Canada’s Alex Harvey has had one heck of a season.
In January, he reached the top of a World Cup podium for the first time in three years. The following weekend, he helped Canada to its first-ever relay podium and two weeks before that, won the men’s team sprint in Toblach, Italy, with his teammate Len Valjas. A little more than a month later, he earned his first individual World Championships gold.
The 28-year-old Harvey kept the ball rolling through the World Cup Finals in Quebec City this past Friday, winning the opening freestyle sprint before a roaring home crowd. The next day, he placed fourth in the 15-kilometer classic mass start.
To top it all off, he finished second in Sunday’s 15 k pursuit — less than one-hundredth of a second short of first after a photo finish with Norway’s Johannes Høsflot Klæbo — to secure not only another World Cup podium, but also third in the Overall World Cup standings and second in the Distance World Cup.
“It went more than perfectly,” Harvey said of his season to a group of reporters in French. “A gold at the Worlds, some World Cup victories, a second place overall all makes this by far the best season in my career.”
Harvey started the pursuit in third, 23 seconds behind the first starter, Klæbo, and one second behind another Norwegian, Niklas Dyrhaug. Though Harvey managed to catch Dyrhaug just before the 2 k mark, he admitted his real worry was not ahead of him, but behind. Norway’s Finn Hågen Krogh started 9 seconds after Harvey, and a kilometer after Harvey found Dyrhaug, Krogh was skiing three seconds behind.
“I didn’t know whether Finn Hågen would come back, which could of change entirely how the race played out, since he and Klæbo are sprint specialists,” Harvey said. “They could of worked together and bump me to fourth position, but I was glad the pace I was imposing in the beginning was enough for a spot on the podium.”
However, Harvey’s pace proved too fast for Krogh, who gave up the chase after the first lap at 3.75 k and let the chase group catch him on the first climb out of the stadium.
“I just blew up, so when there was no podium to race for, that was my only goal today,” Krogh told FasterSkier of his in-it-to-win-it mentality.
But more than let the chase pack absorb him, he skied the rest of the race just to finish and ended up 70th out of 73, and last place for time of day.
“I was tired at the end today,” he said. “I had a tough day. No power left today.”
Meanwhile, by 5 k, Harvey had pulled himself and Dyrhaug all the way up to Klæbo.
“From the start, I was closing on Klæbo, and I knew early on that a podium was in reach,” Harvey explained. “It’s a rare feeling of excitement to have during a race. Usually, only the last hundred metres will tell the story. After a lap and a half, when I realized Finn Hågen was dropped, I knew the podium was mine.”
That place on the podium, however, remained to be determined. With the Canadian doing all of the pulling up to Klæbo, he’d have to dig deep to find the speed for a sprint to the finish.
“I had my tactic, Johannes had his tactic, and I think Alex had his tactic,” Dyrhaug told FasterSkier. “It was a fair race, the only thing was, I couldn’t help Alex catch Johannes, that was Alex’s job as a Canadian. If I had gone on the front to help Alex catch Johannes, I would get in a lot of trouble with the Norwegian staff, but Alex was strong, and we caught up.”
The catch, from Klæbo’s perspective, was not unexpected. Realizing that the two had already put close to ten seconds into him by the 2 k mark and showed no signs of slowing down, Klæbo changed tactics.
“My first plan was to go from the start, but after Lap 1, I knew [Harvey and Dyrhaug] were coming pretty fast so I just had to focus on waiting for them and holding on to them,” Klæbo said.
With Klæbo now part of their train, the three began to take turns up front, Harvey going first, followed by Dyrhaug and Harvey again. The trio were met by no other competitors –only a loose dog as they headed into their fourth and final lap.
“I was looking towards the crowd for someone to pick him up.” Harvey said. “We all saw him. I think we were just hoping not to come across him in the final sprint.”
Luckily, the canine caused no problems for the racers and they all remained together during the final lap. At the top of a long descent into and out of the stadium, about a kilometer or so before the finish, all three racers suddenly backed off the pace and stood up. No one wanted to lead.
“Nobody wanted to stay first on the downhill because you can be attacked from behind,” Dyrhaug recalled. “We all knew the fight was about us three, and nobody wanted to go first.”
Finally, Klæbo accelerated in an attempt to catch the other two off guard. They shadowed him closely, and squared off for the second-to-last climb, where Dyrhaug made his move.
“Johannes made a sprint, and then we sat behind. and I tried it here again, so there were a lot of attacks in the last lap,” Dyrhaug said. “It was an exciting race to be a part of. It was a cool fight with Alex and Johannes.”
With 100 meters to go, Harvey cornered to the outside left, while Dyrhaug took the center and Klæbo the right. All three went pole for pole, lunging for the line with Klæbo emerging as the ultimate winner in a time of 32:44.5 minutes.
Harvey finished second, listed with the same time as Klæbo, and Dryhaug third, 0.1 seconds back.
“I lunged with everything I had,” Harvey told reporters in English. “I knew I was going to be second or first, but I had no idea.
“Klæbo is the best sprinter in the world,” he continued. “He has got the [Sprint] Crystal Globe at home already. He’s got a medal from world champs in the sprint.”
“It’s unbelievable to be able to win here in Quebec and to cross the finish line first,” Klæbo said. “My first plan was to go from the start, but after one lap, I knew they were coming pretty fast so I just had to focus on waiting on them and holding on to them because they were going pretty fast. …
“It is my first time in that situation,” he added of starting first in a pursuit. “And it is very easy to be go a little bit too fast, then it’s over, so I think I was tactically smart today so I am really happy to cross the finish line first.
“It’s a lot of people who cheered us forward in the tracks, so it’s amazing to go with Harvey and hear the voices and all the loud voice on the uphills there,” Klæbo continued.
“We have had many highlights [this season]” Harvey’s coach and Canadian co-World Cup coach Louis Bouchard told FasterSkier. “But … we are from Quebec so it’s normal for us to say the highlight is Quebec, because I am from here. I know everyone here. I know the spectators. I hope brings more younger athletes you know for the next generation.”
Led by Bjornsen in 11th, Four Americans in Top 30 for Time of Day
Also on Sunday, Erik Bjornsen of the U.S. Ski Team finished 25th (+2:19.1) and posted the 11th-fastest time of day, with 11th marking his best World Cup result to date.
“This is my first [mini] tour in the top 30, and that was my goal for this year was to finish one of the tours in the top 30, and I am really happy to knock that off.” Bjornsen said. “And I mean 11th on TOD [time of day], that is crazy. That is definitely my best result so I am psyched.”
Bjornsen started 33rd and managed to catch and ski with Finland’s Matti Heikkinen, Canada’s Devon Kershaw, Germany’s Thomas Bing, France’s Jean-Marc Gaillard and Great Britain’s Andrew Young.
“It was hard, I was really worried I was working too hard to catch that group in the first 2 to 3 k,” Bjornsen said. “Luckily I just felt like I was recovering really well and sticking in the draft was really helpful. So it all worked out for me today.”
From Quebec, Bjornsen was bound for Anchorage, Alaska, where he trains with Alaska Pacific University (APU). Next week, he planned to compete at U.S. SuperTour Finals in Fairbanks.
“Excited to go home to sleep in my bed for the first time in four months,” he said.
Along with Bjornsen, four other Americans finished in the top 30 for time of day, with Paddy Caldwell in 25th, David Norris 27th, and Scott Patterson 30th.
Patterson was the first American across the line after Bjornsen, finishing in 41st (+3:45.6) after starting 46th. Norris was next, finishing 43rd (+4:15.9) after starting 55th. Caldwell came in 46th (+4:25.6) after starting 58th.
“That was one of the goals for the day so I am psyched about that,” Caldwell said of his time of day result. “I was working with David and Scott for most of the race and two other guys, so that was really fun, and fun to work as group and try to put down a fast time.”
Caldwell further explained that a great portion of his performance came from the way he approached the wave mass start.
“I was thankful I was sort of on the edge of the chevron right out of the gun. I just went hard as I could to try to get in front of that pack,” Caldwell said. “That actually ended up being a really good move to being towards the front of our chase pack and you know we just went from there.”
Also for the U.S., Andy Newell placed 44th overall (+4:23.0), Simi Hamilton 45th (+4:23.4), Matt Gelso 49th (+4:32.3), Noah Hoffman 52nd (+5:03.8), John Hegman 57th (+5:45.9), Brian Gregg 58th (+5:55.9), Ben Lustgarten 59th (+6:04.0) and Cole Morgan 65th (39:42.7).
“I started three people in front of the waves,” said Newell, who started 44th and finished in that position. “So I knew they were going to catch me, but that was fun because I got to ski with a lot of U.S. competitors. … Simi and I skied a lot together and Brian Gregg and you know it was fun to finish it off in the sun with some teammates.”
After Harvey, the next Canadian across the line was Devon Kershaw, who finished in 26th (+2:21.4) and posted the 19th-fastest time of day.
“It’s just kind of like a fitting ending to a kind of a tough season,” Kershaw said. “[I’ve been] just missing that top top gear a lot of the season and I think in all of the tours, I was [27th] in Lillehammer, 25th in Tour de Ski, and I think I was 26th [today]. I am constantly not amazing, but you know, at the same time it’s nice to make a few positions and [in] this beautiful atmosphere.”
Kershaw, who finished the 2011/2012 season in second in both the Overall and Distance World Cup, couldn’t have been more happy for his teammate and friend’s successful end to the season.
“He is one of my best friends and to see his development here and through the years, I have been saying this since he was a 1st year senior … I have never seen an athlete and work ethic like Alex,” Kershaw said. “To see the people of Quebec come out and support their hometown hero is couldn’t be happier for him.”
Among the Canadians, Graeme Killick finished 42nd (+3:45.9), Knute Johnsgaard 53rd (+5:09.6), Len Valjas 54th (+5:20.2), Evan Palmer-Charrette 60th (+6:11.4), Bob Thompson 61st (+6:12.8), Brian McKeever 62nd (+6:30.8), Joey Foster 64th (+6:39.9), Andy Shields 66th (+6:59.4), Russell Kennedy 67th (+7:06.0), Jess Cockney 68th (+7:17.2), Gareth Williams 71st (+9:21.6), Ricardo Izquierdo-Bernier 72nd (+10:22.7), and Julien Locke 73rd (+11:15.1).
–François Léger Dionne, Alex Kochon, Gerry Furseth, Ian Tovell, and Jake Ellis contributed