PRAGUE, CZEâ€”Canada’s Devon Kershaw was poised to reach his goal of moving into the top-10 in the overall standings of the Tour de Ski after the third stage, but ran into some tough luck in Sunday’s skate-ski sprint race through the downtown streets of Prague, Czech Republic.
The 25-year-old Kershaw, who advanced into the head-to-head heats with the fastest 30 athletes after qualifying in fifth spot, snapped his pole and fell while making his move on the pack in his opening heat, and was forced to settle for a 27th-place finish in the sprint. The heats consist of six athletes racing head-to-head with the top-two athletes in each heat advancing to the next round until a winner is crowned.
â€œI was carrying a tonne of speed and was moving through the pack when I caught my pole between my legs and the next thing I knew I was kissing snow,â€ said Kershaw. â€œI am extremely disappointed. Qualifying fifth doesn’t mean anything. It gets you into the top-30 where the real race begins and when you fall you’re toast.â€
Kershaw’s frustration is proof the young Canuck knows he now belongs with the elite skiers in world, having regularly posted some of the best results ever for a male Canadian cross-country skier over the last two years. Despite his setback on Sunday, the leader of the Canadian men’s team moved his way into 16th spot in the overall Tour de Ski standings.
â€œI know the speed is there now and I’m consistent which is good,â€ said Kershaw, who relied on teammate and friend Dave Nighbor to help put this race behind him. â€œNighbor and I went for a good walk after the race and I have parked this race and am going to relax. The quicker I regroup, the less energy I’ll waste and the more I’ll have for the next five races. I am really fired up to race again on Tuesday.â€
While Kershaw is anxious to get back onto the start line when the Tour heads back to Nove Mesto, he couldn’t help but marvel at the setting in old town Prague where 125 of the world’s best cross-country skiers sprinted their way through a course on the downtown streets—set against the beautiful backdrop of the famous castle—which were lined with thousands of boisterous cross-country ski fans.
â€œIt is an absolutely incredible atmosphere here, and there is a reason why this is the most beautiful city in Europe,â€ said Kershaw of the old cobble stone roads, copper roofs and buildings dating back to the 1400’s. â€œIt’s too bad we have our blinders on all day and can’t take time to marvel at it, but when you do look around it is amazing.â€
Kershaw’s teammate David Nighbor, of North Bay, Ont., also sprinted through the streets of Prague on Sunday. Nighbor, who continues to gain valuable experience racing against the world’s best in his first taste of the Tour de Ski, failed to move into the head-to-head heats after finishing 64th in the qualification round. The 23-year-old Nighbor sits in 55th spot in the overall rankings after the first three stages of the Tour de Ski.
Russia’s Nikolay Mavilov was the first to cross the line in the skate sprint taking home the gold medal. Mavilov was followed by two Norwegians — Simen Oestensen and Tor Arne Hetland — who finished second and third respectively.
Meanwhile, it was Italy’s Arianna Follis who made her mark on the field in the women’s sprint race. Follis made her first trip to the podium in this year’s edition of the Tour de Ski. Finland’s Pirjo Muronnen was second, while Marit Bjoergen made her second podium appearance in as many days after claiming the bronze. No Canadians are competing in the women’s races.
The 10-day Tour de Ski, which includes eight elite races in all disciplines of the sport, will take a break on Monday, and resume on January 1 back in Nove Mesto with another pursuit race.
The remainder of the Canadian squad is in Canmore, Alta. training for the final half of the World Cup season, which continues January 22 at the Canmore Nordic Centre.
Cross Country Canada is the governing body of cross-country skiing in Canada. Its 45,000 members are athletes, coaches and officials, including members of the Canadian Cross-Country Ski Team and Canadian Disabled Cross-Country Ski Team. Cross-country skiing is Canada’s optimal winter sport and recreational activity with more than one million Canadians participating annually.
27. Devon Kershaw, Sudbury, Ont.; 64. Dave Nighbor, North Bay, Ont.
SOURCE: Cross Country Canada, www.cccski.com