For someone who said a couple months back he wasn’t interested in pursuing the Tour de Ski overall and unsure he’d even finish it, Alex Harvey has done pretty well through the first two stages.
On Sunday, he put himself fifth in the standings with his best result of the season, knocking off one place in the 15-kilometer classic pursuit after finishing sixth on Saturday. One could speculate he’s on a similar track as last year, in which he started the Tour in sixth and ended up 12th, but last year, he didn’t place fifth in Stage 2 — he was 27th.
“I feel like it’s the best technique I’ve ever been skiing with right now and I think it’s just good timing,” Harvey said on the phone Sunday after finishing 7.7 seconds behind Russian winner Maxim Vylegzhanin, positioning himself 22.7 seconds back (based on bonuses) overall.
With tricky snow conditions both days with high humidity and temperatures above freezing, Harvey said his technique was what got him near the podium. While some – like Swiss favorite and defending Tour champion Dario Cologna – appeared to be slipping behind him, Harvey felt like he stayed on top of his skis, kept his hips high and took advantage of fast boards.
He almost secured third just 500 meters from the finish after chasing Vylegzhanin and another Russian, Alexander Legkov, who placed second. Harvey built a few meters on Cologna and Petter Northug (NOR) behind him, but it wasn’t enough to hold them both off. The two passed Harvey as they battled for third, which Northug took, and Harvey settled for fifth.
“I didn’t feel bad or blown out or anything, I just didn’t have the extra gear to sprint,” Harvey said. “I didn’t burry myself today so it’s good looking ahead.”
Two months ago, Harvey, 24, predicted he wouldn’t finish the Tour, given some lingering leg and back problems that historically intensified with too many races in a short time span.
“I’m not going for the overall,” Harvey said on Nov. 5. “We did last year just because that was the only thing to go for.”
This year, they’ve got World Championships. Canadian head coach Justin Wadsworth said the final climb didn’t really suit Harvey with a long uphill skate.
“But I think the other days there’s lots of possibilities for stage wins and really good overall placing,” Wadsworth said. “It will just be fun to take things one day at a time on this year’s Tour de Ski.”
Wadsworth noted the Tour’s “more casual” schedule this year, which could benefit Harvey, with seven stages in nine days (as opposed to nine stages) and rest days on Monday and Wednesday. At the same time, the Tour isn’t the pinnacle of the season, especially not for Harvey, who wants to peak at world champs in late February.
“We’ll see how he gets to the final day [of the Tour] and then going up the hill, it’s a totally separate race,” Wadsworth said. “It changes things a lot.”
“I have no expectations for the overall, but I want podiums every race,” Harvey told Cross Country Canada. “I feel I belong in this top group, but this year is a good reminder to not take anything for granted. My slow start this year reminds me to appreciate the good days.”
Coming off a personal-best prologue finish on Saturday, Canadian Ivan Babikov had another solid day Sunday, climbing from starting 32nd (40 seconds back from Northug) to finishing 19th (+1:44.4 overall).
For part of the race, Babikov skied with teammate Devon Kershaw, who moved up to 22nd around 7 k after starting 48th (+46.1). Kershaw finished 27th – a drastic improvement in placing – yet remained 2:10.4 minutes back in the standings through two stages.
“I’m doing everything I can, but it feels like I’m missing two gears out there; I’m not snappy,” Kershaw said. “I have no power at all and because of that I’m not really able to ski the way I normally ski and it’s super frustrating.”
While the first three laps went pretty well, Kershaw said he struggled on the last two. Early on, he attacked with Johan Olsson (SWE) and Jens Filbrich (GER), who ultimately placed 10th and 13th, respectively, but couldn’t hang onto Babikov as he continued to make up ground.
“Babs’ group gapped me hard and I think Lenny [Valjas] probably put 30 seconds on me in the last 3 k,” Kershaw said with a laugh. “Just another really rough day at the office for me. … The Tour is overall looking grim unless I can have a big sprint.
“I just want one good race. I just want to feel good once,” Kershaw added. “These races I’ve been feeling so far from what my top form is. I know what I’m capable of and if I can have a race where I’m even 70 percent … that would be a bit of a success. I just haven’t felt good, not even once this whole season.”
In his first Tour, Valjas placed 33rd after starting 52nd. Heading into the third stage, skate sprints New Year’s Day in Val Müstair, Switzerland, the 24-year-old sprinter is 2:14.9 back.
“[Sunday] was really good for Alex. … Ivan also had a good day,” Wadsworth said. “Lenny had a solid race and I think Devon was OK. He’s disappointed for sure, but it was at least moving forward and not backward so you’ve gotta take the small things at this point.”