France – A-
France, the perennial whipping boy of the first world, managed a respectable if not fantastic 9th place on the Nations Cup, squeaking in just ahead of the Swiss. While an A- may seem quite generous, especially because as a historian I am compelled to mention France’s love for surrender and general all-around ineffectiveness, in my opinion, their skiers for the most part skied as expected, or in a few specific cases, blew my proverbial socks off.
But let’s start with the women. At best, France’s females could be described as ‘met expectations’. French women have not been powerhouses for quite a few years, and this season was no different. The best of the lot, Karine Laurent Philippot quietly skied her way to 278 WC points, good enough for 29th overall, which is exactly the same place she finished last season. Next up is Aurore Cuinet at 103 WC points, which is well above her 08-09 total of 25, but still not exactly causing Marit Bjoergen to shake in her sports bra. Furthermore, 88 of those points came from sprints, where she never made a final round. After that, the women tail off pretty hard, with 5 other women scoring double digit points, but nothing above 30 or so. The best thing you can say about the French chicks is that they are all pretty young, and could get better. But I’m not holding my breath.
As for the men, they also cannot be trashed too much. The French big guns (just gun, actually, Vittoz) have been aging and declining in quality as time has passed, so dropping points consistently every year is not considered a disappointment, but an expectation. The venerable Vincent Vittoz, who is now 35, racked up 515 WC points, down from 589 the previous season. As has been stated earlier, while Vittoz is a red-wine drinking, cheese dummying surrender-monkey, the slight drop in points counts as consistent rather than damning.
His good buddy Jean Marc Gaillard, who in his 8th season on the World Cup is now 30, also dropped some points, roughly 200, as he earned 474 this year as opposed to 671 in 08-09. This is a bit more atrocious of a drop, I will admit. However, I hesitate to condemn Gaillard because his point total suffered most notably from a DNF in the World Cup Final in the 20 km Pursuit. Jean Marc was battling at the front with Northug for most of the race, and even picked up a pile of bonus seconds, before being given a dishonourable DSQ for skating in the classic portion. I know, you’re asking yourself why I would let him off the hook for this transgression; the one thing Kieran NEVER does is let people off the hook for bonehead moves (see Belarus for more details). But I am looking at the bigger picture here. Namely, Kowalczyk skated significantly more blatantly at the pursuit in the Olympics than Gaillard did, and she was not DSQ’ed. All I want is at least a little consistency in jury decisions, or at best an outright disqualification and utter humiliation of Justyna.
Moving on from the mostly-distance boys, we come to the French sprint squad. The two Cyril’s did most of the work themselves. Cyril Gaillard (yes, he is the younger brother of Jean Marc) did not do much, bagging a measly 18 points, but he is still young. Cyril Miranda, arguably France’s best sprinter collected 85, down just slightly from 94 last year. I was a little disappointed, as I thought someone from France could become a consistent sprint threat, but Miranda was all over the map. In sprinting to really rack up points you have to be a consistent qualifier, and he failed to do so. End result, slightly below expected sprinting.
And now we arrive at what is quite possibly the biggest surprise of the season, Maurice Manificat. While his name is kind of goofy, and too many people think calling him Maurice the Magnificent is clever, he truly had one hell of a season. At 24 years of age, Manificat had been steadily improving the last couple of years, jumping from 7 to 120 to a gigantic 580 points this season. If someone had told me after Beitostolen, Kuusamo, or even Davos (where he came 3rd, his first ever podium) that Manificat would finish 5th in the World Cup Overall and have a wicked Olympics (6th, 26th, 4th in the 4x10) I would have suspected them of heavy drug use. Probably cocaine, but LSD and acid would not have been ruled out. But before we go and give Manificat a knighthood, I will point out he was fairly inconsistent, especially on the Tour where he finished as high as 63rd and as low as 8th. And both of those were sprint races. Where’d the fast twitch muscles go, Maurice?? However, he also crushed the World Cup Final, finishing 23rd, 6th, 11th, 2nd, and having the fastest time on the final day. Not a bad year, and Manificat really helped out the French’s overall score here. He upped his game big time, and France gained a full letter grade.
Watch out for: Robin Duvillard. For a change, I’m not picking a sprinter, but a distance guy. He’s 27, scored 66 points, up from 10 in 2008, someone has to step in to help out Vittoz, and he looks like Adam Sandler. Check it out!