The tension in the interval start race comes down to watching the clock.
The seconds tick, the time checks pass, the squirm of the of the skier in the leader’s chair only quelled after the top-prospects slide past the finish — and there’s only a reference to time back.
On Dec. 12, that was France’s Maurice Manificat, the thirty-two-year-old skate skiing star, residing where he often belongs, sitting in the leader’s chair in Davos, Switzerland during the 15-kilometer skate. In bib 39, Manificat set the fastest time of the earlier starters. As the other would-be-winners came in, Manificat’s lead held.
Until Russia’s Evgeniy Belov bested Manificat’s time by 0.9 seconds. The Frenchman finished second in what was his first World Cup start of the season.
Today in Ulricehamn, Sweden in the men’s 15 k skate, it was déjà vu all over again. Manificat in bib 39. Manificat in the leader’s chair waiting for the possible bigger guns on the day to cross the line.
Manificat’s time of 34:55.4 minutes held, just barely, for the win. Simen Hegstad Krüger, the day’s 46th starter, stopped the clock 1.1 seconds back for second place. Didrik Tønseth, also of Norway, came in third (+8.7).
“We were waiting to come back to Ulricehamn for 2 years. I was pushed with the atmosphere and the crowd!” Manificat told the International Ski Federation (FIS) after the race. 2017 was the last time the World Cup made a stop in Ulricehamn – a venue known for its boisterous spectators. (FIS reported an estimated 27,000 fans were on hand for today’s World Cup.)
2017 in Ulricehamn was also a time when Alex Harvey reigned supreme in the 15 k skate. He won that day’s 15 k skate by six seconds over Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby.
At thirty-years-old Harvey has been near, but not at the top of his form this season.
Harvey, who placed third last season in the Tour de Ski (TdS), pulled himself from this season’s TdS after placing 22nd in stage 5. He took an extended break from Europe to train and rest at his home in Quebec.
Today saw a different Harvey return to the World Cup. He placed ninth in Saturday’s 15 k skate, 31.4 seconds back.
Harvey explained in a post-race call that he feels rejuvenated and satisfied with the result, despite having flown to Europe on Wednesday.
“I felt quite good, but I have been in Europe for two days only,” Harvey said. “I flew on Wednesday and arrived here Thursday midday. After the Tour, I felt I needed to go home and reset a little bit. I just wasn’t skiing the way I wanted to. I wasn’t feeling good and especially after races. Of course, you are tired after a ski race but it was like I was really really tired after the races and I didn’t feel like the body could handle the effort much. I needed a bit of a mental break at home. So I went back and was able to make the most of the great conditions we had there in Mont St Anne and I was able to put in a good block of training and just in a more relaxed environment being at home.”
In the past, Harvey said he had used the TdS as a “launching pad” for the latter part of the season. This year, Harvey sensed the expected performance bump during and after the Tour was in jeopardy.
It was a feeling he said he had not experienced since 2012, a lifetime ago on the World Cup.
“I struggled [in 2012] and I had some back issues back then too,” Harvey said. “It was my first season or maybe second spending the whole winter in Europe and that was quite hard for me. I think I was 23 years old. That was the only other time but I was still more of an underdog back then and I wasn’t too worried about it. It was a bit of a drought there for me in the middle of the season, that was the last time, that was 2012. Since then it hasn’t really happened … But this year I didn’t feel like the body was handling racing well enough to benefit from the Tour, from all those hard efforts. That is why I had to pull the plug near the end and go home and reset.”
Harvey went on to explain his time in Quebec allowed him to focus on a lovely three letter word, “fun”. The chance to reset was also an opportunity to finetune the training.
“I am the type of athlete, I cannot just rest my way into shape,” said Harvey. “That never worked for me. I was mentally resting but I was still actually skiing quite a bit back home. Just easy for the first week and then normal doing some intervals and strength and all that normal stuff the other week and a half. The last week at home, in intervals, the last two interval sessions were quite good and I was able to push the body and recover in a day or two. And get ready to push again three days later I knew that I was training up that is good for.”
With low expectations, Harvey started strong in Ulricehamn on Saturday. At 5 k he was off Manificat’s mark by 10.6 seconds with the ninth fastest split. By 10 k, he ceded 30.7 seconds to the eventual winner. For the remainder of the race, he lost only an additional 0.7 seconds to Manificat’s winning mark.
“I came here on short notice, so I am really happy with both the effort and the results but most importantly the feeling,” said Harvey. “That was the most important thing for me.”
As he keeps his eye on Seefeld’s World Championships, starting about a month out, Harvey said he was optimistic.
“Just about as long as the arrow is pointing in the right direction, which has to be uphill and upwards from now on, I think today is a good result for that,” Harvey expressed. “It is pointing up and so that is what I am just going to focus on and get better every day. And if I am able to do that, I will be a challenger for top-five top positions in Seefeld. I have to keep believing in the plan and I think so far the last three weeks the adjustments we made were pretty good.”
Also for Canada, Lenny Valjas skied to 57th (+2:32.1), and Bob Thompson 77th (+4:16.6).
For the U.S., Scott Patterson finished 35th (+1:26.5), David Norris 53rd (+2:11.3), and Ben Lustgarten 64th (+3:04.7).
Racing continues tomorrow for the men with a 4 x 7.5 k relay.