PRESQUE ISLE – One by one, the world’s top biathletes completed the seventh stop on the 2010-11 World Cup tour Sunday, heaving in exhaustion as they crossed the finish line at the Nordic Heritage Center.

Wind flags flapped wildly during the women’s 10-kilometer pursuit race, causing a remarkable 311 penalty loops.

And by day’s end, 109 skiers — 57 men, 52 women — trudged through 9.5 inches of fresh fluffy snow that fell overnight, adding to the tough conditions in an already exacting race.

Many collapsed to the ground at the finish.

“It was really challenging. Really, really challenging,” said Lowell Bailey, who was the top American finisher in the 12.5K men’s race, placing 16th. He started in the No. 25 position. “You kind of have to throw everything out the window and try and glide and make the best of it. … It’s been a great series here. Congratulations to Presque Isle.”

The World Cup moves on to Fort Kent later this week, but not before athletes attacked the Presque Isle course one last time.

Norway’s Tora Berger managed to gut her way through the women’s race with just four penalty loops. She won in 35 minutes, 12.1 seconds. France’s Marie Dorin finished second, 30.7 seconds back, and Darya Domracheva of Belarus was third, 1:11.2 back.

“It was harder and a little bit more difficult to go skiing today,” Berger said. “It was a really hard race.”

France’s Alexis Boeuf earned his first World Cup victory, finishing in 36 minutes, 2.4 seconds. Start positions Sunday were based on the results of Friday’s sprint, with the fastest competitors starting first.

“For me today it was perfect snow because I am really light,” said Boeuf. “I am on the snow and can do what I want. Our team gave us really good skis, so it was great.”

Russia’s Ivan Tcherezof took second, just 10.3 seconds back, and Sweden’s Carl Johan Bergman finished third, 14.3 seconds behind Boeuf.

No one shot clean in all four stages as the result of gusty winds.

Bailey had three penalties in the first of two standing stages but shot clean in the last stage, propelling him into the top-20.

“I know myself well enough to know that I get into trouble if I spend too much time on the shooting range, but that’s exactly what I did in that first standing,” said Bailey. “I hesitated and gave it too much time.

“Sometimes you just have to go for it and that’s what I did in the last shooting stage. I was quite happy that it worked out perfectly there.”

And waking up to almost a foot of fresh snow?

“Soft, trudging snow is one of the toughest conditions you can have,” said American Jay Hakkinen, who finished 27th, 3:10 behind the winner.

“They did a really good job with the track,” he said. “And because it’s a pursuit it’s really fair, everyone has to trudge through it. But it made it a really brutally hard race.”

In all, athletes reported a favorable review of Presque Isle.

“I like this place. It’s like Sweden,” said Bergman, the third-place finisher. “And it’s really fun to have the penalty loop around this building. That’s a new experience. It’s difficult. You have no idea which race you’re on. You never know when you’re going out ‘are they before me, after me?’ It’s fun.”

American Haley Johnson, who finished 38th, said she is looking forward to improving.

“The conditions overall were pretty challenging. You had to ski light and work against your instinct,” she said. “Personally this wasn’t the best week, but there’s always another week in biathlon.”

The American women raised their standard this weekend, following Sara Studebaker’s personal-best 14th-place finish in Friday’s sprint, which was also a team best. She hung on to finish 28th in the pursuit after having to do six penalty loops.

“This was a fantastic weekend for me,” said Studebaker. “Fourteen is a bar that’s been set. And I think it shows the women are moving up.”

U.S. women’s coach Jonne Kahkonen agreed: “I can’t even start to explain how important this was. Now we can see the whole team is moving up. The top result defines the level.”

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

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