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Last weekend (14/15 December 2013) the Grand-Bornand hosted the 3rd round (out of 9) of the Biathlon World Cup. It’s the first time for 22 years France has hosted World Cup Biathlon and so this event was a really big deal for Le Grand-Bornand and the local area. In fact as is typical with these events it was named “Annecy-Le Grand-Bornand” for marketing purposes and probably because Annecy and the local region would have helped out with the 4m€ the event cost to host.
Nordic skiing is well known in France but it’s not the money spinner that it is in places like Norway, Sweden, Russia, Germany and Italy. The French star is Martin Fourcade, he’s been world champion 4 times and is a very consistent performer at World Cup level. He’s a household name in some of the countries I’ve already mentioned and well known in the XC-Ski community in France.
Le Grand-Bornand set up a course and stadium just a few moments walk from the town centre, the kept it nice and compact so it was easy for spectators to get a view, wander around and visit the town too. Apparently this isn’t the norm in cross-country skiing as often these events are held in the middle of nowhere with few facilities. The weather played it’s part too. It had been very cold in the bottom of the valleys in the preceding few weeks so they had perfect conditions to make snow ready for the event, all 4 days were clear and sunny so it could not have been better. The locals formed an army of over 500 volunteers to help the 24,000 paying spectators that turned up over the 4 days. I went along for the final day which was a sell-out with 7,500 spectators in the stadium and viewing areas and plenty of others around the course. We had been warned of traffic chaos and we were prepare to take one of the many navettes laid on for the day. In the end we arrived so early that we were able to park adjacent to the course and walk the few yards into town for a coffee.
My family has a little experience already when it comes to watching these events. One of the hardest things to deal with is the inevitable cold. It takes some quite specialist cold weather clothing to deal with being static for hours in sub zero temperatures. The next thing is some idea of the format of the events. Like with many sports if you have no knowledge of what is going on the spectacle can be rather meaningless. We went to watch the “pursuit” races. Full details can be found on Wikipedia . Basically the competitors start times are separated by their time differences from the sprint race the day before. Thankfully the skier crossing the finish line first is the winner. They skied 12.5 kilometres over five laps; there are four shooting bouts (two prone, two standing), and each miss means a penalty loop of 150 m. This penalty loop takes about 20 seconds. In theory the race could be a procession but in practice it’s not. It’s very difficult to achieve a clean sweep on the shooting so in reality the positions are changing constantly throughout the race. If you are in the stadium all this is visible, it’s very intense and never boring!
I did keep an eye out for some of the properties we have for sale around the village. I spotted Chalet Fleur de Neige overlooking the town and right in the centre the Apartment de la Place. You can see them all on our property map.