GeneralWorld CupTeam 8: France

Avatar Chelsea LittleNovember 11, 2011

France

2009-2010 Nations Cup Ranking: 7th (2477 pts)

2010-2011 Nations Cup Ranking: 8th (2733 pts)

Men: 6th (1869 pts)

Women: 9th (864 pts)

2011/2012 World Cup Team Men

Jean Marc Gaillard

Maurice Manificat

Robin Duvillard

Cyril Miranda

Roddy Darragon

Women

Laure Barthelemy

Aurore Jean

Karine Laurent Philipot

What You May Have Missed Last Season

Jean Marc Gaillard picked up the win at a late-season marathon in Norway, along with Therese Johaug. Photo courtesy of Skarverennet.no.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably noticed that Vincent Vittoz Vittoz said au revoir to life as an athlete. The great French hope had his worst season since 2002, finishing (for him) a measly 23rd in the overall World Cup rankings. Vittoz had some good races – he finished fourth in the final climb in the Tour de Ski and third in the 20 k pursuit in Lahti – but he wasn’t his old medal-winning self.

While the most famous Frenchman might have had a disappointing season, his teammates Jean Marc Gaillard and Maurice Manificat continued to show solid speed on the World Cup circuit. Gaillard moved up from eleventh to ninth in the overall rankings on the back of a sixth-place effort in the Tour de Ski and eighth in World Cup Finals.

As for Manificat – who is also getting his masters in biology – he actually slipped eight places to thirteenth in the rankings, mainly due to a slow start to the season. He failed to wow in the first period of racing and then slogged through the Tour de Ski to finish 17th. But as the season progressed, Manificat upped his game, starting with a podium in Rybinsk, adding a very respectable 6th-place finish in the World Championships classic, collecting another podium in Lahti, and finishing to fifth in World Cup Finals.

And oh yeah: a quick biathlete, Alexis Boeuf, showed up and finished 20th in the sprint in Davos.

The French men capped the season off with a bang. At a FIS race in Tana, Norway, Manificat and Gaillard turned the podium into a Sami Jauhojaervi sandwich, and then they took the top two places in Finland’s Tour de Barents. Maybe they  need to work on their peaking plan?

While the men have had a solid 1-2-3 punch for the last several years, the French women have not found as much success. With solid results but no star power, they maintained their ninth-place ranking from the previous season. Laure Barthelemy broke into the red group for the first time, finishing the year ranked 23rd overall. She’s a solid all-around skier, but a bit stronger in sprints: the high point of Barthelemy’s season was making two finals (one in the Toblach stage of the Tour de ski and the other in Liberec) and then just barely missing the final at World Championships, where she qualified eighth and finished seventh. Aurore Jean was the next Frenchwoman in the final rankings, far below in 46th place – tant pis.

What You Need To Know for This Season

Vittoz will be on the sidelines this time around.

The entire coaching staff looks different, thanks to the retirement of head coach Roberto Gal. Vittoz has taken the reins for the French “B” team. With only a few athletes on the “A” squad, look for the venerable Vincents (his technician is even better, Vincent Meilleur) to work some magic on the young guns. Hopefully he isn’t too bus to groom the kids for success: according to his twitter feed Vittoz has also been getting feted in La Clusaz, walking with donkeys, and vacationing in Morocco. The team’s structure has also shifted, so the big question for this year is whether the changes will lead to improvements or backsliding. In particular, look to see whether the sprinters, who now have their own training group, will improve.

Ah, the sprint team. The French are in the unusual position of having an Olympic silver medalist on their team, but having virtually nobody expect them to win anything. Roddy Darragon hasn’t done much recently except make a really fancy website with no content. Cyril Miranda had a couple of good seasons, but last year ended up 50th in the sprint cup. If France makes a splash, it will come from younger athletes.

On the women’s side, Karine Laurent Philippot took last season off to have a baby, but this year she’s back. She had two World Cup podiums a few years back and in the 2009-10 season collected two top-10 finishes in longer races. With Barthelemy appearing to be developing into a sprinter, Laurent Philippot could take over as the lead distance skier on the women’s squad.

The team trained on their glacier in Tignes earlier this fall and in Ramsau, and have also checked out the ski tunnel in Oberhof – where Manificat tried his hand at moviemaking, with pretty decent results (although the lip-syncing needs some practice). The “A” squad is currently in Sweden, rollerskiing, but the U23 team decided to stay in France, and are reportedly skiing in Tignes. A Gallic advantage?

Another advantage for the French: Robin Duvillard’s father cooks the team dinner, and apparently it’s very good.

Who You Should Watch

For the women, look to  see whether Barthelemy – who made a huge step last season – can become a more consistent presence in sprint semifinals and finals on the World Cup circuit. Also check for up-and-comer Aurelie Dabudyk, who was a steady presence in the top 20 at U23 Championships last year. Dabudyk finished fourth in the overall Alpen Cup standings – two other Frenchwomen were on the podium, but as the youngest of the threesome, Dabudyk probably has the most room to improve.

On the men’s side, the boring truth is that Manificat and Gaillard will continue to double-team the World Cup field. If Gaillard can have a better start to this season and carry a bit more momentum, he could climb further up the rankings. Manificat, meanwhile has said that he is aiming for a podium in the overall. “The podium in the overall World Cup is my main objective and this requires a very good Tour de Ski and podiums and victories over the various stages of the World Cup,” he told ski-nordique.net.

The French “B” squad is full of men who could make a breakthrough. They put three racers in the top ten of the Alpen Cup standings, and one of the newest additions is 20-year-old Renaud Jay, younger brother of the Olympic medalist biathlete Vincent Jay.

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Chelsea Little

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