Davos, Switzerland – Matti Heikkinen (FIN) joined Irina Khazova (RUS) as a firs time World Cup winner today. Heikkinen skiied to a 14 second victory over Marcus Helllner (SWE) in the 15km individual start race, while Maurice Magnificat led a strong French showing in 3rd.
Like Khazova, who won the women’s race, Heikkinen had never stood on the top step of the World Cup podium. Just a week shy of his 26th birthday, his previous best, and only other podium, was a 3rd in this same event last month in Beitostolen.
Starting at the back of the field, wearing bib 91 in the 94 skier field, Heikkinen, opened slowly, moving up consistently as the kilometers ticked by. At the halfway mark he was 7th and at 10km he was 3rd. A furious last five kilometers catapulted him into the lead and the victory.
“I’m very happy about my success. I was here in Davos in the last eight days training and I like this place,” said Heikkinen. “I started not so fast but was able to push hard on the last loop.”
Hellner and Magnificat both started faster, with Magnificat posting the fastest times at all the intermediate checkpoints until 11.8km. Hellner, 2nd for much of the race, overtook the Frenchman with 3.2 kilometers to go, holding his spot.
This race was Hellner’s third career World Cup podium finish. He was 9th in Beitostolen, but did not race in Kuusamo or Dusseldorf.
“It was a good race,” said Hellner. “I like it when I can ski in a good rhythm for the whole race. The course here fits me very well.”
Magnificat claimed his first-ever World Cup podium – in fact this was his firs time in the top-10. Twice he has finished 11th. At 10km he held the lead with a margin of 3.6 seconds over Hellner, but he was unable to hold off the hard-charging Heikkinen and the Swede.
Magnificat was ecstatic, saying “It is unbelievable – just magnific! I was hoping this year for top ten place in a World Cup race, so far I managed the top 15, but I didn’t believe I would be on the podium today. All our team had amazing skis – our staff did a good job but also Davos fits us all well and we like the altitude.”
France had a fabulous day, placing 5 skiers in the top-10. Emmanuel Jonnier was 4th, veteran Vincent Vittoz 5th, Robin Duvillard 6th, and Jean Marc-Gaillard 8th.
This was the top result in two years for the 35-year-old Jonnier, who was 14 seconds off the podium. And while Vittoz is no stranger to the top of the result list, Duvillard had never finished better than 21st.
And the skier who broke up the French pack? Kris Freeman (USA), who posted his best consecutive race finishes of his World Cup career. Freeman was 4th in his last start in the 15km classic in Kuusamo. Way back in 2003, Freeman placed 6th and 5th in consecutive individual races, but was 12th in a Team Sprint in between.
This is bodes extremely well for Freeman, who has turned in top performances in the past, but has struggled with consistency.
Freeman started the race extremely slowly – Teichmann slow in fact, ranking 59th at 1.8km, already 18 seconds down on Magnificat. At the 10km mark he was still only 16th, but like in Kuusamo, rode an impressive last 5k up the result sheet. He finished 36 seconds off the lead, 6 seconds out of 4th, and 21 seconds off the podium.
Freeman was nearly matched by Devon Kershaw of Canada. Kershaw led a strong Canadian contingent, in an impressive resurgence after the disaster of two weeks ago. Kershaw placed 9th, +39 seconds, and only 9 seconds out of 4th. Kershaw couldn’t quite maintain his early pace – he was 5th at both the 5 and 10km marks, but didn’t slip back by much.
“I worked so incredibly hard for that today. I had to go all out and then some,” said an exhausted Kershaw. “I pushed really hard for it and I needed that really badly.”
“I try not to focus on results, but it has been such a bad start with all kinds of things going on that I didn’t know what to expect,” he added. “I paid the price today, but that was a great race for me no matter what time of the year it is.”
Ivan Babikov, who was questionable to start due to illness, was the second Canadian, finishing 26th. Teammate George Grey was also inside the points in 28th.
Wrote Grey on Twitter, “A little bit of World Cup redemption for Canada today. Tight race. Ivan is tougher than STEEL.”
Alex Harvey wasn’t far behind in 34th, 5 seconds out of the top-30, and 1:18 behind Heikkinen.
Lars Flora (USA) completed the race, but was disqualified for not getting his skis marked.
It was snowing heavily during much of the men’s race, though the course held up well. Skiers describe the Davos courses as very challenging, and the big climb early in the loop is brutal.
Heikkinen and Northug are now tied at the top of the overall World Cup standings.
– France had 5 skiers in the top-8. No other country had more than 3 in the top-30.
– The top Norwegian was Morton Eilifsen in 15th
– Petter Northug (NOR) was 21st and defending World Cup Champion Dario Cologna (SUI) was 31st.
– Axel Teichmann (GER) was 74th, and appeared to throw in the towel early, cruising for a workout.
– Magnificat and Northug were the youngest skiers in the top-40 at 23-years-old.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.