Alex Harvey missed the podium by .6 seconds and Devon Kershaw cracked the top-30 twice as Canadian cross-country skiers launched their charge on the 2018 Winter Olympics from Ruka, Finland.
Harvey was close to his first podium of the year Sunday (Nov. 26) in the 15-kilometre pursuit, finishing in 36:24.8, but was edged out by Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov. Norway ski phenom Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo won the pursuit to sweep the weekend, followed by countryman Martin Johnsrud Sundby.
“I started really hard and spent a lot of energy coming back to catch the field,” said Harvey. “I am in good shape, but not my best shape yet, so I was cooked at the finish and just needed to cross the line.”
Starting 83 seconds back of the lead, Harvey dug deep to catch the lead pack by the 7-km mark, and struggled to hang on as Sundby launched an attack.
“I knew I had to start really hard to catch the leaders. They for sure had a big advantage ahead of me because of all the energy I spent coming back on them,” said Harvey. “Once I got to them, it got tactical until Sundby made his speed burst.”
That push shattered Harvey, who dug deep alongside a pair of Russian skiers set on keeping pace with Sundby, the Norwegian crystal globe winner.
“I was happy I was able to go with him, but that put me too much in the red for the finish. If we had opened the gap a couple of seconds more I think we would have stayed away, but that speed burst put me over the line. I could see the guys coming back and my legs were cooked.”
Harvey traditionally takes a few world cup weekends to round into form, so finishing so close to the podium in Finland was a good sign.
It was also a good start for Kershaw, who scored more world cup points with a 29th-place finish (38:11), solidifying his chances of reaching the 2018 Winter Olympics. Coupled with a 26th in the 15-km classic race on Saturday (Nov. 25), the 34-year-old has shown promising form.
Len Valjas led the mid-pack Canadian team in 44th, followed by Graeme Killick (68th), Knute Johnsgaard (81st) and Julien Locke (83rd).
Emily Nishikawa was the top Canadian woman in the 10 km skate pursuit. She finished 69th in a tough day for the team. Cendrine Browne was 72nd and Dahria Beatty was lapped out in 79th spot. The women’s team is targeting a Lillehammer world cup for better results.
Saturday’s 15-km classic was also a strong day for Harvey. He finished 13th on a course punctuated by long, steep climbs, crossing the line in 34:28.5
Individual starts are a race against the clock, but skiers often work together. Harvey and Kershaw actually met at the 5-km mark and skied together. Kershaw was running 55th at the time, but by skiing with Harvey, he jumped 19 places. The 15-km classic is Kershaw’s favourite race.
“That was sweet to have someone there. It was good for both of us and really helped pull us both around,” said Harvey.
Klaebo took the win, followed by Didrik Toenseth and Finland’s Livo Niskanen. Valjas was the third fastest Canadian (48th), followed by Killick (58th), Johnsgaard (87th), Locke (100th) and Jess Cockney (109th).
Nishikawa was the top Canadian female on the day. She finished 56th, followed by Browne (76th) and Beatty (84th). Norway’s Marit Bjoergen won gold, followed by Charlotte Kalla of Sweden and Ingvild Flugstad Oestbergy of Norway.
Harvey was the lone Canadian to reach the heats in Friday’s sprint races. He qualified 13th, but ended the day in 21st. He was followed by Locke (59th), Valjas (63rd), Johnsgaard (73rd), Kershaw (74th), Killick (85th) and Cockney (95th).
Beatty was the top Canadian women’s sprinter, finishing 64th. The world cup moves to Lillehammer, Norway this weekend. Live streaming is available on CBC’s website.