Sixth consecutive relay win
JT brought Norway its sixth consecutive men’s relay win, making them undefeated in the last year, affirming that he enjoyed the anchor romp. Yes, I did (enjoy it), in control, quite a big margin. Even though two mistakes in the standing, I was never afraid to go into the loop, so after prone I felt confident for the win. But I wish I had a little bit better show on the last (standing).”
“Always fight to the end”
The win was special because it reaffirmed the lesson of never giving up when things go south. “Today was special since we started with a penalty loop. It was the worst start since. We built up, taking every second we could. In the end that is what put us in first place. It was a good team spirit and a good lesson to always fight to the end."
The home team Germany delighted the fans with their hard-fought second place finish with just four spare rounds, 20.1 seconds back. France, with one penalty and seven spares after leading early finished third, 55.6 seconds back.
Sweden, with a penalty and fifteen spares finished fourth, 1:49.3 back. Italy with ten spares finished fifth, 1:56.8 back. Ukraine, finished in a season-best sixth place, 2:06,8 back.
Another warm, overcast +5C day with a moderate wind blowing towards the firing line in Ruhpolding greeted the twenty-one men’s relay teams. With the even warmer weather, the tracks remained soft, especially on the uphills. Laegreid controlled the pace on the first loop, fired five shots and was gone, with Eric Perrot, also shooting clean, a step in front of the Norwegian. Perrot shot clean in standing while Laegreid ended up with a penalty, dropping the Norwegian 41 seconds back in 16th position.
Laegreid admitted, “I think I had too little respect for the field. I was going in front the whole time; maybe using too much energy. With the crowd and all the adrenalin, you do not feel tired. Then when I came into the range and tried to pinpoint the targets, I felt little control… It is starting to become a bad habit for me to use extra shots in standing in the relay. It is time for me to change it…Luckily, I had good teammates who could fix the damage.”
At the first exchange, Perrot tagged Fillon Maillet with a 10-second lead. Laegreid gained no time in the last 2.5 km, tagging Tarjei 40.7 seconds back in 10th. Fillon Maillet put the hammer down, extending the lead to 17 seconds, easily cleaning prone, a dozen second ahead of Austria, Sweden and Germany’s Johannes Kuehn. The French star used one spare in standing, leaving with an 18-second lead, with Germany in third and Tarjei bringing Norway up to fifth position.
Fillon Maillet tagged Guigonnat with a 13, 16, and 17-second lead over the Finns, Germany and Austria, respectively. Tarjei cut the gap to 34 seconds as Christiansen took over. Benedikt Doll and Christiansen battled hard, gaining time on Antonin Guigonnat before prone. All three cleaned in five shots with the gaps dwindling to 2.1 and 9.2 seconds. By the standing stage, the three leading teams were virtually together. Christiansen shot very fast, hitting four shots before using a spare to clean, taking the lead. Doll used a spare, moving into second as Guigonnat went to the penalty loop, falling to fourth.
Guigonnat appreciated Fillon Maillet’s consolation after the costly penalty. consoled him. “In the past Quentin was so mad when a teammate missed. Just after the race, he was disappointed, but now he is getting older and is more wise. He was smiling and told me that ‘shit happens to every biathlete.’ It was a nice (gesture) from him to me.”
Doll skied full gas to get ahead of Christiansen, tagging Roman Rees .2 seconds before JT. Christiansen said, “For sure (I was tired). This third leg that Johannes normally goes for us, I thought, ‘okay, now I am in Johannes’ position. I…started really tough, trying to catch the gap to Germany…I kept the attacking mode in the prone shooting… still had some seconds to catch in the second loop. That became a pretty tough loop as well. I was worried my legs would shake in standing…they weren’t I kept on the attacking mode…the last loop was hell!”
Guigonnat got back in the mix, tagging Fabien Claude 37 seconds back. JT immediately took control, going up16 seconds by the prone stage, shooting clean, stretching the lead to 26 seconds over Rees, with Claude 1:19 back. JT added a very small amount of drama with two spares in standing, leaving for the final loop with a 26-second gap on Germany and France.
The Norwegian anchor enjoyed the last loop, waving to the fans. then coming into the stadium grabbing a flag and almost walking across the finish line, smiling and clapping with the fans; Germany and France following in second and third.
Rees, leaving with the lead felt the pressure but enjoyed every minute of his anchor leg. “I was really nervous…I really enjoyed the home crowd…It was a mix of nerves and excitement and in the end it was a really nice day…second place is really like a win so all of us were really happy. I enjoyed celebrating with my teammates in front of the crowd.”
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Igor Stančík