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The Italian Tour - Tre

Friday was a day off before the weekend of two remaining Biathlon races. The next competition was the Sprint Pursuit. It is a two-part race, qualifying in the morning and a Final in the afternoon. It's a busy day with a lot going on, and everything is quick and fast-paced. I raced the qualifier much like my Sprint from the day before. Great skiing, and I made sure of my shooting on the range. Shooting is critical in the morning to set yourself up for the afternoon. As I started my second loop, the announcer said that a few favourites had missed multiple in their first bouts. I had an opportunity and came into the second bout knowing what I had to do - and I did it. That work was rewarded with a huge gap between me and second place in qualifying. I would start with a 34-second lead in the afternoon's Final. I did what I needed to as I prepared for the Final, but the last few minutes were challenging. I caught myself in a moment where I was afraid to fail. I knew what the expectations were starting with such a lead. I feared failing and losing that lead. I realized what was happening, took a couple of breaths, and refocused on what I had to do. My skiing that day was never the issue. But I approached the range wanting to shoot clean so badly and had the time to do so; I came into the range easy. Too easy. And part of my aggressive intent in my shooting wasn't there for the first bout. There was some wind to deal with, but it wasn't the issue. I was fighting myself on the range. That led to a miss on the first bout. I came out of the penalty loop and spoke sternly to myself as I skied to the bottom of the course. I said I would not miss it again. But what I didn't realize or shift was my intent toward the shooting. So, I repeated the same thing in the second bout, missing another one. Now, I was in trouble and almost panicking. I had the slightest lead leaving the range and put in every effort I had left to fight for the win. As I said, skiing was never my problem; though I feared the next skier would catch me, I opened the gap and took my second victory in two races. The best way I can recap the day is that the race had a great result but poor performance. And it is pretty obvious what I have to work on.

Standing Men's Biathlon Sprint podium. Photo credit: Josef Plaickner

The week's final race was a Biathlon Middle - 10km from five laps, four bouts of shooting and a penalty loop for each miss. Yesterday's race was a hard reality of what I must focus on to get the performance I want. Much like the first Sprint, my plan for skiing was simple, but it was exactly what I needed. On the range, the focus was to bring the intent but still be able to control what I needed to and ensure I went clean. I produced a dominant performance throughout the race. It was a great opening lap, concluding with a small lead. Halfway through the second lap, I was told I had a 24-second lead, but I knew one athlete was behind and would reduce that lead. He did, making my lead 14 seconds. In the second bout, I shot clean and headed towards the race's midway point. That was when I was told my lead was a minute fifteen. The latter part of any four-bout race is where the thinking starts to occur. I maintained my focus on approaching the range and, most importantly, the intent of my shooting. Cleaning the third bout. I was starting to feel the fatigue in the legs a little on this fourth lap, but I drove myself to maintain the pressure on the field, though I had a substantial lead of over two minutes now. In the final bout of shooting, the intent of the approach was good, but I had to and wanted to maintain control of my shooting.

I hit the targets and cleaned the bout and the race. It felt so good to absorb the pressure I put on myself to shoot clean and to do so. With the lead, it wasn't that I let off the pressure, but the lead allowed me to ski more relaxed, maintaining the speed—a

Me and coach Menno celebrating my first triple

fantastic race. For me, there was something far more special about this performance and result. For the first time in my career, I won three Biathlon races at the same venue. Even last year's incredible season saw me win two races out of three at each venue. There has always been something in one of the races that prevented me from that sweep. Last year, I was second on all three occasions by mere seconds. So, I have been getting closer. But it was here in Martell that I achieved a triple for the first time. That felt so amazing. Though I might have earned, lost, re-earned, then lost the Cross-Country Leader's bib. I have the Biathlon Leader's bib squarely on my shoulders. That concluded the first half of the international competitive season.

The team travelled to a fourth Italian town for a short altitude camp in Livigno to round out the Italian tour. Once again, a new place for me, but a spectacular one, for sure. A resort town settled in a beautiful valley 1816m above sea level. Alpine runs on both sides of the valley, while Nordic trails meander along the valley bottom. It's a great place to spend a few days unwinding from a fairly heavy competitive schedule and enjoying the Italian sunshine before returning to the Rockies. It has been a dream of a start to the WC season for me. Returning to international classic racing and proving that I am still one of the contenders. While showing that freestyle is no weakness for me either. Followed by some incredibly strong results and performances in Biathlon. Setting up for the next competitive block on Canadian soil. Where we will compete at the first-ever Biathlon-only World Championship and World Cup Finals in Prince George, BC to wrap up the season.

Livigno, ITA

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