Maurice Manificat was having one heck of a flashback on Saturday in Davos, Switzerland. Two years older and that much more experienced, the 27-year-old Frenchman could sense that he was in the hunt for another World Cup career best in the 30-kilometer freestyle individual start – the same race and place he placed second in almost exactly two years ago.
In December 2011, Manificat essentially fell apart in the last quarter of the race, losing to Norwegian Petter Northug by 51.4 seconds. He didn’t forget that during his four times around the Davos course on Saturday, being mindful and consciously restraining to make sure he had something left at the end.
Starting 66th of 70, Norway’s Chris Andre Jespersen chased down Manificat’s top time, heading out 2 ½ minutes after him. With just over 5 k remaining, it looked like Jespersen could steal the victory from under him as he clocked the fastest time through the 24.5 k checkpoint. Two kilometers later, Manificat had the edge by 2.3 seconds and his closing kick turned out to make the difference as Manificat won by 3.3 seconds.
His time of 1:05:10.8 was 2:33 minutes faster than Northug’s in 2011 and stood as Manificat’s third individual win and eighth World Cup podium. Norway’s second man, Martin Johnsrud Sundby placed third, 14.9 seconds behind Manificat, and Northug finished 37th, 2:51.2 minutes back.
“It was a tough race,” Manificat told reporters. “I was thinking of two years ago when I did not push hard enough towards the end and lost the victory in the last lap.”
“It feels great to win today,” he added.
Afterward, Canadian Alex Harvey (who did not race) tweeted at Manificat in French: “Moving to Davos?”
“I’ll need a few more wins 🙂 ,” Manificat responded.
Careful not to open too hard, Manificat had the fourth-fastest time through 4 k, trailing Russian Alexander Legkov and Austrian Johannes Duerr, respectively, at the time. Then, Sundby as the final starter jumped out to the fastest 4 k time.
By the halfway mark, Manificat had taken the lead, about 10 seconds ahead of Simen Andreas Sveen – a 25-year-old Norwegian gunning for an Olympic bid. Sundby surpassed Manificat’s 15 k time by 13 seconds, but the Manificat up ahead wasn’t too concerned.
Saving for the last 7 ½ kilometers, Manificat was still warming up, doing his best to accelerate over the courses flat sections. The tactic worked as Sundby dropped to third by 24.5 k and Jespersen emerged as a contender for his first World Cup podium – which was almost a win.
“I was surprised when I heard I was fighting for victory,” the 30-year-old Jespersen told reporters. He had focused on skiing his own race and holding a steady pace.
“It’s my first podium in my career; three seconds behind the winner is like a victory for me,” he added. (Later, he told NRK “it sucks” to lose by that margin, “but right now, I don’t care!”)
Meanwhile, Sundby, 29, held onto the overall World Cup lead by 91 points over Manificat. Knowing it would be a tough race from the get-go, he was pleased to share the podium with his teammate, who now leads the distance World Cup standings by six points over Manificat.
“Chris is good enough to go the Olympic Games in Sochi,” Sunbdy told NRK, according to a translation. “We are very good pals, have been there a long time and has trained a lot together. There is nothing that pleases me more than to stand on the podium with him even if he beats me.”
While Jespersen differed questions about whether that result put him on Norway’s Olympic team (he also placed eighth in the Kuusamo mini tour to start the season and eighth in the Lillehammer 15 k classic last weekend), he told NRK, “It’s big.”
Two other Norwegians, Sveen broke through in fifth (+22.1) to help Norway take three of the top five, and Petter Eliasson placed eighth.
Italy’s Roland Clara placed fourth (+20.8), France’s Robin Duvillard finished sixth (+39.2), Duerr took seventh for Austria, and Legkov and Finland’s Matti Heikkinen tied for ninth.
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.