Swedish Team’s French Idyll: Three Weeks at 1800 Meters
France is a prime summer holiday destination with sunshine, pleasant weather, wonderful food and a certain ambience. Accordingly, the Swedish biathlon team went to Font Romeu in the French Pyrenees for their first training camp outside Sweden since 2019 but only the weather and sunshine were part of their French agenda. This camp was no holiday, but three weeks of hard work at 1800 meters in anticipation of the 2021/22 BMW IBU World Cup season and Beijing 2022.
Mid-way through their stay, Head Coach Johannes Lukas explained, “We wanted to do just one altitude camp and decided to go to 1800 meters and spend three weeks for the maximum benefit. Besides the altitude, having camp away from home after so long is very beneficial; obviously the change of scenery helps. But with little else to do, like no family or other distractions that sometimes come up at home everyone is very focused. It has been great; good weather and they have worked very hard for the last 10 days, with thirty-three hours last week.”
Extra Days of Summer
Hanna Oeberg seconded the coach. “This year it is important to get the high-altitude training. It was good to be in Sweden this summer, because we had nice weather and conditions to train. Now, we are here with some extra days of summer, the long uphills that we do not have in Sweden and the high-altitude training.”
Summer camps all look vaguely similar, with hours of roller skiing, hiking, cycling, gym sessions, shooting interspersed with meals, physio sessions, with a few rest/recovery days. At the same time, keeping minds and bodies fresh is critical; adding variety helps the mind forget the numbing fatigue.
Steady Climbing through French villages
On a bright morning, Sebastian Samuelsson, the Oeberg sisters and Co. piled out of their vans at an anonymous point far below Font Romeu. Ahead of them was an hour and a half of steady climbing through small villages and around switchbacks on lightly travelled mountain roads. “Volume work,” according to Lukas, “We did a similar session like this last week, but this is one we did when we were here two years ago (their last camp outside Sweden).” It would be easy to say the pace looked leisurely, but in reality, it was not. Steady climbing up 10-15% grades is never easy, then you add in the thin air, but the backdrop of the Pyrenees and village life was magnificent. Several groups of 3-4 formed quickly. When side-by-side on less steep sections, chatter filled the morning air.
After 30 minutes of steady climbing, the long train of rollerskiers veered right through the village of Odiello with its 12th century church for a quick rolling 3 km out and back leg. Another climb found them just below Font Romeu on a newly-paved-for-the-Tour de France luxuriously smooth piece of asphalt, an almost flat section, perfect for a couple of quick sprints to wake up those fast-twitch muscles. Font Romeu’s flower-lined main street brought the Swedish visitors to the shooting range after more than 1:30 on the road.
Fun Disguised as Work
Rifles and energy bars appeared simultaneously at the range: five shots on paper, a bite, look through the scope and five more shots, another bite, target check and five confirmation shots. Zeroing completed. A few words from shooting guru Jean Marc Chabloz were followed by a big mass start competition: 80-meter “loops” at the range four fast shooting bouts and a “penalty” loop the size of a large bedroom. The shooting was fast and furious, with not many penalties, Someone came out on top, but it was irrelevant; it was simply some fun disguised as work. After a quick drink and reloading, the roller track beckoned, adding more volume before another four-stage battle, first the men, followed by the women a few minutes later. Samuelsson topped his teammates with a furious last loop sprint. Some more time on the roller skis, a few more bouts with several one-on-one tidbits of advice from Chabloz. Peppe Femling came to the range for the last five shots of the day with all eyes on him: four closed quickly, the last one didn’t; his shoulders slumped. Lukas smiled, patted him on the back…another three plus hours in the training diary, time for a well-deserved lunch.
Double-poling up to 2003 meter Col del Pam
Afternoon came after as usual in the world of train, eat, sleep (rest) and repeat. With the thought of a rest day in 12 hours, another rollerski session was on the menu. On another lightly-travelled mountain road, the women were on the road first with the men jumping out a couple of kilometers farther down the grade near the Spanish border. Menu details: six-minutes of seriously uphill double-poling, a few minutes recovery and repeat, on a 26C afternoon. Sweat and labored breathing ensued. With each double-pole hard section, the two groups crept up higher up the mountain road, clacking through Font Romeu as tourists stared; the last 4 km of the climb dug into energy reserves. Finishing just below the ski lifts at the 2003-meter Col del Pam, the women had covered 10 km of uphill, the men 12 km, both with over 400 meters of altitude gain. Ski boots and roller skis were quickly exchanged for running shoes; 45 more minutes of running and bounding with poles on rocky trails; another training day was in the books.
Rest Day Fun
Lukas admitted the group was tired. “Tired but still getting quality training. They deserve a rest day.” Rest day for this close-knit team was quite simple: relaxed meals in the sunshine, hours of dominoes and card games, followed by “family time” pizza and a Swedish football match.
Focused Intensity: Intervals at the Range
The reality of training camp swiftly reappeared 12 hours later. Back to the 18-point Font Romeu Biathlon range for intensity in the form of intensely-scrutinized intervals. Lukas recorded each loop and the multiple lactate tests, Chabloz and Mattias Nilsson charted shots, pointing out needed adjustments. This was not the fun mass starts of two days ago: race bibs were on for easy identification, individual and dual 30-second starts, each loop was full gas from the first step, with fast, crisp shooting. An easy loop around the range and a quick drink after the lactate jab provided the needed recovery between the 8 X 2.5 km for the women and 9 X 2.7 km for the men. As the women finished, Lukas looked up from his tablet and notes, commenting with a smile, “Good work, good lactate numbers, a good quality day.”
“Very proud of this group”
Former Swedish Head Coach Wolfgang Pichler, now working for the Swedish Olympic Committee was on hand for this session, his stopwatch in hand with a critical eye on the proceedings. Pichler, who brought together much of this team and mentored Lukas was all smiles. “They did well; good quality, very focused. Just look how they work and react; very calm; they know exactly what to do. I am very proud of this group.”
Never resting on their laurels, another day brought more mountains, more training hours in the bank, and spectacular vistas to be remembered when the snow flies and the hard work pays off.
Photos IBU/Jerry Kokesh