In the summer of 2023, it is an understatement to say that the upcoming biathlon season did not look like it would be fun for the girls of the French team. The fault lies in a dark affair of bank card fraud which poisoned relations between the Olympic mass-start champion (2022) Justine Braisaz-Bouchet and the winner of the crystal globe (2023) Julia Simon.

Six months later, the two French women are making headlines again, but this time for their results. Saturday January 6, in Oberhof (Germany), Julia Simon went for her first World Cup victory of the season, ahead of… Justine Braisaz-Bouchet, undefeated for four races and mid-December.

Winner of the sprint on Friday, the Savoyard rocket only let her rival of the same age (27) catch up with her during the 10 km pursuit – five 2 km loops, interspersed with four shooting sessions.

After a 10/10 by playing it safe on the first two recumbents, Braisaz-Bouchet lets his gliding on skis speak. But a mistake made on the first standing shot forced her to emerge from the penalty ring with Simon on her heels. As we approach the last passage on the shooting range, the rifle begins to shake: two faults for Braisaz-Bouchet, compared to just one for Simon, both fists in anger as they cross the finish line.

“It was rage.”

“It’s rage, it was hard, it was long, it’s a relief,” reacted, at the microphone of the L’Equipe channel, Simon (18/20), who prevents his compatriot from riding on the top step of the podium for the fifth time in a row.

“The feeling is mixed, on arrival I am mostly happy… but I am obviously disappointed to have opened the door on my last shot. Five individual races, five podiums, I wouldn’t have imagined that at the start of the season,” agrees the leader of the World Cup ranking, consolidating her yellow bib with 91 points ahead of Norwegian Ingrid Tandrevold.

After her hat-trick (sprint, pursuit, mass-start) in Lenzerheide (Switzerland) in mid-December, Justine Braisaz-Bouchet became the first French biathlete to win four consecutive individual races in the World Cup.

Friday at Oberhof, she left no chance to her competitors during the sprint, sharing the podium this time with her younger sister Sophie Chauveau (3rd), the very first of her young career. The resort lost in the middle of the Thuringian Forest was successful for the French: five of them were ranked in the Top 10 in the sprint; Saturday, during the pursuit, Lou Jeanmonnot finished fifth and Jeanne Richard ninth, for only her second World Cup bib.

Les Bleues have had the best start to the season in their history, with already eleven podiums including seven victories in ten races.

The situation is much less rosy for the boys, who have not yet won a single individual podium, their worst start to the World Cup since the 1996-1997 season. An incongruity for the Tricolores accustomed to playing leading roles for three decades and the golden age of French biathlon started by Raphaël Poirée, before the advent of Martin Fourcade.

Flower ceremonies to console yourself

None of the six French people entered since the start of the season has ranked among the top three. Emilien Jacquelin (Hochfilzen pursuit), Quentin Fillon Maillet (Lenzerheide pursuit) and Fabien Claude (Oberhof pursuit) were entitled to a flower ceremony – which rewards the first six biathletes in each race – by signing each a 6th place.

On Saturday, only Fabien Claude saved the honor by taking first place… after a Norwegian quintuple. In certainly difficult conditions in the German gray, the sprint the day before was a nightmare for him and his compatriots. First tricolor in the general classification, Quentin Fillon Maillet could not do better than 14th. Fabien Claude was even the only one to accompany him in the Top 30 (28th). Emilien Jacquelin finished 37th, Eric Perrot 45th and Antonin Guigonnat 86th – the French staff had chosen to oust Emilien Claude for this fourth stage of the World Cup without replacing him.

During the chase, the Blues did not perform a miracle: “QFM” fell to 19th place, ahead of Jacquelin (21st) and Perrot (26th). “It’s hard to draw anything positive from the start of the season, the investment is significant, I’m trying to put everything in place to make it work, it’s frustrating,” reacted Fillon Maillet, disillusioned, to La L’Equipe channel.

Simon Fourcade, the new coach of the French men’s team (alongside Jean-Pierre Amat for shooting), is making no bones about it. “There is a serious lack of confidence, when faced with the targets, there are a few too many questions (…). We’re going to have to give ourselves a big kick in the ass to get back on track,” Martin’s older brother railed on Friday.