In Italy for the European
Cup races at Forni Avoltri. A proper, laid out biathlon centre,
with ski cabins for each team and a central building with cafe and
loos: a far cry from most of the European Cup events, which are
held in a field in the middle of nowhere with not so much as a portaloo
The downside is that Forni
Avoltri is in one of the most backward parts of Western Europe.
We cook on a wood-burning stove, no-one in the hamlet we are staying
in speaks a word of anything but Italian (most of the 'Italian'
biathlon venues are in the Südtirol, and are German-speaking),
and there are none of the trappings of wealth one sees in Austria
The tracks at the biathlon
centre are nice to ski on, winding through the forest. I had heard
tales of the shocking climbs and descents here, but the lack of
snow means we are doing a very peculiar 20km on Saturday, with loops
of 6, 6, 3, 3, & 2km, made up mostly of a repeated 3km loop:
plenty of scope for getting this wrong. The gradients are also odd,
as there are long stretches where one is unsure which technique
to use: V2 seems slow, and V1 ridiculous. The answer is probably
to start too fast, so that one quickly becomes too tired to have
Skied at Sappada this afternoon:
apparently a big cross-country stadium, it certainly has tracks
a lot more demanding than most biathlon centres: long, steep hills
with descents to match. We had a great afternoon's skiing, the highlight
of which was a pile-up on one of the fast descents - I was at the
back and had a grandstand view, with enough of a gap to avoid joining
In all a hardish day: I did
a short training race this morning (on my own - the others are on
snow for the first time in over 2 weeks), and got carried away skiing
on the great tracks with a little gang at Sappada this afternoon.
This is an experiment: for the races before Christmas, before a
weekend's racing I did a hardish session on the Tuesday and took
Thursday off; I felt bad for the Saturday races. This time I am
doing a hard session on the Thursday.
Ski-preparation is one of
the most maddening things (and there are a lot of them) in biathlon.
Tonight, for example, I changed the bindings on a set of skis I
got from a racer who retired last year, because I think they may
be good this weekend, almost severing my thumb in the process. I
then did some prep on them because I did not know what kind of state
they were in (3 applications of different waxes, with a lot of brushing,
scraping and scrubbing). I then scraped two more pairs (I put the
same storage wax on all my skis, so that I only have to scrape them
before testing), so that I can test three pairs tomorrow, chosen
on the basis of the weather forecast (rain). However, when I finally
left the ski-room, it was not raining but almost clear; and the
ground was just freezing. If the snow is frozen in the morning then
my ski selection will be completely invalidated (ice and slush require
Official training: divided
into men in the morning, women at noon because that is how race
times are. Everyone is there for the last chance (and for many teams
their only chance) to practise on the range. I shot well today -
very well prone, and reasonably standing, so am confident for tomorrow.
Racing well: for the first
time this season I had a good standing shoot, missing 1 of 10; but
I had a bad prone shoot, missing 3 of 10 (I had also had trouble
grouping to zero). I felt really strong, and had great skis - I
was overtaking people on both the downhills and the climbs. I had
one mishap when a ski came off on a sharp bend - this happened in
Obertilliach with a different pair: I discussed it afterwards with
Andi Birnbacher, and I will check both my boots and all my bindings
this afternoon, as losing skis is obviously unacceptable.
So, 3 of the major variables
went right (stand shoot, skiing form, ski speed), and 2 factors
went badly (prone shoot, lost a ski). I also had quite a hectic
time before the race trying to apply a fluoro powder at the last
minute. This should be more manageable tomorrow, as I have a better
idea now of what will go well (although it was raining reasonably
heavily when the women raced this afternoon)
Sunday, 7 January
It poured with rain all night,
and we wondered whether there would be enough snow to race, but
with changes to the course and schedule the races ran. I was off
at number 3, an opportunity as the track would deteriorate fast
as it was skied. I tested my skis and was astonished to find that
my finest pair (which I had tested and rejected yesterday) were
fastest through the puddles. I put some fluoro powder on them, and
a 1mm rill to help disperse the suction, and they worked fine.
Once started, the race was
not bad: one just accepts the conditions and applies some thought
as how to make the best of them - dodging the puddles and looking
for the white snow (saturated snow is grey or colourless, and snow
is a lot faster than water to ski on). I realised as I was shooting
prone that my zero was high, so aimed low for the last 2 and hit;
my tactic for standing was 'fast and aggressive', but for some reason
I missed the first 2 - twice more around the penalty loop was a
So, a moderate race, but a
reasonable result (24th, for 10.8%). Interestingly, Marc Walker
missed only 1, but was 30" slower than me: probably a reflection
largely on his having started later than me.
Ridnaun: we left Forni Avoltri
in the rain, which soon turned to snow and slowed our progress;
it snowed or rained more or less the whole way. Ridnaun is at 1,350m,
and is bedecked in fresh snow. It must have been pretty warm before,
as there is a lot of water about, but the skiing is fine.
Having scrimped on our catering
the last few weeks, we have pushed the boat out and gone for full
board. This is nice in many ways, but we get a meat course at lunch
and two at supper; I would declare vegetarian but they get omelette
twice a day which would drive me mad. We are in appartments about
a mile out of town, but eat in town.
Entertaining evening in the
Sonnenberg - four of us, two Norwegians (Jon-Arne Enevoldsen who
coached the British team a couple of years ago, and his protégé),
and the German revelation Hanna Möller. We met Hanna in St
Moritz, when she was training with her club; she is now in the national
team (with none of the team gear), and won her first two international
races - and she has another two seasons as a junior. Someone with
a lot of potential, and unusual in that she speaks to us.
Oh, and the German coaches:
they patrolled the bar several times as if looking for miscreant
athletes (perhaps they let Hanna sit with us as she does not have
the uniform), before sitting at the next table. Fritz Fischer is
a very entertaining character who needs to be mocked as much as
possible, if you can fit it between his mockery of everyone else.
The course this morning looking
a lot better than when we skied on it last night; I did a little
hard session, but not as hard as the one I did two days before last
weekend's races: that would make a lot of hard sessions, and could
end up being too much. I shot badly in my hard session, then Bev
suggested we do a little shooting contest, four shoots with very
short skiing, and coming into the range together. That kind of presentation
really focuses the mind better, and I shot very fast, missing 2
of 20, which is pretty good for me. Bev shoots a fraction quicker,
but was not hitting today (she usually shoots well). I then bashed
the standing shooting a bit, and it is now a lot more solid.
The range here at Ridnaun
is somewhat unusual, in that the sun shines on it from behind (most
ranges are in the shade). The sun shines on both the target and
the foresight, and when we zeroed (0915) was shining straight down
the foresight tube; later of course it shifted. This all contributes
to a sight picture that changes through the session - or between
zeroing and racing: not easy.
A shocking hard sprint race
yesterday, the most painful biathlon race I have ever done. I skied
hard from start number 2, and skied more or less alone the whole
race. Marc Walker was directly behind me, and the contrast in our
racing styles was emphasised: I always try to run my own race, and
find that if I am aware of what anyone else is doing on the range,
I shoot badly. My pacing is such that I do not have much to spare
for tactical bursts of speed. Marc, on the other hand, is a very
interactive racer, who can always recount what anyone else was doing
during the race - so, for example, he knew how many targets I had
hit, how many shots I had fired when he reached the firing point,
and is strongly motivated by the sight of a rival in front of him.
In this case, we both cleared
our prone shoots; I missed 2 standing, while Marc missed 4; he had
gained on me somewhat through the race, but dropped back on the
is a notorious hill in the Ridnaun course: 27m high, it is desperately
steep on the way up, and again on the way down. When I first came
here I remember getting furious with myself for repeatedly 'wimping
out' on it in training - the fastest and easiest way to take a hill
like this is straight down, no braking or turning. But the temptation
to brake is sometimes irresistible: cross-country skis are not designed
for stability in a fast schuss, and it is easy to crash. This time
it seemed less bad... And the climb: last time it was deep in soft
snow, and for the first time I saw serious racers doing the 'teddy-bear'
skate in a race. Now, of course, far easier.
In today's pursuit race, I
shot 1121 (ie 5 penalties). This is not a catastrophic result, but
is far from good enough. I zeroed well, and conditions were good,
so there was no excuse for missing prone shots; my standing result
was better than my season's average - but still unacceptable.
Tonight is the infamous Ridnaun
party, and tomorrow the relay - not an important race for most people.
Then we drive to Serre Chevalier for the TA champs and a hectic
With so many races so close
together, good recovery is vital. This means
- a 'recovery drink' within
minutes of finishing (about 50g carbohydrate, 20g protein and
perhaps a teaspoon of creatine): obviously this needs to be very
- another recovery food soon
after the finish (eg white bread roll with jam)
- a meal within 2 hours,
- sleep, straight after the
- a light recovery session
in the afternoon - usually easy jogging or classic skiing.
Of course, on top of this
comes looking after today's race skis, and preparing skis for tomorrow's
race, so it is a full schedule on race days.
Selection for the reserve
place at the World Championships will be on the grounds of consistent
performance at both European Cup and National Championships races.
We have done four (individual)
European Cup races since the new year; I have been top Brit in all
of these, and also in one of the four before Christmas (second in
the other three). My results are the second most consistent of the
teams (behind Joe Brooks, calculated as standard deviation of %s).
So far, I must be doing well, but of course there are still the
nationals to come.
First race at Serre Chevalier:
a classic leg of the 10km cross-country relay. A bit of a shock,
as it is a very long time since I did anything but slow training
on my classic skis. Waxing conditions were straightforward, as it
was cold, although the very abrasive snow indicated a stronger binder
than we had. So I skied a reasonable race, some way behind Brian
Cole and Billy Rogers, but that is OK: I don't need to be going
fast now, and I don't need to ski classic fast at all. The main
thing is to get plenty of rest over the next week, and work on my
Raced 15km classic - the shortest
15km I have ever done, in 33 minutes, which was nice. The wax worked
well and I did a reasonable run, although still a bit stiff from
Monday's race. None of my team had skied before last week, so it
was good to see some of them getting near the top half of the field.
It makes me wonder what the people at the back of the field are
Down to the spa in the evening
for an hour's relaxing soak in the sulphurous waters: a much-needed
relief. Then exhausted to bed for an early night and a lie-in -
we are not on the range until noon today.
I am being driven slowly mad
by having only one slipper with me: I can't bear to buy another
pair because I think I will find the missing one when I get back
to Ruhpolding. Meanwhile I am walking at a tilt, with one wet sock
and making alternating slapping and slipping noises on the stone
Relay biathlon yesterday,
sprint today. Working on trying to shoot fast, and succeeding. Although
I know that shooting slowly will not help me hit more, it is always
tempting when I hit the firing point to say to myself "OK,
take it easy and make sure". These two days I have stuck to
the plan and shot fast, and missed one of each shoot; in the relay
someone timed me at 41" for my standing shoot - pretty reasonable
given that I had to hand-load a 6th round.
So, yesterday the fastest
time by 2', and today by 3'.
I am trying to make some changes
to my ski technique, and it must look pretty ropey at the moment.
I have analysed Raphael Poirée's skiing, as his is the most
'mannered', and therefore easy to analyse, of the biathletes, and
am trying to incorporate some of what I think are the fundamentals
of his skiing into mine. The two particular elements are:
- balancing on a gliding
ski with the hip outside the vertical plane of the ski (this is
particularly obvious in Poirée and Niogret, and several
others of the French team; it is the reverse of how some Germans,
especially Zellner, balance)
- weight transfer from the
gliding ski forward onto the poles, with the weight remaining
directly above the ski. This is more subltle, and the concomitant
compression of the knee over the driving ski is the cause of the
curious flexion in the ankle of the hanging ski, and of the sharp
acceleration of the gliding ski at the pole-plant that you can
see in a side-view video of Poirée.
While I am trying to acquire
these two elements, I find it very hard to think of both at once,
and stumble and trip like a novice. But when it works, it is fast
and powerful; it is quite strenuous as it does not go slowly.
Wednesday, 24 January
Driving from Serre Chevalier
The patrol race on Monday:
one of my bugbears. 21km of classic skiing on and off track, carrying
a rucksack weighing 18kg. As I am a much better skier than the others
in the team I carry the lion's share of the 40kg total patrol baggage
- so the whole thing is quite tiring. We managed OK, and the weather
was good, so not too much suffering. But my knee does not like the
movement of wobbly classic skiing, which is what I do with a rucksack
out of the spoor.
So another Serre Chevalier
meeting is over. I have a great sentimental attachment to Serre
Chevalier: it was the scene of my first skiing and biathlon races
in 1993, and I have done exactly the same race programme every year
since. My team-mates come and go - none has lasted more than 3 years
so far - but there are always at least a couple of very interesting
people; and the meeting as a whole is quite sociable, as there are
plenty of teams that do not take the racing desperately seriously,
while the good racers are generally not under much pressure, as
the competition is not intense.
Disappointing to see so little
snow as we drive over the Brenner Pass - and what there is being
washed away by the rain.
I would like to do a private
training race in Ruhpolding tomorrow, as there is a race on Saturday,
but it looks like I am catching a cold, so I will have to see how
I feel in the morning. In any case there may be no snow...
Saturday, 27 January
National Championships Sprint Biathlon. Feeling
good well psyched-up. Terrible snow conditions - desperately warm,
and the 'snow' is totally transformed (ie it is really only powdered
ice). Early the tracks are frozen and fast, but once they have thawed
and been cut up they are very soft and hard work - especially the
climbs, where one has to lift the skis high to get through the mush.
When I saw the start list last night I was therefore
horrified to find myself the at the end of seeding group 2 - with
all the other national squad athletes in group 1. This could have
been a serious disadvantage if the track slowed quickly after the
start (which I think in fact it did). Luckily I was at the team
captains' meeting where the start-list was published, so I was able
to speak to the Technical Delegate, who said that this was clearly
an error as the intention had been to use an 'elite group' seeding
method, and promised to sort something out.
So, after much confusion I eventually started in
group 1, following some very difficult decisions on what skis to
use, and the usual last-minute decision to apply a fluoro-powder.
I wore my Ukrainian team race-suit (complete with matching go-faster
headband), as I find it helps me psychologically to differentiate
myself from the others, who mostly wear the British team suit -
if I want to produce an extraordinary performance, I wear extraordinary
clothes, eat extraordinary food, and so on, thereby distancing myself
from those whose performances I want to better. Oh, and I forgot
to check my boots for stones, and skied the whole race with a wobbly
ski as a result. Perhaps this held my attention from the normal
I skied hard from the start and felt good about
it, which is not usually like me (negative statement there: I should
really reinforce the hard skiing mentally: "that's just like
me!"), and shot slightly cautiously (breathing twice between
shots, probably 40 seconds), somehow missing the last prone shot.
I had a slight focus problem here, and should have worn earplugs.
More demonic skiing, and a reasonably quick standing shoot - clear
- for my best shooting performance ever in a sprint race. Knowing
I was in with a chance I piled on the power to get to the finish
in second - well down on Tom Clemens (in his first ever clear run!)
and a little ahead of the Grand Old Man (Mike Dixon), with another
So, a great race from me, and one with which I
am very satisfied (a rarity in biathlon). Although I have had national
gold and silver medals before, they have always been in the absence
of the world cup squad, whereas today everyone was racing, so there
is nothing at all to detract from the result.
My thighs hurt, which is not at all normal after
a biathlon or ski race. I must have done something unusual yesterday.
Monday, 29 January
Relay nationals today. I raced in a scratch team
with Tom Clemens, Scott Baines and James Brain (I went 2nd): more
or less a cert to lead for the first three legs, and indeed we got
overtaken only on the last leg, to finish 2nd (not that there is
any significance to the final placing, as scratch teams are hors
My legs were still hurting from the sprint, and
I found I was not able to do the dynamic new V2 technique that I
have been working on. But I was quick up the hills despite the rapid
breakup of the track; and the shooting: shooting without excessive
caution (breathing twice between shots, but shooting confidently),
I cleared both shoots in 5. This is the first time I have cleared
in a race, and I am delighted. A pity to do it in a relay when I
could have missed 3 without being disgraced (in the relay one has
8 rounds to hit each set of 5 targets), but nonetheless a big breakthrough,
and one which I must follow up tomorrow in the 20km.
I used the Rossignol skis that I bought from Jason
again today, and they seemed to go well. I am afraid to give him
the money in case that takes away the magic.
Individual race: 20km, 4 shoots. The snow started
to fall as I got to the biathlon centre, and the skis that were
good for the last two races did not seem to go as well as the other
pair I brought. I zeroed fine, and started with only one minor panic
when I realised that I had brought the wrong skis into the start
For some reason I was not in the mood for really
fast skiing as I was on Friday; but it is OK to start a 20km conservatively.
I missed 1 in each of the 1st two shoots, and cleared the third,
after Jason Sklenar had caught me and I stepped into his slipstream.
Entering the range for the last time I heard the announcer say that
Mike Dixon had left the range with a total of 2 penalties. That
meant that I was probably about 10" up on him, and would probably
win if I shot clear on that last shoot. Of course, having thought
that I was sunk, and missed 2.
In all, not a satisfying performance. I do not
like to miss as much as this, was not skiing well, and had moderate
skis. However, it was enough for 3rd in the national champs, so
it will have to do for now.
I was told today that I am to be one of the squad
of 5 for the World Championships in Slovenia, leaving tomorrow:
there's nothing like advance notice. Then tonight a rumour surfaced
that there is no snow in Pokljuka, and that the decision will be
made tomorrow as to where the Worlds are to be: so we will probably
delay a day.
So, another nationals over. By far my best results
to date (my previous national medals were all won in the absence
of the World Cup team), with a 2nd, a 3rd and the best relay leg.
These results establish at least an overlap with the performance
of the World Cup team, and were rewarded with
nomination to the British team for the World Championships - as
one of the 5-man squad, rather than as reserve for the 4-man team..
This is the first big step up the ladder, and I
have now to make some progress towards qualification for the Olympics:
this means top results - both to qualify, and to displace one of
the others from the World Cup team for the remainder of the season.
I suspect that the latter will be harder than the former.