It was a back-to-basics and get-to-know five days for Quentin Fillon Maillet, Eric Perrot, Fabien and Emilien Claude and Oscar Lombardot (absent were Emilien Jacquelin and Antonin Guigonnat, on a long-planned gravel bike tour in Croatia).
Fourcade, “new motivation, new ways to work”
Fourcade explained his approach. “I talked with each of the guys about what they need and how they feel about my plan. I feel discussion is really important for understanding. We may not agree on everything, but discussion is the best way to find compromise as we move forward. This team is interesting because we have four guys who are the team leaders and three that are full of talent and younger. That makes it a double challenge: the experienced athletes who need to perform, find some new motivation and new way to work and at the same time, help the young athletes to develop and bring them to the top.”
Biathletes usually train at established locations with a dedicated shooting range and well-travelled routes for physical training. This camp took a left turn from that, based at Golf Gap Bayard, eating in the clubhouse restaurant and sleeping in rooms overlooking the 18th hole, a location Amat described as, “perfect. The athletes wanted a fresh start and this place provides it.” Laid out before them were forest trails for running, rural roads for rollerskiing and cycling with new vistas and challenges each day. The temporary shooting range added another twist: set up on a perfectly manicured, brilliantly green football pitch adjoining the driving range set up with five targets, shooting mats and zeroing boards.
1996 Olympic 3-position Shooting Gold medalist Amat set the tone each day with short, effective shooting sessions, filled with teaching moments. Everything had a purpose whether it was one-shot drills, or rapid firing five shots, all part of the plan to improve the team’s shooting. “It is all about basics. I had an order of sorts from (Biathlon Director) Stephane Bouthiaux that we must improve quality and speed. We are not shooting with running here, just accuracy and speed and speed. It is a bit different, more than just about accuracy. One of the things I am focusing on is the first shot. If you are able to shoot the first one in a competition in nine seconds and the position is good then the other shots are easier.”
Early season physical training is all about building a strong aerobic base with long sessions cycling, rollerskiing and running. With a new location comes a few miscues and laughs along the way. 90-minute rollerski planned, starting at point x…oops, a one-way street! The team cautiously wound its way 1 km up to a main road while Fourcade backtracked with the van, looping around the village to catch up. Five minutes before the end of the session, the road suddenly went from smooth tarmac to rough gravel, ending the day’s, ironically minutes before a deluge of rain hit.
The next day, a three-hour cycling session was planned, but after the extremely heavy rain and dark clouds threatening more, cycling on rain-slick roads was scrapped temporarily. That meant a flip-flop with the next day’s schedule: instead of cycling, they did a 2.5 hour mountain run to the top of 2126-meter Col Bayard, pushing the cycling to the next day. Training camps are all about doing the work, sometimes with a tweak here and there.
The postponed cycling session was a typical spring ride, three-plus hours but with a twist ending. The ride ended at one of the many rushing rivers in the region where they embarked on fun white water rafting adventure, closing out the training day.
Eagerness and enthusiasm filled every session all week. Fourcade said he could feel the energy. “Everyone was eager to start maybe two weeks ago. I could hear that in their voices when we talked. But last season was long and hard and everyone needed a little more time to rest and recover. I feel their enthusiasm to get back to work, but we are going to build up slowly. There are a few athletes like Quentin that I might have to hold back a little bit. He works like a leader in every session, has been at the top and wants to get back there.”
Echoing what Fourcade said about discussion, Amat added, “The guys ask questions and we have good dialogue. Everyone is very motivated.”
Fillon Maillet, after recently spending time in the Caribbean was tanned, rested and quick to smile, moving on after a disappointing season. “I really never rested (after winning the World Cup Total Score and Olympic Gold medals), got sick and never fully recovered. I could not push on the skis or the shooting range all last season. No one could really tell me exactly what the problem was but now I am rested and feel good.”
Obwohl das erste Trainingscamp der Franzosen etwas später als bei anderen Nationen stattfand, war es ein guter Neustart für das Team, für das Fourcade einfache Ziele vorgibt: „Ich möchte, dass die Athleten am Ende der Saison zufrieden mit ihrer Leistung sind. Ich möchte den jungen Talenten helfen, sich weiterzuentwickeln und mehr Weltcup-Erfahrung zu sammeln. Gleichzeitig sollen die erfahrenen Teammitglieder wieder zurück an die Weltcup-Spitze kommen und absolute Bestleistungen abliefern.“
Photos: IBU/Jerry Kokesh, Quentin Fillon Maillet, Nordic Focus/Vianney Thibaut