Attacking the last standing
Christiansen admitted that the win did not come easy; he was pressing especially in the standing, despite having the lead. “It is not easy to race the first man-to-man fight for the first race of the season. It was an exciting relay. I got a good handover from Johannes and the rest of the team. It was always a tight fight even if I was in the lead. I could hear Latypov at my back. The last standing, I decided to attack so I was attacking from the first shot maybe too fast. The rest was quite good, although I had trouble hitting the first extra shots of the year. All-in-all a good race for the Norwegian team, only four spare shots, so I guess I am just happy!”
Germany with six spare rounds finished fourth, 1:07.8 back. Fifth went to Ukraine, with one penalty and six spares, 1:28.5 back, while Belarus with eleven spares, finished sixth, 2:30.8 back.
Twenty-seven men’s teams lined up for the first relay of the season under cloudy skies with still light winds on the shooting range, adding to the importance of good shooting. Norway, Sweden and France lead the pack into the first prone stage, with Bakken cleaning to get away with the lead after the prone stage with Germany and Russia less than three seconds back. The Norwegian cleaned as did Erik Lesser; they headed for the first exchange 1-2.
When they tagged, Norway, Germany and France were within a second of each other, setting up a battle between Tarjei and Jacquelin. Jacquelin put in an early surge to take a substantial lead going into his prone stage. However, Russia, Tarjei and Rees cleaned quickly and got away in that order, with Jacquelin dropping back to eighth after three spare rounds. By the standing stage, the Russian was on top but Tarjei cleaned standing in five shots and was gone while the Russian needed spare rounds. Dymytro Pidruchnyi brought Ukraine up to second.
Tarjei stayed confident after Jacquelin pulled, “He would miss in the shooting; that is what I thought. He is so fast; I have to admire his speed. He is an incredible skier but this is a biathlon race and I was quite calm. Maybe it looked a little easier in the real time than it was in the situation.”
Tarjei hammered his last loop, putting Norway with a lead they never relinquished, giving his brother a 4-second lead at the second exchange over Ukraine with Russia in third 19.7 seconds back. JT dominated his first loop, shot clean with ease, was gone unchallenged before anyone else fired their second shot. Bogdan Tsymbal kept Ukraine perfect with five shots, to retain second, six seconds back with Loginov putting Russia 18 seconds from the top. Desthieux brought France up to fourth, but 22 seconds behind Russia. JT blew through his five standing targets with ease before his rivals shot. Loginov cleaned to leave second while Desthieux with a single spare moved France into third, as they left for the exchange.
Christiansen took over with a 20 second lead in front of Latypov at the final exchange, with Fillon Maillet in third but 50 seconds back. Both the Norwegian and Russian cleaned with a single spare, while Fillon Maillet went 5-for-5, keeping Norway on top, with Russia and France, 15.9 and 44.7 seconds back, respectively. Nothing changed by the standing stage. Christiansen cleaned with two spares, while his Russian rival missed three times, opening the door for Fillon Maillet. He responded with five perfect shots, getting away in second with Latypov going to the penalty loop, but still remaining in third. The podium was set, with no one able to catch third place Russia.
Fabien Claude led off today for the first time for the French team and kept them in the mix. “It was a really good race for the whole team; we are really happy to be on the podium in the first relay. It is a great start for all the team for these Oestersund stages. It was good; I took the race like a mass start; it is really good to have some fights.”
Said Karimulla Khalili led off for Russia’s third place effort, and like Claude, admitted it was a tough fight. “It was not so easy, because we have very many mistakes in the second shooting and not great skiing on the track today. Still, I think it was a good result for our team because the French and Norwegian are very strong…It is the first podium for our team this season; I hope it will get better for the next competitions.”
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni