Drenched in sweat, Alex Harvey stood surrounded by fans, media and children. He couldn’t have escaped the swarm at Mont Sainte-Anne if he wanted to. People wanted his autograph, answers and face in their photos.
Two months after the masses flocked to the Québec ski area to see their hometown World Cup skier win three straight races at Canadian Ski Nationals, life for Harvey had mellowed. On Tuesday afternoon, the 23-year-old was headed to Laval University in Québec City for a three-hour law class.
The calm was only temporary.
In December, Harvey will once again be in the limelight when the World Cup makes its first visit to Québec City. Freestyle individual and team sprints will take place Friday, Dec. 7, and Saturday, Dec. 8, before the World Cup makes its second Canadian stop in Canmore, Alberta, the following week.
“I’m really excited, and the people here are really excited,” Harvey said in a phone interview. “They started talking about it last summer because they announced it for December 2012. People kind of thought that it was December 2011, I guess. I’ve had people asking me about it for over a year now.”
That enthusiasm embodies Québec. Approximately 65 percent of recreational skiers in Canada live in the eastern provinces of Québec or Ontario, according Cross Country Canada (CCC) Director of Events Dave Dyer.
“Hence there is tremendous potential to tap into this resource and introduce the sport to youth in these areas,” he wrote in an email in July 2011.
A few months before, Québec City earned the right to host its first World Cup, as did Canmore, a veteran venue. Dyer explained that CCC submitted three bids, including Callaghan Valley in British Columbia, to ensure it met the International Ski Federation (FIS) requirement to host two weekends of World Cups outside Europe.
Québec and Canmore had been CCC’s top picks, Dyer wrote. Canmore hosted a World Cup as recently as 2010 and had snowmaking capabilities. Québec was new, but had potential, and met CCC’s goal of developing world-class racing in eastern North America.
“Québec City was a natural because the Québec City [Pierre-Harvey National] Training Centre is here,” Dyer said at Canadian nationals in March. “Obviously tremendous athletes are coming out of this region and we feel that it has the climate and some good, experienced people.”
That’s where Alex Harvey and his father, Pierre, came in.
While the two Québec sport celebrities weren’t at the heart of the planning process, they were on the city’s posters and press releases. When the Sprint Québec 2012 course was unveiled last week, the younger Harvey was shown standing next to an enlarged map of the city sprint wearing a blazer and sunglasses.
Harvey said he met with the event-production company, Gestev, several times to review the course layout. The Québec-based organizers, which will also manage media, hospitality and accommodation logistics, have hosted several international events, including Canada’s celebrated Crashed Ice – a mix of hockey, downhill skating and bordercross – as well as mountain bike World Cups and World Championships.
But cross-country skiing was a new one.
“We believe our longtime experience with cross-country mountain bike brings us close to the endurance athletes’ needs,” Gestev President Patrice Drouin wrote in an email from the FIS Congress in South Korea. “Our experience with alternative-urban sports helps to approach the urban [cross-country] sprints with confidence. Local expertise also exists.”
Harvey was confident in Gestev’s ability to put on a nordic World Cup.
“They always try to partner with a local athlete who knows something about the sport,” he said. “I worked with [them] a little bit, walked the course and just had a couple meetings to do something exciting. I tried to do something that could suit me well.”
He laughed and continued, “In sprinting, it’s all about the finish.”
This course will start uphill and end on a straightaway incline, Harvey said. While it won’t require much offset, or V1 technique, a couple of bridges will change the momentum, but most of it will be one or two skate, V2 or V2 alternate.
From May 7-9, three FIS representatives, including cross-country event coordinator Sandra Spitz and race director Pierre Mignerey, toured Québec for a pre-site inspection. Two weeks later, Harvey joined FIS President Gian Franco Kasper and its secretary general, Sarah Lewis, in Québec to officially announce the course.
With two 800-meter loops in front of the Parliament Building and near the Old City, the course will be similar to Stockholm’s World Cup sprint, Drouin wrote. He explained the original plan, which included a 1.6-k loop around the Plains of Abraham and Grande Allée, changed “100 percent” after Drouin and Dyer watch the World Cup city sprints Düsseldorf, Germany.
There, Drouin decided it made more sense to do two loops from a spectator and snow-supply standpoint. With the cooperation of Québec’s mayor, he made sure the course could be wide enough. Sidewalk poles needed to be removed, the main road (Grande Allée) closed, and the city centre essentially shut down that Friday and Saturday.
Dyer said the city gave World Cup organizers its blessing.
“A lot of times on city streets, you’re restricted to half the width of the street where the other half is still open [to traffic],” Dyer said. “You don’t want to shut the city down or the interior core of the city. At the same time, there’s an awful lot that goes into preparing the course. … Scheduling was one of the biggest concerns. The services to the athletes is also very important for the committee and good representation of FIS.”
After reviewing the course, the organizing committee and FIS delegates fine-tuned details to meet international criteria. After wrapping up the visit with two days in Canmore, FIS essentially gave both sites the go-ahead.
“We were pretty sure it [would] work, but the site inspection and homologation done in early May confirmed that we were going in the right direction,” Drouin wrote.
In the case of scarce snow, similar to what happened at nationals when organizers moved the individual sprints from the Plains of Abraham to Mont Sainte-Anne (MSA), Drouin said they would make snow on the adjacent plains. That’s also where athletes will warm up and team services will be. If needed, Dyer said they could transport snow from MSA or Stoneham Mountain Resort located 45 and 30 kilometers north, respectively. Regardless, the sprints won’t likely relocate.
“Unless there’s an absolute meltdown, as we experienced this year at Ski Nationals, we’ll be at the downtown site,” Dyer said, laughing. “I don’t think we get 25-degree temperatures that often in December.”
By the Numbers
Twelve days after the last World Cup race in Canmore, the Tour de Ski kicks off in Germany. (Canmore will hold 10- and 15-k classic mass starts, freestyle sprints and a skiathlon from Dec. 13-16.)
That leaves the number of skiers expected to come to Canada in question. While all the top sprinters will likely race at both sites, several of the European distance skiers may opt to stay home.
Dyer said all of the Canadian World Cup team members would be back, and Harvey confirmed he would do all of the Québec and Canmore races. He’ll use a family friend to manage media and fan inquiries and may fly to Canmore to train before Québec, but expected to compete on all cylinders.
“For me next year, world champs is the main goal,” Harvey said. “Last year it was the Tour just because there was no main championship. The Tour will not be a huge focus. Especially with the final climb, I have a lot of problems with blood flow in my arteries on a steady climb like that. … I can’t do really well in the Tour because of the climb so it’s not really a big deal to not be in great shape there.”
He said he wouldn’t be surprised if several distance skiers didn’t come to Canada.
“In Canmore, it’s two distance [races], but it’s only two distances,” Harvey said. “I think the sprinters will come because two sprint races, it’s 20 percent of the calendar.”
Personally, he was excited for the opportunity to race with teammate Devon Kershaw and defend their team sprint title from the 2011 World Championships. There was also a chance that another teammate, Lenny Valjas, could race with one of them.
Regardless, Dyer expected resounding attendance from the North American ski community. He estimated 10,000-30,000 people would watch the Québec sprints, and 80-100 men and 60-80 women would participate. At the Canmore World Cup in 2010, about 80 men and 65 women raced on Feb. 5-6.
“I think all the North American athletes are committed to supporting the races,” Dyer said.
Moving the Québec races up one day to Friday-Saturday rather than Saturday-Sunday allowed an extra day for travel. After the city sprints, racers could pack up, take a four-hour flight to Calgary and drive an hour west to Canmore. For those who haven’t made the trip before, the size of Canada might be a bit of a shock.
“I don’t think it’ll be a concern if we don’t have a three-hour wait in Montreal like we did last week,” said Dyer, who is based in Canmore. “We had a mechanical breakdown with one of our planes so we were on the tarmac for a little bit, but sure, we’re looking at all aspects in terms of getting equipment out to Canmore.
“Canada and North America, from one coast to another, is a pretty expansive area when you start talking about two or three times the size of Europe,” he added. “[Outsiders will] start appreciating the size of the country.”