Alex Harvey missed the bus. The poor guy had to go to a press conference after Sunday’s 1.5-kilometer freestyle sprint in Oberhof, Germany, yet Canada’s tour bus left after the quarterfinals.
Darn red bib. The 25-year-old Canadian couldn’t help that he was still on top in the Tour de Ski overall standings after stage two of seven.
Harvey didn’t win in the same sense that he destroyed the men’s 4.5 k freestyle prologue field on Saturday in Oberhof. But he did surprise himself in Sunday’s qualifier, racing to the fastest time of 2:49.76 on the one-lap course. He was 2.34 seconds ahead of Sweden’s Jens Eriksson in second and 2.39 up on Ales Razym of the Czech Republic in third.
“It’s the best qualifier I’ve had in my career so far,” Harvey said on the phone from the bus on its way to Lenzerheide, Switzerland, for Stage 3 of the Tour on Tuesday. (Yep, he made it. Head coach Justin Wadsworth drove pretty fast in his BMW rental to catch up to the bus.)
His first “zero FIS point” in the books meant a lot in some ways, but in others, “qualifiers don’t mean much,” Harvey said. Either way, it put him in the same quarterfinal as teammate Devon Kershaw, who qualified in 10th. That wasn’t ideal, he said.
“It lowers your odds of having two [teammates] make the semi,” Harvey explained. “But it was a clean heat.”
After Germany’s Josef Wenzl jumped out to an early lead, Harvey quickly tucked behind in second as the whole six-man heat snowplowed around the first technical corner – technical in the sense that the trail was narrow and icy with temperatures right around freezing.
A bigger man than most World Cup skiers, the 6-foot-2 Wenzl eventually faded as Kershaw seized the opportunity to attack up the only offset (V1) climb in the whole 1.5 k loop.
Harvey described the speed of the heat as slow because of the narrow manmade course, which bottlenecked at every corner. Finally, Kershaw went for it, attacking up the definitive climb and putting somewhat of a gap on Wenzl.
Meanwhile, Harvey hovered in fifth. Moving into position on the final corner into the last climb into the stadium, he chose the outside lane and found space behind Kershaw, who was trying to keep his speed in spite of the resisting headwind.
Wenzl took advantage of the second-place position and accelerated past Kershaw to the finish, along with Harvey, who came up on the outside to finish second, 0.41 seconds off Wenzl’s winning time of 2:52.36.
“I moved into the lead then I didn’t have the skis that the Germans had,” Kershaw said on the phone. “Wenzl got ahead of me; he’s a big guy and kind of a dirty skier, and I couldn’t do anything to get around him … I didn’t have the sprint finish I was hoping for.”
Kershaw finished fourth in the quarterfinal, 0.84 seconds behind Wenzl and about three-hundredths of a second behind Poland’s Maciej Starega in third. Only Wenzl and Harvey advanced to the semifinals, and Kershaw ended up 18th overall.
“It wasn’t feeling quite as good as yesterday in the qualification, but still miles better than I’ve seen out of myself this season,” said Kershaw, who finished second to Harvey in Saturday’s prologue for his first Tour de Ski podium in almost three years.
“Last year I had no podiums at all and that really stung,” Kershaw said of his 2012/2013 World Cup drought. “This year, I couldn’t understand why my shape wasn’t good so it’s nice to get confirmation. … I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to be second [on Saturday].”
As he boarded the bus for the long drive to Lenzerheide, Harvey kept racing.
Pinned against two Germans (Wenzl and Sebastian Eisenlauer), two Norwegians (Petter Northug and Martin Johnsrud Sundby) and Russia’s Alexander Legkov, Harvey stuck in the top three early in the semifinal.
Trailing Eisenlauer and Sundby initially, then the two Germans by the main climb, Harvey listened as Eisenlauer and Wenzl spoke in German to each other. A Quebec native, Harvey doesn’t speak German, but guessed they were talking about slowing the pace up the hill. Slow all six men went as they ascended toward the stadium
“Legkov got antsy and tried to go around but there was no room,” Harvey recalled as they entered a tunnel beneath a bridge. “He kind of skied a bit over my skis and I fell. People thought I tried to grab his ankle … but he just kind of took me down and that was the end of the day for both of us.”
Legkov placed fifth in semifinal , 0.75 seconds back from Wenzl as the winner, and Harvey finished in sixth (+1.75).
“That was a bit unfortunate because I think I was in good position,” Harvey said. “You can’t lose sleep over it.”
Either way, he was pleased to end up 11th and keep the leader’s bib, feeling better physically than Saturday in doing so.
“Yesterday it took a long day to get the body going … today was automatic pilot,” Harvey said. ““Keeping the bib is a pretty solid day.”
“The overall standing is good; it’s funny how fast expectations change,” Kershaw said. “I was a little disappointed how I got bumped in the semifinals.”
On Monday, he’s off to a dentist to get a toothache checked out – one of his left molars has been hurting and giving him headaches.
“Hopefully it’s not terrible news about the tooth,” he said. “It’s obviously not affecting my racing so that’s fine.”
Also making the heats on Sunday, Canada’s Dasha Gaiazova qualified in 10th and Perianne Jones advanced in 14th. The two went on to fall off the pace in their quarterfinals, both finishing sixth for 27th and 28th overall, respectively.
Canada’s third man in the Tour, Ivan Babikov – a distance guy – placed 101st of 105.