Last March, Martin Fourcade, undisputed leader of the French biathlon team, announced that he was ending his career. Five months later, his former teammates are actively preparing for the next winter, despite the uncertainties related to the coronavirus.
It was a wintery Friday night. At around 8 p.m., Martin Fourcade posted a message from Kontiolahti (Finland) on his various social networks : the next day’s race would be the last of his career, marked by five Olympic titles, seven big crystal globes and 82 victories on the world circuit. The shock wave, despite the emerging coronavirus crisis, is huge in the world of biathlon. The next day, in his last dance, he won alone after a final demonstration. His 83rd and last victory. Since then, and after lockdown, we have seen the French champion climb the Pyrenean mountains with the strength of his legs or climb road passes on his bike with the riders of Team Arkéa-Samsic, in preparation for the Tour de France. It’s as if retiree Martin Fourcade can’t stop being active, setting new goals. Speaking of new goals, his former teammates have had a huge appetite since the superstar retired.
Quentin Fillon-Maillet, the ambitious Jurassian
Starting with the Jurassian Quentin Fillon-Maillet who will aim without any qualms at the big crystal globe from next winter. It is not hiding any more, as he explains in the inaugural episode of his webseries entitled “In the Line of Sight”: “I am looking for excellence, for first place. I don’t feel like hiding behind some small goals like I did before. I hope to have a great preparation to arrive with increased potential before the year of the Winter Olympics.” Long in the shadow of King Martin Fourcade, the Champagnole-born biathlete is the star of poster for the Annecy – Le Grand-Bornand World Cup scheduled for next December in this small Haute-Savoie village. He wants to be the best and challenger over the duration of a season Johannes Thingnes Boe, the new boss of biathlon. To do so, the Franch group has returned to training for a few months. From May 25, a few days after the end of lockdown in the country of Voltaire, he found himself in Prémanon, in the Jura, where barrier gestures were the order of the day as were rollerski sessions, shooting, sheathing, weight training, running or cycling. A busy week but so beneficial for the athletes, confined with their families to their homes for two months because of the Covid-19.
A homogeneous group, popularity at the top
Masterfully managed by Vincent Vittoz, the man who offered a world title in cross-country skiing on a beautiful winter’s day in 2005 on the slopes of Oberstdorf (Germany), the men’s French team of biathlon has one of the best collectives on the planet. Quentin Fillon-Maillet, Emilien Jacquelin, Simon Desthieux, Antonin Guigonnat, Fabien Claude and the new kid Martin Perrillat-Bottonet have nothing to envy Norwegians, Germans, Swedes, Italians and other Ukrainians. The proof ? The world title won last winter in Antholz, when Martin Fourcade was still a biathlete. Their popularity ratings have never been higher. It is also one of the legacies left by Martin Fourcade. The biathletes were able to measure it on June 28 when, in training at Font-Romeu (Pyrénées-Orientales), the HQ of the new retirees Aristide and Myrtille Bègue, they trained for an hour in front of the Catalan public, who came in large numbers despite the health rules imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
An internship in Simon Desthieux’s home
After a first training camp at Prémanon and a second at Font-Romeu, the women being in Vassieux-en-Vercors at the same time, a large joint training camp was organized at the Plans d’Hotonnes stadium, located on the Plateau de Retord, in the Ain. That week, at the end of July-beginning of August, Simon Desthieux received his teammates on his favorite roads. “We have a great ski-roll track but we also have some great ones nearby with the huge playground of the Plateau de Retord, he enthusiastically spoke to the FFSTV. There is everything you need for long running and mountain biking trips. You can even continue to the Grand Colombier where you have a beautiful view of the Alps and the Bugey.” Precisely, on the last day of the camp, the members of the France group climbed the terrible Grand Colombier by bicycle. On a stadium that has been completely renovated over the past two years, the French biathletes have had a very good internship from which they came out washed up. To perform well in winter, summer preparation is essential. Unfortunately, they were unable to travel to Norway to compete in the traditional Blink Festival which took place August 6-9 in Sandnes with the only Norwegians at the start of the races. A meager consolation prize, the City Biathlon Wiesbaden has been confirmed for September 27 in Germany : Quentin Fillon-Maillet and Julia Simon will represent France there. It will be the only summer meeting bringing together biathletes from different nations. For the World Cup, nobody yet knows what will happen, which leaves the athletes in the dark, even if they try not to think about it : “The recovery went well in May and we are leaving. for an almost normal season. Training is currently very busy. I hope for good things this winter that I picture with races, at least behind closed doors. But I hope that the public will be able to attend… “, explained Quentin Fillon-Maillet on July 21 during the unveiling of the official poster for the 2020 Annecy – Le Grand-Bornand World Cup. The IBU must announce before the end of September what will be the first stages of the world circuit… By then, the athletes of the France team are training as if nothing had happened. Without Martin Fourcade.