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FALUN, Sweden – Tel père, tel fils…or as they say in English, “like father, like son.”
On what Canadian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth described as an “almost a perfect day,” Alex Harvey won his first World Cup race 25 years after his father Pierre did the same thing, right here in Falun.
The 23-year-old Harvey edged out 2012 World Cup Champion Dario Cologna (SUI) by a mere .2 seconds in the 3.3-kilometer skate prologue. And with Devon Kershaw (CAN) placing third you have that near perfect day Wadsworth was referring to.
Canada has never had two men on the podium in a World Cup race, and while Wadsworth has plenty of confidence in his skiers, the one-three finish was not something he had considered.
“I have to pinch myself today, that is for sure,” Wadsworth told FasterSkier. “I wasn’t expecting that. I just wanted the guys to ski solid races and keep in the hunt… But they really executed well…”
That execution started before the race when Wadsworth returned to the team hotel after the women’s prologue.
Wadsworth told his four men, “you have to pace up the first time. The race doesn’t start until you get to the top of Mördarbacken. And once you get to the top there you have to have the punch to drive it all the way home.”
The race leaves the stadium and almost immediately runs into the “killer hill.” After a long winding descent, the men came around and skied the first portion of Mördarbacken before peeling off to head to the finish.
At the base of the big hill, just half a kilometer in, Harvey was back in 13th, before many of the top skiers had come through.
At the top, he was seven down on leader Marcus Hellner (SWE) and Kershaw was eight back.
“I tried to build during the race,” Harvey said. “Even though it is downhill toward the finish you still have to work the corner really hard and really accelerate over the top of the hill.”
He pointed out that the top of Mördarbacken is only three minutes into an eight plus minute race, so “most of the time is still to come.”
He said he was consciously saving energy for the final stretch of the race, and focused on pushing the downhills and gradual terrain.
Like his teammate, Kershaw stayed in control up Mördarbacken and over the flat at the top, then “it was game on—it was like a sprint qualifier to the end for me,” he said.
Harvey climbed up to second in the World Cup Finals standings while Kershaw locked up second place in the overall. And with Lenny Valjas, in a strong 21st today, sitting in third in the World Cup Finals, following his podium in Stockholm, and the Canadian men are on a roll.
The success of the day was witnessed by none other than the aforementioned Pierre Harvey.
The elder Harvey said watching his son win a World Cup race was “unbelievable,” and never imagined he would see such a day.
“Nobody could believe that one day your son would do that,” Pierre told FasterSkier.
Usually, he explained, children don’t follow in their parents’ footsteps.
“When you see your father doing something, usually the son…wants to do something different,” an ecstatic Harvey senior said. “I never thought he would do that. Never, never.”
The younger Harvey finally broke through with a win three years after his first World Cup podium
“It is really special,” he said of the victory. “It is what I train for. I train because I love it, but I also love racing and I love to race well.”
After taking two World Cup thirds in 2009 he thought his first win would come soon after, maybe even in the Olympics, and though it didn’t happen, Harvey said he knew in his head that he could do it.
Even with a gold medal at the 2011 World Championships in the Team Sprint, and a victory at the U23 Championships, Harvey was hardly satisfied.
He was looking for the individual World Cup win.
“It keeps me motivated to try and improve, and especially when I can see my teammates on the podium, Devon winning a bunch of races this year—I wanted to win too,” Harvey said.
Kershaw was gunning for the victory just as hard today, but Wadsworth stated the simple fact that “they both couldn’t win.”
Wadsworth said it was a huge weight of Kershaw’s shoulders to wrap up the number two spot in the World Cup, however.
“He has been so nervous about it, its crazy,” Wadsworth said.
Early in the race, at the base of Mördarbacken, Wadsworth knew his two stars were having good ones.
After watching them in hundreds of events and training sessions, he knows when they are skiing well.
“At the start of a race like that you can be really stressed and high tempo,” Wadsworth said of the prologue distance.
But both Kershaw and Harvey brought “just the right mix of pop and glide.”
“I saw that” Wadsworth said, “and I could relax. They looked smooth, there was no stress—I knew they were going to be on it today.”
Kershaw said he felt great, and thought he had a good chance to take the victory despite being “scared shitless” of the big climb.
He added that prologues generally make him nervous since there are few opportunities to race them, and he doesn’t have a good sense of the pacing.
But following Wadsworth’s advice to ease into the race worked wonders and despite falling short of the win he was “super thrilled with how it went.”
The unflappable Cologna, who has already wrapped up his third consecutive World Cup title, after achieving the same feat in the Tour de Ski, was satisfied with his performance.
Consistent as always, Cologna was in second at the top of Mördarbacken, though at the point he trailed Hellner and not Harvey.
Over the next 2.1 kilometers he lost 4.3 seconds to the Canadian. He said it was necessary to start hard, but like the Canadians, recognized the need to save something for the end.
“It is not a sprint,” Cologna said. “You have to be in good shape or otherwise you will die in the Mördarbacken.”
While Cologna is hardly unbeatable in distance races, as Eldar Roenning proved last week in the Holmenkollen 50k, he is always in the mix.
Continuing an amazing run today, Cologna has not missed the podium in a World Cup distance race since the Kuusamo mini-tour back in November.
Wadsworth sees the Swiss star as skiing’s version of Tiger Woods saying “When you are going up against a guy like Cologna…You have to beat him once and then you know he is beatable.”
Now that Harvey has done that, taking the win in the process, Wadsworth feels like “the floodgates can open for the guy. The kid is going to have an amazing future. I’m just so glad I’m here to be part of it.”
Matt Voisin contributed reporting.