They were nevertheless confident for this important meeting on the road leading to the world championships. But it is a somewhat diminished French men’s cross-country ski team that is lining up, this weekend (Friday 29, Saturday 30 and Sunday 31 January), for the round of the World Cup in Falun, Sweden. .
On Wednesday January 27, the management of the Blues announced that four athletes would not be on the trip because of Covid-19 (one is positive and the other three contact cases): Maurice Manificat, Jules Lapierre, Clément Parisse and Emilie Bulle.
Jules Lapierre, Maurice Manificat, Clément Parisse and Emilie Bulle will not participate in the Falu World Cup… https://t.co/qKtQC2z1hq
Before the Worlds in Oberstdorf (Germany), scheduled from February 23 to March 7, the French cross-country skiers were eager to confirm, at this meeting in Sweden, a status of third nation in world men’s cross-country skiing – behind the unmissable Norwegians and Russians -, reinforced by their success, at the beginning of January, on the Tour de ski.
On January 10, at the end of the ascent of Alpe Cermis, in northern Italy, at an altitude of more than 2,000 meters, Maurice Manificat was on the second step of the final podium of this key moment of the World Cup, with eight races in ten days.
This result of the 34-year-old founder, world and Olympic multi-medalist, was a historic first for the discipline and its French followers. “It was a lot of emotions”, underlined, a few days ago, the person concerned, “Especially after last season” – he had finished 46e in the general classification of the World Cup.
Esprit de corps
Beyond Maurice Manificat, the Ski Tour will have been a vintage “Exceptional” for the French teams, to use the term of its director, Olivier Michaud: three tops 10 in the general classification for men, and a third place for Delphine Claudel on the 15 km climb of Alpe Cermis.
We have to go back to 2013 to find the trace of a podium in the Women’s World Cup. “It makes you want to do the same”, the 24-year-old skier says with a smile of the overall results of her male counterparts.
“Collective emulation”, “Second family”, “United group” … The qualifiers fuse to evoke the esprit de corps demonstrated by the France team, whether during preparation or in competition. “It’s an individual sport but, in reality, it’s anything but that”, summarizes Olivier Michaud.
The values of collective and solidarity are part of the winning formula of French cross-country skiing, as evidenced by the two bronze medals obtained in the men’s relay during the Olympic Games of 2014 and 2018. “It’s a group that completes itself, everyone brings their little thing”, notes Hugo Lapalus, the youngest of this merry band.
This collective success feeds into individual performances. “We have also built ourselves individually by the results we achieved in relay”, underlines Alexandre Rousselet, coach of the “distance” group of the French men’s team.
The results of the men’s sprint team last season, symbolized by two victories for Lucas Chanavat and the podiums for Richard Jouve in the World Cup, also gave ideas to the “distance” group, which had come out of a more delicate 2020 season. .
“Beautiful handover between generations”
The team spirit is also explained by the generational mix. Eighteen years separate the experienced Jean-Marc Gaillard, fresh in his forties, from Hugo Lapalus, 22 years old. “There is a bond between the two which is quite beautiful to see, a beautiful handover between generations”, smiles Cyril Burdet, head of the “sprint” group of the French team.
Confused, the young guard is already asserting itself on the world stage. Seventh in the climb of Alpe Cermis, Hugo Lapalus landed a promising tenth place overall in the Tour de ski and wore the green bib of the best youngster (under 23).
Behind him, Jules Chappaz, junior world champion in 2019, embodies the next generation in the near future. Delphine Claudel’s podium bodes well for a more enchanting future for women’s long distance races.
The goal of the Blues in the coming weeks is the Oberstdorf Worlds in Germany. “In years with big events like the Worlds or the Olympic Games, we know very well that medals are important and that this is where we can make the difference between a good and a very good season”, notes Cyril Burdet.
“On all formats, we have something to look for”, wants to believe Maurice Manificat by evoking, among other things, the 15 km free on which he feeds hopes, the sprint with Lucas Chanavat, Richard Jouve or even Valentin Chauvin, but also the relays (4 × 10 km and team sprint).
If individual ambitions are important, the collective still takes precedence. The relay is in everyone’s mind and everyone dreams of being part of it. “This is the goal of the team, even for those who will not be part of the four”, adds the thirty-something.