With the season getting close, training is starting to take on a new face with speed and early race preparation getting in the mix. For the 19-person squad in Font Romeu, this camp is dual purpose with those first intensity sessions aimed towards this season. At the same time, it is about building base and experience at altitude thinking towards Milano-Cortina 2026’s biathlon competitions in 1600-meter Antholz. Font Romeu is the Swede’s second trip to altitude this year after an early summer camp in Italy’s Passo Lavazè.
Head Coach Johannes Lukas who brought the team here previously in 2021 admitted, “This one of the best places to train; the weather is perfect (25-28C and sunny most days). It has great trails for hiking and running, perfect for cycling and a good stadium.”
Sebastian Samuelsson echoed the coach’s opinion. “I like this place. It is my third time here; we are getting used to it. We have a good living situation (spacious new apartments and a cook to prepare healthy, nutritious meals) and it is easy to focus on training here and the altitude is good.”
The face of the camp changed each with Lukas using every training option to bring his team another successful season and a step closer to 2026. Camp rhythm is always eat, train, eat, train, sleep, repeat, but with every day unique and different.
Monday morning: a few kilometer drive to the Parc Naturel Regional de Pyrenees Catalan for three hours of trail running through pine forests, past mountain lakes and over the Pic de la Calma at 2206 meters. Roughly 20 km and roughly 730 meters of climbing later, it is back in the vans and time for lunch.
At 4 pm, biathlon reared its head at the Stade Biathlon Font Romeu. The morning was a bit chilly, but late afternoon is 25C with bright sunshine. The plan was one they have done many times: dryfiring, self-zeroing, followed by 15 minutes of core strength work, and a rollerski warmup. The combo work followed with a half-dozen controlled-effort 6-7 minute loops with shooting and spare rounds. By the time everyone headed back to the hotel, it was 7 pm.
Next up, a long cycling tour: 141 km for the men, 120 km for the women. The steady climb out of Font Romeu, was the easiest of the day. Taking back roads through small villages onto busier byways into Spain, the groups merged for the first of two 40 km climbs. Half way up the first climb, the men caught the powerful Stina Nilsson. After an equally fast descent, with some rolling hills, the final long climb brought them back to Font Romeu after 5 plus hours in the saddle.
5:45 pm finds almost everyone back at the shooting range with shooting coach Johan Hagstrom. Shooting drills, learning and “remember this” moments culminated in shooting competitions, with music blasting in their ears: 20 rounds for speed and accuracy. Finalist Samuelsson and Anna Magnusson were flawless until the finale, won by 20-for-20 Samuelsson, while Magnusson had a single miss. The 2023 IBU Mass Start World Champion admitted, “I like those situations. Sometimes in training, it is hard to simulate this real feeling. When we compete like that, I like it a lot. I think I always shoot better in those pressure situations.”
A cool morning dawned with the familiar zeroing, a long rollerski warmup and the season’s first biathlon intervals: 9 X 3.3 km for men, 8 X 2.7 for the women, mass start format shooting (P,P,S,S), with short recoveries. The first two loops were controlled, the second two medium pace and the remaining quicker. A three-man group pushed each other while the Oeberg sisters took turns putting each other to the limit. Martin Ponsiluoma admitted, “I love intervals. It was really tough today since it was the first session. Interval sessions are easy for me; long sessions are little bit tougher on the mind. I like to push!” Afternoon training was an optional hike, run, rollerski…or maybe a very long nap!
A bit of extra sleep might have been a good idea; it was down to Spain at 8 am the next morning for 20 km of uphill rollerskiing from 1200 meters up to 2000 plus meters. A newly paved forest road was perfect for the climb through cool pine forests up well above the tree line. At the end of the pavement, it was running shoes on for a run up Puigmal which as they say in cycling “HC, above categorization.”
Reflecting on the camp, Lukas explained his goals behind the tough sessions in the thin air of the Pyrenees. “Altitude volume (hours and kms) are most important now and then increasing the intensity each year a bit to perform hopefully the best in 2026.”
The new season and 2026 grow closer each day.
Photos: IBU/ Nordic Focus/ Leo Authamayou, Jerry Kokesh