The venue for the 2009 IBU World Championships, Alpensia Biathlon Centre is a well-known stop on the international circuit. It was here that current world No1, two-time Olympic champion and six-time Big Crystal Globe winner Martin Fourcade made his debut appearance in a major international event. Who better, then, than the all-conquering Frenchman to give us a tour of the course?
“IT’S A GREAT TRACK AND A LOT OF FUN, BUT YOU HAVE TO BE IN REALLY GOOD SHAPE FOR IT.”
Martin Fourcade FRANCE
“There are three different loops in all: one measuring 2.5km and the others 3.3km and 4km. I’m going to take you on the longest of the three, which will host the men’s events. There’s a bridge just after the start, which leads into a long and pretty steep climb that’s split in the middle by a short flat section. After hitting the top, you head into a fairly steep descent. Away on the left you can see the Alpensia ski jumping hills. Next year’s Games are going to be a great spectacle. Next comes a long flat section of around 800m, where you have to keep on working hard. ”
“And now we’re heading into the second climb, which is also pretty steep. This is where the first split time is taken. You can’t double-pole your way up this climb. You have to skate. It’s followed by a descent on which you pick up a fair bit of speed. There’s a fast and fairly easy right-hand turn, followed by a second turn that’s tougher to negotiate when the snow’s fast and you’re heading into it at full speed. Next up is a third climb featuring several turns. The second split is taken here and this is where fatigue really starts to kick. Ahead lies the last turn, a long right-hander where you have to push hard on the poles before heading towards the stadium and the end of the loop. It’s pretty much downhill here, which gives you a chance to recover and catch your breath before arriving at the shooting range.”
“I really like this circuit. I had my first major international race here in 2009, at the world championships, and I’ve got some really good memories of the place. It’s a challenging course but there’s nothing dangerous about it and it makes for steady racing. With the three big climbs you can really break free, especially in individual races. It’s a great track and a lot of fun, but you have to be in really good shape for it.”
The races were all held at night, which will also be the case at PyeongChang 2018. Dominating the women’s events was Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier, who maintained the sparkling form that brought her an unprecedented five gold medals at the 2017 IBU World Championships in Hochfilzen. Dahlmeier did not miss a target in her two Alpensia outings, hitting 10 out of 10 in the sprint on the opening day of the meet and then 20 out of 20 in adding the pursuit title two days later, a race she won by a margin of 1:12.6 from Finland’s Kaisa Mäkäräinen and 1:18.9 from France’s Anaïs Bescond.
WITH THE GAMES COMING UP, IT’S SO IMPORTANT TO COME HERE AND GET A FEEL FOR THE COURSE, THE SHOOTING RANGE AND THE CROWD.
Laura Dahlmeier GERMANY
“The course was really up and down, with a lot of climbs and descents. It was really interesting,” commented Dahlmeier. “The shooting range is really good too. With the Games coming up, it’s so important to come here and get a feel for the course, the shooting range and the crowd, etc. It’s always good to go back to a place where you’ve had good experiences in the past.”
In the men’s events, Fourcade equalled not one but two records. In finishing third in the sprint, which was won by Austria’s Julian Eberhard, ahead of the USA’s Lowell Bailey, the Frenchman landed a sixth straight overall IBU World Cup title. That unprecedented feat puts him level with Ole Einar Bjørndalen, though the Norwegian great’s six titles did not come consecutively. Fourcade went on to claim the pursuit 24 hours later, his 12th win of the season, equalling the all-time record set by Bjørndalen in the 2004/05 season.
“This is my first time back here since 2009 and I’m delighted to say that the course has really improved a lot,” said Bailey after his second place in the sprint. “The first climb after the stadium has been altered and offers a lot more flow now. The last descent used to be very dangerous and there were a lot of falls at the turn, but they’ve changed that now and it’s a lot better to ski. I can’t wait for the Games now.” Understandably elated with his efforts, Fourcade said: “It feels great to win the World Cup here, where the next Games will be held. It’s my first big buzz at PyeongChang and I hope there’ll be more next year.”
The meeting concluded with the two relay events. Though Dahlmeier was rested for the women’s race, Germany still managed to make it five wins out of five for the season, a run that includes their world championship victory at Hochfilzen. Skiing the anchor leg after Nadine Horchler, Maren Hammerschmidt and Denise Herrmann, Franziska Hildebrand took the line 22 seconds clear of Norway’s Marte Olsbu, who edged out Czech Republic’s Gabriela Koukalova in a photo-finish.
The men’s relay honours went to the French four of Jean-Guilaume Béatrix, Simon Fourcade, Simon Desthieux and that man Fourcade, who made the absolute most of his reconnaissance trip by sprinting down the home straight. Taking second place were the Austrian quartet, fully 33.8 seconds adrift of Fourcade and Co, with Bjørndalen’s Norway completing the top three.