Much physiological study and planning has gone into a detailed strategy to ensure Canadian skiers Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw peak for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Early this season, the top Canadian duo are on pace for a standout year.
Harvey finished sixth and Kershaw 19th in the 30-kilometre skiathlon in Lillehammer, Norway on Sunday (Dec. 3).
Harvey hung back in 14th through the classic leg, biding his time while Kershaw pushed the pace. Kershaw took the lead by the 8-km mark, pushing the pace in the lead group.
After transitioning from classic to skate technique, Harvey attacked and quickly found himself in fourth. He quickly found himself surrounded by four top Norwegians, Maurice Manificat of France, and Iivo Niskanen of Finland. Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby launched an attack on the final hill, but was bested by countryman Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, who won a remarkable fifth world cup in a row, finishing the race in 1:16:47. Sundby won silver, followed by Hans Christer Holund.
“This course is so hard. Having to ski that large hill, which is like three to four minutes of sustained climbing, four times in classic and skate is really, really hard,” Harvey said. “The plan was really to just stay in contact with the classic, save my energy, and be ready for the skate, which is my strength. I was well positioned in the front of the group of seven in the skate until the fireworks went off with 1.5-kilometres to go.”
Harvey finished 13 seconds off the lead, while Kershaw dropped three minutes off the pace, but stayed in the top 20, edging American Erik Bjornsen at the line.
“What I’m missing right now is really that top level. I wasn’t able to go with Sundby and I slowly drifted from there,” said Harvey. “These other guys have different goals right now. The Norwegians have to be on the podium in these early races if they want to go to the Olympics so they have to do this every race. My goals are to be reaching my top gear by the Tour de Ski. Racing is good training for that.”
The rest of the Canadian men finished quite close to one another. Russell Kennedy continues to improve and was 53rd in 1:24:17. He was followed by Graeme Killick (53rd) and Knute Johnsgaard (60th).
Cendrine Browne finished 45th in the women’s race to lead the Canadian women in the 15-km skiathlon with a time of 47:02. Emily Nishikawa was 22 seconds back in 49th, while Katherine Stewart-Jones did not finish the race. Stewart-Jones is returning to action after missing a month with a concussion. Browne is still hunting for a top 30 result to strengthen her Olympic team argument. Dahria Beatty did not race.
Harvey was the top lone Canadian to qualify for heats in the sprint races on Saturday (Dec. 2) in Lillehammer. Harvey qualified 22nd, but didn’t have the speed he needed to move on, as he glided to sixth in his heat.
Jess Cockney showed a slight improvement, moving up to 57th after struggling early on. Len Valjas was 59th, Julien Locke 61st, Kennedy 63rd and Johnsgaard 67th.
World cup action moves to Davos, Switzerland this weekend, where several Canadians have had success in the past.
Banff’s Heidi Widmer is expected to make her return to the world cup series in Davos as well, as she chases a spot on Switzerland’s Olympic team.