be surprised to see a strong comeback by elder Fourcade with both of these goals checked off his bucket list
Marie at the Top
Dorin Habert, even with a slightly less impressive 2016-17 season remains the cream of the crop on the French Women’s Team. Even with a strong youthful group of back-ups, Dorin Habert is the most crucial person on the French team. Their prospects for multiple podiums and especially relay success rely heavily on her. Her 4th in the World Cup Total Score down from 2nd the previous year and 5 podiums compared to 11 was still an enviable season. It was just not up to her standards, across the board. She has always been fast on the tracks and battled to hit standing shots. Yet last season, she never had that consistently quick tempo on the tracks and struggled mightily to hit the targets. The four-time IBU World Champion’s battle on the shooting range resulted in some slow shooting times that could not be countered with a fast tour of the tracks to gain time.
That being said, Dorin Habert showed her true colors and leadership in what was one of her best efforts of the season in the WCH relay. She shot clean with no spares and closed the considerable gap on Silver medalists Ukraine down by 15.6 seconds, just missing that Silver spot by 1.6 seconds. That was a classic Marie relay effort. France has always prided itself on its relay teams, and actually would have won the Relay Cup last season with podiums in four of the five relays…except that Germany won every relay!
This will be the French star’s last season; she hopes to go out on a high note. Her summer training was interrupted by a few small injuries and a bit of sickness, but it looks like she will be ready to fight for the podium. One thing about Dorin Habert prevails: she is fighter and very competitive. A few ticks upward in ski speed and shooting and she will battle her way back into the medals.
Braisaz and Chevalier: Stars in the Making
Last season, 21-year-old Braisaz and 24-year-old Chevalier shook up the Total Score Top 10 with their sterling 6th and 7th places. Braisaz missed finishing 5th by a mere 6 points! Braisaz grabbed her first career podium at Pokljuka and added two more by the end of the season. She is a gifted skier who led or was near the top of the field in ski time frequently. Braisaz improved her shooting from the previous two seasons which boosted her results. Another jump like that will put this very young biathlete a few notches higher this season.
Chevalier had an even bigger breakthrough; with her first-ever win in the Nove Mesto pursuit, followed by four more podiums. She capped her season with Bronze medal in the IBU WCH sprint. This brought her career full circle, after making the French Sochi team; she was demoted to the IBU Cup. A full season and a half on that circuit recharged her career. After a January 2016 return to the BWW IBU World Cup, she never looked back. Another gifted skier, Chevalier transformed into a solid shot, with either clean or one-shot days on 11 occasions last season.
The three-time Hochfilzen medalist’s plans for the new season came to a screeching halt on May 24, 2017 when she was hit by a car while cycling. That resulted in a broken collarbone and long rehabilitation kept her off the shooting range until July 26. Fully recovered with enough time to regain her strength, her meteoric rise should continue with more wins and medals.
Veteran Bescond and Rookie Celia Aymonier
Anais Bescond had three podiums last season, more than any other year in her career. Yet missing points in six competitions dropped her to a still very respectable 14th in the Total Score. Her strength is on the shooting range; she is generally most competitive in the four-stage competitions like the 15K individual where she won IBU WCH Silver in 2016. She usually runs the third leg on the relay, tagging her long-time friend Dorin Habert. Some good rollerski competitions this indicate she is ready for a strong season.
Cross-country to IBU WCH Medalist
Roughly 15 months after her biathlon debut with 3rd place in the Beitostølen IBU Cup sprint, Celia Aymonier was standing on the podium in Hochfilzen with a Bronze relay medal around her neck. Now, with 45 World Cup starts under her belt, the former cross-country skier catapulted to multiple World Cup Top Tens. Her obvious strength is on the tracks, but her 9th places in both the WCH sprint and pursuit showed flashes of shooting skill, with one and two penalties, respectively. Aymonier adds some seriously talented depth to the French women’s team.
The combined French team comes into the season well-stocked with talent and depth. Expect nothing more than another season of big results across the board.