It would’ve been easy to just stop in Saturday’s 50-kilometer freestyle mass start — the ultimate distance race of the World Cup season.
Canada’s Alex Harvey wasn’t having the best go at it, with slick skis for the first two of six laps that put him back near 46th.
“I just couldn’t do anything on the climbs, and lost a lot of position and time,” Harvey said in a post-race interview.
If he could do it all over again, the 25-year-old Quebec native said he would have switched skis after the first lap — a move which would’ve cost him about 40 seconds and likely left him skiing alone. Trailing the pack at the end of the first lap, Harvey decided he didn’t want to risk it and continued with the group, bypassing the transition. He then had to tough it out for another 8.3 k until his next opportunity to change after the second lap.
From there, with a new pair, the race really began for Harvey and became somewhat of a personal test to see what he was capable of.
He picked off 32 places over the next 33 kilometers to place 14th, 3:56.2 behind Sweden’s Daniel Richardsson, who won in 2:07:29.5. The race strung out into a battle between the top three just over halfway through. Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby solidified second, 8.2 seconds back, and Russia’s Alexander Legkov placed third, six seconds later.
While Sundby was trying to seal the deal for both the World Cup overall and distance titles, Harvey said the pace was pretty relentless throughout the 50 k, with Sundby and Legkov going for the sprint bonuses on every lap.
Harvey didn’t worry about those; he was more focused on finishing strong enough to maintain a prime position in the overall World Cup standings.
“It cost a lot when you go for [those bonuses],” Harvey said. “You saw it with Danny Richardson — he’s the one that went for the least amount of points between Legkov and Sundby. I think that is why Sundby ended up not winning is because of all of the points he got early on … I wasn’t planning on going for the points.”
Fourteenth was good enough to put the Canadian sixth in the overall World Cup standings, just nine points behind Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson in fifth. Harvey is currently fifth in the distance rankings with three more races to go, one sprint and two distance races at World Cup Finals later this week.
“It was a good race for me” Harvey said of the 50 k. “Just unfortunate that I couldn’t be more in it from the beginning.”
Two other Canadians in the race did not finish: Devon Kershaw and Graeme Killick. According to a Cross Country Canada press release, Kershaw struggled with his skis, like Harvey, and dropped out after the second lap. Killick stayed in the race for 42 k, but “didn’t have the body to finish.”
Noah Hoffman led the American men in 29th, finishing seven minutes after Richardsson.
Relying on a different strategy than Harvey, Hoffman, who’s currently 30th in the World Cup distance standings and 33rd overall, aimed for bonus points more than anything. He was second at the first preem and sixth at the second one for a total of 17 points (points are awarded to the top 10 at a given sprint preem).
“There is no doubt that that is the easiest way to score World Cup points is to take those bonus points,” Hoffman said on Saturday. “I have had several people that have questioned that strategy and usually say, ‘You blew yourself up,’ which I clearly did blow myself up, but I scored more points than Alex did today and Alex finished 14th.”
The 24-year-old Colorado native started to feel the effects of his fast-and-furious efforts at the second preem.
“When I crossed the preem line at the second preem, I think I said to myself, ‘I’m not positive I can finish this race,’ ” he said. “I was worried that I was not going to be able to finish and therefore lose the points that I had earned. I knew I was in trouble.”
He changed skis after the first and second laps, like most of his competitors, but said the race was mostly decided by five men that started to go on the second lap, calling it one of the most-strung out World Cup race he’s ever seen.
“Over seven minutes to 30th, seven-minute spread to the points is incredible,” he said.
While his strategy kept him from sticking with the leaders, Hoffman stood by it.
“I feel like it was the right call given the circumstances, given how close I am to the Red Group and that Red Group is the standard for A-team for the U.S. Ski Team,” he said, looking ahead to next season. “I needed to go score as many points as possible and I think I did that.”
Three other Americans placed in the top 60, with Erik Bjornsen in 51st, Simi Hamilton in 54th and Reese Hanneman in 56th. Andy Newell and Sylvan Ellefson did not finish.
— Pasha Kahn & Matt Voisin contributed reporting