When race organizers in Gällivare, Sweden, decided to change the date of their pre-World Cup race series by a week, Canada’s Devon Kershaw lucked out. For the past couple of seasons, most of the Canadian World Cup Team has spent their final days before the start of the race season skiing and competing in Gällivare.
Once again, the team planned to travel 100 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle for a pre-World Cup camp, booking their plane tickets to Sweden for the week of Nov. 19 — when the city’s races were originally slated to take place.
However, due to a scheduling conflict with Sweden’s annual early season races in Bruksvallarna, the Gällivare race dates moved up a weekend, leaving only one of Canada’s cross-country athletes the option to race in Gällivare.
“Since I am based in Oslo, it was just sheer luck that we hadn’t booked my flight yet (from Oslo up here to Gällivare) when those changes took place,” Kershaw, who lives just outside of Oslo, Norway, with his wife Kristin Størmer Steira, wrote in an email. “So I asked to come up a few days earlier than the team to get a chance to race.”
With the help of Canadian head wax tech Yves Bilodeau, who lives in France and was able to join Kershaw, the 33-year-old Kershaw won Sunday’s 15 k classic individual start in 35:18, besting the runner-up, Petr Knop of the Czech Republic, by a minute. Michal Novak, also of the Czech Republic, placed third, (+1:05).
Though only 11 senior men entered Sunday’s 15 k, which wasn’t an International Ski Federation (FIS) sanctioned race, Kershaw indicated that from his standpoint, putting on a race bib and bringing his body back into racing was important.
“Being a slow-starter at times with regards to World Cup period #1 in my career (I have never been on the podium on the World Cup prior to Christmas) the biggest focus was just to put a bib on and blow out the cobwebs,” Kershaw wrote. “It’s nice to get nervous, test skis properly, and go through a whole routine around an organized race. In the race itself I focus on skiing technically well, being present and just being as efficient as I can be when my body is screaming to stop.”
Kershaw explained that he lucked out even more with getting into the Gällivare races, as they would be his only opportunity to for a preseason on-snow race this season.
“Time trials are great workouts, but for me I really believe that nothing replicates racing and have always have benefited from getting in some ‘lower key’ races before starting off on the World Cup,” he wrote. “This season [the Gällivare 15 k] will be the only race I get to do before the World Cup starts.”
In a post-race interview, Kershaw told Langd.se that he benefited from some summer training with Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Sweden’s Martin Johansson, who lives in Norway. On Sunday, Kershaw took control of the race early, leading the first of four 3.75 k laps by more than 20 seconds over his nearest competitor.
“It was amazingly good conditions today, the body responded as it should and the skis were really good,” he said.
Kershaw arrived in Sweden late last Friday and will remain there until the rest of the Canadian World Cup team (except Alex Harvey, U25 Team skier Cendrine Browne and coach Louis Bouchard, who are training in Davos, Switzerland) joins him on Nov. 23. Then they’ll drive as a group to Kuusamo, Finland, where the opening World Cup will be held Nov. 26-27.
“Of course it would perhaps be nice to start the year with really competitive races in Beitostølen or Bruksvallarna (like we have done many times in the past), but with our budget having been absolutely decimated these last couple years it’s no longer realistic and/or viable,” Kershaw wrote. “The fact that we can en-masse drive to Kuusamo for the World Cups saves our team bundles of money that we can then use to support the World Cup racing as best we can.”