Lesser, “competed with the best and beat them”
Lesser, always quotable was at his best at the finish. “I have no emotions, only lactate and pain. I was fifth yesterday like in 2015 (IBU World Championships where he won the pursuit title) and today clean shooting being the first over the finish line. I competed with the best and I beat them today. At the end of my career, that is a very emotional thing.”
Asked if he still wanted to retire, “Yes for sure. I have no change in my decision. I did not expect this. I just expected to be with the team and have fun together and maybe have some results in the top 10,15. But then I have this shape; it is incredible. I just try to get everything in my mind and memorize it in my head. These three weeks are really crazy!”
Last loop struggles
Despite what seemed like a strong finish, Lesser conceded that he struggled. “I had a clean shooting, some fast twenty shots. I had a good performance until the fourth lap, then I started to struggle a bit. We had really good skis today. I was aggressive, something I thought about before the race; be the boss for my own performance…I was really struggling in the last lap. I saw them very fast in the uphills, chasing me and thought, ‘uh, oh what will happen if they catch me? Can I sprint with them?’ I tried to fool them on the Gratishaugen, just not let the gap get closer.”
Sweden’s Sebastian Samuelsson, with two penalties, finished fourth, 1:04.9 back. Laegreid’s teammate Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen with two penalties finished fifth, 1:09.7 back while Samuelsson’s teammate Martin Ponsiluoma, with three penalties finished sixth, 1:31.3 back.
Fillon Maillet, wearing Yellow and Red stretched his winning margin in the World Cup Pursuit Score to 379 points over Samuelsson’s 282 points. The French star received his second crystal trophy of the weekend at the Flower Ceremony.
After receiving globe number two, the biggest prize, the World Cup Total Score Crystal Globe awaits tomorrow, but Fillon Maillet was not thinking about that, but the next and final competition of the season. “I do not think about the Globe too much. I need to ski fast, manage my speed on the skis, precision on prone shooting, stability in standing. I expect a globe tomorrow, but I will stay focused on me, and my strategy (for the mass start) and we will see.”
Great conditions and the spectacular crowd prevailed for the final men’s pursuit of the season. With Fillon Maillet already taken the World Cup Pursuit Score title, this one was as much about bragging rights as anything. Simply, can he win another four-stage competition? Laegreid held his advantage over the first 2.5 km loop, fired five shots at the prone targets, closed them all and was two steps out of the range before Fillon Maillet and Samuelsson hit the mats. They also cleaned going out in tandem at 28 seconds back with Lesser also perfect at 35 seconds behind Laegreid.
With Laegreid out in a world of his own, Lesser moved up with the Swedish/French duo by the 3.4 km split. Laegreid missed his second shot in the second prone stage. Lesser and Samuelsson cleaned quickly to close the gap down to 11 seconds as Laegreid exited the penalty loop. Fillon Maillet had a penalty, dropping to fifth behind the clean-shooting Nawrath. Christiansen moved up to sixth, on the Yellow Bib’s shoulder.
First standing stage: good focus, a 5-for-5 and Laegreid was back in total control. Lesser cleaned for the third time, solidifying his second position, 20 seconds back. Fillon Maillet bounced back with a clean stage, moving into third, but 38 seconds behind the Norwegian leader, with Christiansen and Samuelsson next at over a minute back.
Feeling some pressure Laegreid faltered, picking up two penalty loops. Lesser with everything to gain shot brilliantly and clean to go 13 seconds up on who else but the dangerous Yellow Bib who cleaned his second consecutive stage. Laegreid was on his shoulder as they left for the last loop.
Lesser was not about to be topped, maintaining the same pace, holding the chasers at bay over the whole last loop. Laegreid and Fillon Maillet were at the same time battling not for the win but second place. That is until the Yellow Bib tried to go for the win, closing in on Lesser. However, by the last corner behind the shooting range, Lesser looked back, seeing his French rival was not Superman and would not catch him. The 2015 IBU Pursuit World Champion skied into the finish with his arms crossed and held high in victory and collapsing at the finish in disbelief with the third win of his career. Laegreid completed the podium in third place.
Laegreid’s “Two mistakes I wish I did not have”
The third placer was philosophical about not winning after leading for 10 of the 12.5 kilometers. “It was good from the start. I felt great and could just go my own tempo…I was in the lead for 10 kilometers and three shootings, In the fourth shooting, I had two mistakes that I wish I did not have. Going into the last shooting in front of the home crowd and everyone cheering, I said to myself to be calm and do the right thing. I did for two hits and then was beaten by the atmosphere. I had too much speed in the last three shots and two of them were misses.”
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni