In Davos, Devon Kershaw had the weekend that he – and his team – needed. The weeks after Bruksvallarna (where he won the 15km skate) yielded few results and many frustrations for both himself and his team, but after a weekend ski camp in the mountains of northern Italy, Kershaw rallied to his true form, placing 9th in Saturday’s 15km skate race. Kershaw also qualified with flying colors in the next day’s sprint rounds, placing 12th in the prelims. He was knocked out of the quarterfinals and pushed back to 23rd place, but the weekend ended as a positive summary for what Kershaw – and his team – are capable of.
You said that you really drove yourself into the ground for the race on Saturday. What can a race like that – where you are able to push yourself harder than normal – do to you physically and mentally?
It was a strange race (the 15km) for me because for the first 12km I had things under control completely. I even caught myself during the race telling myself, “hey – you finally nailed your pace right on – awesome!” Then, in the span of 30 seconds I went from feeling in control, to being way past the red zone and dying hard. I didn’t lose focus – but that’s the type of things that can happen at altitude – especially here on Davos’ strange course (it’s gradual in nature – but the working sections can be as long as 7-8 minutes which is extremely abnormal for “new age” World Cup courses). You have to be bang-on with your pacing or else you pay the piper big time. And that’s when I dropped from 5th to 9th… It took all my focus to just get to the finish line without losing too much time – that’s the kind of effort that really hurts you mentally and physically.
It sounded, from your post-race comments, that you were a little hesitant about pushing yourself this hard, this early in the race season. Did you need a really good result, mentally, in order to look forward with confidence?
I wasn’t hesitant about pushing myself “that hard,” but I was very aware of the fine line I’d have to ride during that 15km race to achieve my goals. At altitude, in a skate race with a lot of work – you just have to be so in tune with your body to perform at a high level.
As well, it’s been interesting this year (when compared to the last 2 previous) for me. I had my best 15km skate of my life in Bruksvallarna, a decent relay leg in Beitostolen, then some tough days of racing – some beyond my control – in Beitostolen (15km skate), and Kuusamo (which was extremely difficult for our entire team). I knew I was in shape, but you start to question things, even panic a little bit – when you are so far from the level you know you’ve shown in the past.
The actual number (9th), meant very little to me compared to the feeling of racing fast and being in the race. Skiing smooth, technically well and pacing myself well. That’s the feeling I’m used to – being “in the race” and fighting it out. I guess in that sense, the 15km skate was extremely important for me to achieve my pre-race goals as I cruise into the Tour (my secondary goal for the season).
Did you feel good on the day of the sprint and fast during the prelims, or were you at all surprised by your fast qualifying time? If you hadn’t been boxed out, do you think you could have done well in the rounds?
I knew I was feeling good the morning of the sprint. Even though Saturday night I was pretty bagged – Sunday morning, my legs still felt springy and good – and I knew from experience that it was a good sign to feel like that! To qualify 12th was perfect. I expected to be in the heats, but you never know where you’ll end up. Sprinting is just so volatile.
“If you hadn’t been boxed out, do you think you could have done well in the rounds?” Is essence of sprinting. Of the 30 that make it to the show – about 18 of them (actually more like 27 of them, haha) probably have a similar feeling. 6 men on a tight course with corners all trying to get to the line in the top 2 is a tough feat. I hate getting cut off – but sometimes you are on the good side, and other times on the losing end. I made some tactical errors, and there’s just not much time to make mistakes. It was a very frustrating day (because when you are in good shape and finish a race feeling great – but 5th out of 6th), but that’s the way sprinting goes. That’s what I love about it (when you are on the winning side) and what I hate about it (when you are the one getting cut off, and boxed out…). I guess it was some consolation to get some WC points, but 8 of em’ won’t help much, haha.
What will be the most important thing that you focus on going into next weekend’s races in Rogla? How will you keep sharp?
Rogla will be another challenge that’s for sure. I am feeling good – and Davos is a fantastic place to hang out and train. I mentally chilled out Monday (on a rest day) and hit the Alpine slopes with Alex, Chandra and Dario Cologna which was amazing. I even got to ski some knee deep pow’ – which ruled. We weren’t out long – only 3hrs (with a 45min lunch in the sun too in that 3hrs too!), but just to get out of the valley and see where you are – see the mountains, and ski some fluffy white powder is a bonus. It was cool to see so many World Cup skiers out Alpine skiing too actually. Everyone needs to feel like a normal person sometimes too – that’s important. You can’t always live in a hotel room watching youtube vids, talking ski grinds, hours, heartrates and sport drink. You’ll drive yourself bananas that way.
It’s about building and keeping perspective. Rogla is important – but it’s another stepping stone as we move towards the Olympics in February! I will keep the hours a little lighter this week again – and then when I get back to Davos after Rogla I’ll put in some good training ahead of the Tour de Ski. Christmas in a hotel isn’t great – but Alex, Sara and I will have some fun I’m sure.