Hugh Pritchard, Biathlete

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Hugh Pritchard

Season's Diary




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Racing & Competing

Results 2001/02
Results 2000/01
2000/01 Season

Biathlon Information
Gear For Sale
8-25 January

Serre Chevalier (1,400m). Trying to knock three complete novices and two intermediates into racing shape in a week. Got some short, steady sessions in, a few sprints and a lot of technique work. Nice skiing: some trails I have not seen before, and beautiful classic conditions early in the mornings. Strong sun and warm later. Unproductive time on the range: mostly coaching and trying to get people zeroed.

Racing OK, but far from great. A cold for the first few days, but I have to race for the team: it does not seem to do any harm. I get the wax wrong for the novices' race when the sun hits the race area while they are queuing to start (it had been overcast when we looked at the course the previous day). I didn't get it quite right for the main classic race, the 15km, when we used klister (as did most people); Brian Cole used a stick wax and took 90 seconds off me - and I won this race by 4 minutes last year. The biathlons go a little better despite some rotten shooting: I am skiing really well, which is a nice surprise.

I have really neglected the hard sessions on snow this year: not many of them, and when I do try, as often as not it does not work. However I have had some good hard ski-ganging and running sessions, and these are primarily about cardiovascular and mental development, so I hope they will have done the job.


27 January-6 February

Ruhpolding: National Champs. Everyone reckons I am out to prove something, when in fact I have hardly trained since last Winter. I have done a reasonable amount of skiing, but very little of what I could call training.

About 3 feet of perfect fresh snow in the village when I arrived. Unfortunately I did not do any filming, as it started to rain a couple of days later and washed down to almost nothing. The biathlon centre retains snow quite well so we had an ample quantity of nasty stuff to race on.

The biathlon team is now wearing a far nicer race suit than we did the year I was in it: maybe I should try for it again after all.

The first race is the 10km biathlon: another bad shoot, slow and inaccurate (3 penalty loops) but skiing well for 5th place.

Then the pursuit biathlon: quite a close start with several others close behind me. Whoops of delight from Marc Walker when he clears the first shoot and skis past the rest of us on the penalty loop; karmic retribution when he misses 11 of the next 15 shots. Meanwhile I too am missing a lot (total 9), and skiing back past the other Brit team biathletes between shoots. This carries on for a bit until we end up in much the same order as we started (me 5th official, 6th counting Tom Clemens who was disqualified from the 10km for not skiing far enough: weed).

In the 20km biathlon I skied the first loop in a bit of a dream until I was passed by Michael Greis of the German B team, 30 seconds in 3.5km... I woke up a bit after that, and put in a reasonable time (by Brit standards), but slow and inaccurate shooting spoilt it again and I ended 12th.

I got a scratch team together at the last minute for the biathlon relay and started on the back row of a 43 team mass start... I had never realised how hard it is to work through a pack that size, and it was not until the end of the first loop that I was able to ski freely, having caused a couple of embarassing pile-ups on the way. Moderate shooting (used 4 of my 6 spares) got me out of the last shoot with Craig Haslam and Tom Clemens in sight; a bit of a burn brought me onto their tails, and me to me my knees. I found myself thinking of justifications for allowing them to beat me: Craig was a World Cup racer for years and still a full-time biathlete; Tom is on the World Cup team. But indecisiveness ruled, and I was still there when Craig seemed to falter, so I passed him. Tom seemed to realise and pulled away. Should I have put in a huge burst to pass him and (hopefully) demoralise him? Talking to him afterwards he had not known I was there, so he would probably have been able to respond. But I think I should have had the mental strength to make that decision, and to view the situation as an opportunity rather than looking for excuses to end the horrible pain three minutes earlier.

One day I will win the 15km classic. Unfortunately it did not happen this year, due largely to my lack of expertise with klisters. I was praying that it would start to snow so that I could use my Peltonen Zetas. But no: I went on a long, thick layer of Swix red klister with a bit of silver, which seemed to work when I tested it. I started with Fred Gee, slipped on the first hill and never saw him again. Then Mike Dixon passed me on a downhill and I could no longer kid myself that it was tough for everyone. The whole experience was very depressing and I finished 15th, over 4 minutes behind Craig Haslam, who won.

I had promised that I would be back at work on Tuesday, so was unable to defend my national title in the 10km free race. In fact I went down with a cold and had lungs full of fluid on the day so would not have done anything great.

Graeme Ferguson said something to me about rejoining the European Cup team for the remainder of the season, on a self-funding basis. I thought this ironic, since I would be the only member of the team who has to sacrifice his income entirely in order to ski; for me to fund my own place is therefore for me to pay twice for what the other team members get for nothing. In any case I have to get back to work to fulfil my commitments there, and weekend trips are not really good enough for the European Cup circuit. On with the marathon races.


19-20 February

La Transjurassienne: my first big race, in terms of both number of participants and duration. 72km skating. I could not get a flight or a sensible train, so borrowed my parents' car (they were in South Africa, which legally counts as having given permission) and drove. I arrived to find snow falling, water running down the streets and traffic jams. Too late to ski, so I picked up my number and went straight to my accommodation. Waxed my skis according to the information I could get; realised when almost finished that I was doing the wrong skis, so had to start again on the others. I find it important to believe that I have done everything I can to ensure that I will race well, and that extends to using the right skis even if it means an hour less sleep.

Up at 0445, porridge for breakfast and onto the coach to take us to the start. An unbelievably long drive: surely some of these other well-hydrated athletes must be having the same difficulty as me? Finally we stop to drop the women at their start, and two of us jump out for a leak.

The snow is fresh (there was none 48 hours ago) and soft. Temperature around zero. Do I wear a thermal shirt? Yes, after much uncertainty. Into the start pen: luxury here for the elite group - no need to reserve a space, just put my skis next to the peg with my number on it. Apprehension when I notice that I am the only one without a bum-bag and water bottle. I am still stretching when I notice that everyone is moving, and a moment later comes the bang of the starting signal. We move off with a bit more exuberance than will be shown later. But for now the pace and terrain feel easy. The support is amazing; people line the tracks cheering, clapping and ringing bells which sound like they were stolen from the local church rather than the usual cow-bells.

After an hour I am beginning to get bored. I play little games, setting myself challenges. I realise that I have made a mistake on the food and drink front, having passed only one feed station in an hour. Then we get to the big hill: a 200m climb into a forest. At the top of the climb I take over the lead of a group of about 12 skiers. After a mile or two more, I step aside to let someone else take over - and I just can't bring myself to step back in behind them. Another group comes up and passes me, and I am staggering along, wondering if it will all end face-down in the snow on this desolate hill... Fortunately an Italian throws some food to me, and I survive the terrifying descent to the next feed station. There I alternate carbohydrate 'shots' and cups of sweet tea for a few minutes, before continuing. As I leave the station, the first cramps hit me.

The end must be near now, so I drag myself on, amending my technique to rest the muscles that are cramping worst. Other racers stream past me, and there is no chance of my staying with them in my state. I pass some numbered signs, but they cannot be distance markers as the numbers are wrong. I ask someone how far to the end and he tells me about 8km, which is about what I think given the time. I carry on, and gradually realise that the signs are distance markers and tell a horrible, depressing story. But I can't pull out now as it will be ages before I get back to my gear: surviving to the finish is the best way of achieving comfort as soon as possible. But I feel so terribly cold... Then the finish comes into view: hooray! and beside it a sign saying '5km': boo! They send us out up another hill, but this is OK, just like a biathlon race, and I weave past broken skiers (including the strong-man I had handed the lead of my group over to when the trouble started) before turning back towards the finish. And then... another diversion as the track turns away from the finish and up a steep hill. But this really is the last, and thank goodness as I do not have much left.

So, the finish: tea, cakes, medals, warm, dry gear, stories, the post-race meal... A great race, recklessly skied by me, and some lessons learned. 203 of 2,500

Transjurassienne web site