After the 2019-2020 season, Martin Fourcade retired from biathlon, leaving a strong group of athletes on the French men’s team. They appeared ready to challenge the Norwegians, with Q Fillion Maillet and E Jacquelin the main contenders already having a good season and getting close in the 2019-2020 season. However, the 2020-2021 season turned out a little different, with still strong performances from all French team members, but it quickly felt they were not going to challenge for the yellow bib.
This analysis tries to find out where things stagnated for the French and prevented QFM and EJ from at least challenging for the crystal globe(s).
World Cup Points
First, I wanted to see how the World Cup Points compared to the eventual yellow bib winner, per season (which happened to be this fella called JT Boe all three seasons!). The charts below show Johannes Tingnes Boe in red, Quentin Fillon Maillet in dark blue and Emilien Jacquelin in light blue:
We can see that after closing the gap with JT Boe in the 2019-2020 season, it has widened again on the 2020-2021 season, mostly for QFM but to some degree for EJ as well. Now let’s look at the discipline level:
The Sprint and Pursuit events show the same story, being very close to Boe in 2019-2020 but losing ground in 2020-2021, especially in the sprint. In the Sprint, EJ is behind QFM in every season, but for the Pursuit EJ first follows, then equals and eventually surpasses QFM in the last season.
The Individual and Mass Starts were the events where most progress were made, as QFM actually does better than Boe in the last season and is very close in all three seasons in the Mass Start. EJ drops in the final season compared to the previous one.
Now let’s look at more detail, starting with ski speed compared to the field’s average. Note that the vertical axis is reversed, as -4 means 4% below the field average, which is a good thing, so it should be at the top.
It’s no surprise that JT Boe is the fastest of the three but where in 2019-2020 the Frenchmen were seemingly getting closer, the gap widened again in last season:
This was due to JT Boe being even faster, but both Frenchmen losing speed compared to the field average. They are still quite a bit faster than the field average, but clearly need to rely on shooting time and quality if they want to catch up. Let’s look at that next.
Looking at the time on the range we can see this is where the French athletes gain time on Boe, not in the least due to Boe getting slower, but QFM and EJ are also getting faster from one season to the next. We noticed Boe having some shooting struggles, and I also clearly remember the super fast shooting by EJ at the World Championships. He also proved later in the season the fast shooting doesn’t always work out, but generally I would say the French are stronger here.
Of course a fast range time only works well when you hit most targets, so that the next thing we’ll look at.
Shooting Time and Percentage
The chart below shows combined Shooting Percentage from left to right and Shooting Time compared to Field Average from bottom to top. It then plots the three seasons per athlete to show the change and development from season to season. Generally EJ is in the top left corner, meaning he shoots fast but not most accurately. QFM has started shooting faster but lost some shooting quality. Boe is clearly the slower shooter of the three, and although his percentage was up in the 2019-2020 season, last season he dropped back to around 85%, the lowest of the three.
Since Boe is still by far the fastest skier, the Frenchmen needed to keep the distance in ski speed as small as possible, which they failed to do in the last season as the gap widened. They do perform better in the shooting range though and if Boe continues to struggle this would be an area where the Frenchmen can gain the most ground. Even if the existing difference in shooting speed and quality stays the same as last season, closing the gap a little on the skis will allow them to be more competitive again for the upcoming season. According to the guys at Sport in Depth (I wrote about them in my previous article), they will still end up behind Boe (and Laegreid). I can’t wait for the new season to get started so we can actually find out for ourselves!