There were plenty of options this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for cross-country skiers looking to get an International Ski Federation (FIS) race in before the official start of the World Cup season, now less than one week away. While some athletes headed to Beitostølen, Norway and others Gällivare, Sweden, about 120 made their way to Saariselkä, Finland.
This included several French skiers, including Maurice Manificat, Jean-Marc Gaillard, Coraline Thomas Hugue, and Anouk Faivre Picon. Those who made the trek to Finland were greeted by high humidity and temperatures in the mid-teens Fahrenheit on Friday, as well as the softer solarlight distinct to Northern Scandinavia.
“Polar sun wake up the day of competition in Saariselka. So much pleasure here” the 31-year-old Manificat captioned an Instagram photo of Saariselkä’s sunrise prior to Friday’s opening men’s 10-kilometer classic race.
The sun’s golden sunrise on Friday served as an auspicious omen for the remainder of Manificat’s morning, as well as his fellow Frenchmen. All three podium spots in that race went to France, with Manificat taking the win in a time of 26:11.9. His teammates Gaillard and Alexis Jeannerod finished second (+31.8) and third (+44.7), respectively.
Another French athlete, Clement Parisse finished in fourth (+48.2), while Bulgarian skier Veselin Tsinzov ended the French streak in fifth place (+50.6).
In the women’s 5 k classic, Austrian Teresa Stadlober won in a time of 16:13.8, beating Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk in second by 31.9 seconds.
Kazakhstan’s Anna Shevchenko edged Belarusian Polina Seronosova by one tenth of a second for third (+47.3) while Seronosova took fourth (+47.4). France’s Thomas Hugue rounded out the top five in fifth (+56.5).
Day 2: Manificat and Kowalczyk Win Classic Sprints
Another sunrise on Saturday brought with it 1 k classic sprints for both the men and women. Temperatures crept up into the mid-20s during the day, though humidity remained high, stabilizing around 90 to 95 percent. Stadlober won the qualifier in a time of 3:46.01, while France’s 21-year-old Delphine Claudel took second (+2.62). The third-fastest qualifier (+3.83) was Slovenia’s Anamarija Lampic.
In the men’s qualifier, France once again raced to the top, this time with Lucas Chanavat leading the way in a time of 3:53.16. Finishing 0.12 seconds behind Chanavat was Belarus’s Aliaksandr Voranau in second. Mikhail Kuklin, also of Belarus, posted the third fastest qualifying time, 2.65 seconds behind Chanavat.
By the time the men’s final rolled around, the sun had disappeared and the fluorescent glow from lights along the course were the main source of illumination through the hazy, humid air. In the final were Chanavat and Manificat, as well as their French teammate Richard Jouve, along with Voranau, Slovenia’s Miha Simenc and Kazakhstan’s Nikolay Chebotko.
Manificat and Jouve pushed the pace from the start and the two Frenchmen led the group through to the finish, where they placed first and second, respectively. Rounding out the podium was Chanavat in third. Crossing in fourth was Simenc, followed by Voranau in fifth, and Chebotko in sixth.
La finale du Sprint CL de la FIS à Saariselka (Finlande), sur la partie haute de la piste, avant la descente à l'arrivée. ça ressemblait à Canmore d'ailleurs, d'où mon joli final 😉
Posted by Maurice Manificat on Saturday, November 18, 2017
In the women’s sprint final, Kowalczyk finished first, followed by Lampic in second and Stadlober in third. Belarusians Polina Kirillova and Anastasia Kirillova placed fourth and fifth, respectively, and Slovenia’s Alenka Cebasek finished sixth.
Day 3: Thomas Hugue and Tsinzov Take 10/15 k
Sunday saw the third and final day of FIS racing in Saariselkä, with men’s 15 k and a women’s 10 k freestyle individual starts.
Thomas Hugue raced to a convincing win in the 10 k, with her time of 27:35.0 exactly 49 seconds ahead of the next-closest finisher: Shevchenko. Snagging the last podium spot was France’s Aurore Jean in third (+52.0).
Missing the podium by 2 seconds was Kowalczyk in fourth (+54.0), while France’s Faivre Picon finished another 2 seconds back in fifth (+58.0).
Rounding out the rest of the top 10 was Ukraine’s Kateryna Serdiuk in sixth (1:04.0), Cebasek in seventh (1:06.0), Kazakhstan’s Valeriya Tyuleneva in eighth (+1:13.0), Ukraine’s Maryna Antsybor in ninth (+1:14.0) and Claudel in 10th (+1:22.0).
The men’s 15 k freestyle win went to Bulgaria’s Veselin Tsinzov, who won in a time of 36:13.0. The next five spots were taken by Belarus, with Yury Astapenka in second (+23.0), Sergei Dolidovich in third (+33.0), Mikhail Kuklin in fourth (+53.0), Michail Semenov in fifth (+57.0), and Voranau in sixth (+1:25.0). Breaking the streak was Kazakhstan’s Denis Volotka in seventh (+1:26.0), followed by Parisse in eighth (+1:36.0).
Rounding out the top 10 was Aliaksandr Saladkou of Belarus in ninth (+1:45.0) and Sergey Cherepanov of Kazakhstan in 10th (+1:54.0).
Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.