Devon Kershaw; Tour de Ski is a Wrap

January 13, 20101

The Tour de Ski was successful for the Canadians; despite some bad-luck crashes, equipment malfunction, and injury, when all was said and done Canada took 4 top-25 overall finishes home. Ivan Babikov placed 9th, Devon Kershaw 16th, Sara Renner 17th, and Alex Harvey 22nd.   Kershaw outlines the last two stages below.  

Devon Kershaw
Devon Kershaw

It’s over. 2010 Tour de Ski is history.

 Jeez. I don’t know how pro cyclists can even fathom racing for a GC position in any stage race, let alone during a 20+ stage battle royale like the Giro, Vuelta or Tour de France. Pounding their pedals – sometimes over 6 hours a day for days on end. They battle heat, winds, and climb mountain passes which drag on like a bad movie, as they churn and burn uphill for hours gaining thousands of meters in elevation. In my eyes, it’s both complete madness and a thing of beauty.

Why bring this up? We’ll, after finishing my 2nd of 4 Tour de Ski competitions, I feel pretty destroyed after a “mere” 8 races in 10 days, and find myself thinking of such things in my jet lagged stupor.

In society today, it seems more than ever rationalizing is everything. I’m tired. The Olympics are fast approaching now, but hey – in 8 races I only raced for a shade under 4.5 hours. Not even the length of one Grand Tour stage race in cycling. I’ll survive.

Let’s break down the last two stages in Val di Fiemme.  It’s no surprise they were hard fought. What was a surprise was the weather  – it was very un-Italian. No sun in sight. Instead – it was all fog, warmth, sloppy snow and precip.

Stage 7 – 20km Mass Start Classic – Val di Fiemme, ITALY 

Even after a restful rest day – I was still upset and having trouble parking the disappointment of the 10km classic two days prior. I know – as a high level athlete I should be good at moving on from something like that, but knowing that I was back in 16th overall with only 2 stages left because of a mistimed mechanical failure wasn’t sitting well.

Bummed out or not,  I had big plans for the 20km mass start. The weather (like I stated above) was warm. It was klister skiing, and the tracks were wet, wet, wet. Alex and I had discussed a bomber strategy: go on a “make or break” attack at 10km and try and open a gap. We were thinking that the race would be like any other mass start competition. People would sprint for the “time bonus preems” and then slow down, recover, and jostle for positions again as we’d come careening towards the next sprint preem (there was 1 preem a lap (6X3.3km)). Our thought was “attack after the preem’ after 3 laps (10km) and work together to create a break in the field.

Sometimes things just don’t workout the way you want them to. My body wasn’t responding like it was in the 10km classic two days prior. Alex – although a lot stronger than me – wasn’t quite able to ski at that level of “drop everyone” either, so mid race we had to change tactics. 

In reality, Bauer who did just what we had set out to do – beat us with our own strategy: He sprinted (with Northug, and Babs) for the 10km preem and just kept going. Quickly putting 20 + seconds on the field. Ivan was a real fighter and hung onto Northug and Bauer as he went for a gutsy push (that if successful would have set him up nicely for the final climb), but he too succumbed to Bauer’s incessant pace and slipped back into the main field. 

Even the strategy of “sit and wait” wasn’t working on my end. I struggled in the pack for the duration of the race, losing time on the last lap to finish a disappointing 22nd. Alex faired better than I – hanging with the chase pack until only 2 km to go – at which point he had a quick conversation with the big guy in the sky and bobbed and weaved to the line a depleted puppy – for a respectable 13th. Ivan paid for his big attack, and ended up just behind me in 25th. Still – sometimes those gutsy moves work, so hats off to Babs.

Bauer was superhuman. It was crazy. Skiing of the front, not even breathing hard as he made us all look like chumps, and won by a 30 odd seconds. Sure, conditions were such that skis made a significant difference – but the ease of which he snagged a boat load of bonus seconds, and the win was nutty.

Final Stage – 10km pursuit up Alpe Cermis Skating – Val di Fiemme ITALY

Saturday’s 20km hurt me. I pushed so hard for that 22nd place finish. I was coming undone (fatigue-wise) bit by bit. Ivan was even complaining that he was feeling tired – which is as rare as seeing Vladimir Putin throw his hands up in jubilation, hug Obama, all the while with a toothy smile plastered on his face. Alex – a little less loud/obnoxious, but not enough to be worried, looked to be the one with the most energy happening as we prepared for our final challenge.

It had been a Tour of bad luck – not only for myself, but George too. He crashed hard in the 10km classic and tweaked his back (sadly having to abandon the Tour prior to the 20km classic), which meant that up the final climb there would be only 3 Canadian men taking part. I was apprehensive, Ivan, although tired, was excited and Alex too, was fired up to see how Alpe Cermis suited him.

The day itself was again warm and wet – but no precipitation happening this time. The tracks were slushy/dirty down low (elevation-wise), and on top of the 3.5km climb cold/dry snow was par for the course. I began the race in 15th place, and was quickly caught by Curdin Perl (SUI). We worked really well together on the flatter parts of the course, switching leads often, much like a cycling breakaway would do with the understanding that once we hit the hill – it would be every man for himself.

I felt decent racing. I was a bit worried before the stage because in my warm up, and the day before, I had been feeling pretty drained and tired. I wasn’t sleeping as much as normal and the wear and tear of 2.5 months on the road was eroding my energy stores – and I knew that the last race was to be a superhuman effort.

Still, I led Curdin up the first 1/3 of the mountain. On a stage like that it’s so important to find a rhythm quickly. I settled into a good tempo and began to gain altitude. At the 2km to go mark Curdin attacked me ever so subtlety. He gained 5 seconds on a 28% grade section, and that was it. I could never close it down again – and was left about 5-10 seconds behind him for the remainder of the stage.

I was hurting pretty badly up that mountain, and I was so glad to get across the finish line in 16th. I wasn’t aware that they were giving World Cup points for “time” again this year – and I regret not burying myself over the last 300m  – but still, I had finished my 2nd of 4 Tours (Ivan too was disappointed because he had the 4th fastest time – but also didn’t know that “time” had any significance in the pursuit this year… He felt he could have found the extra 4-5 seconds to win).

Ivan was an animal (like we all knew he would be), and moved up to 9th overall. I lost one position to end up 16th, and Alex’s first experience with Alpe Cermis was a tough one – as he lost 3 positions to end up 22nd. Still, 3 Canadians in the top 25 is amazing!

Sara was great – holding her position of 17th overall up the final climb – and looked much better/faster than last year’s climb. So, I should correct myself then – we had 4 Canadians finish in the top 25!

Bauer was on a completely different level over the last 2 days of racing. On the final stage he didn’t even appear tired AT ALL, and even stopped TWICE in the last 200m to chat with fans, grab a flag, etc… And he still had the fastest time up the mountain. Northug put up a big fight to finish 2nd, and Cologna was super impressive to take the 3rd rung of the overall podium.

It’s a beautiful race, not a Grand Tour in cycling, but a step in the right direction for Nordic Skiing. It’s the future of cross country ski racing (I believe) – because it’s such an exciting format for both the racers and spectators. Of course I have a bad taste in my mouth about a few “what could have beens” which occurred on my journey to the top of Alpe Cermis – but that’s racing. Sometimes things don’t workout the way you want, sometimes they do. You just need to be ready to pounce on your opportunity when the positive ones’ are presented to you.

No, I didn’t race for 6hrs a day on the bike through rain, wind and sun blasting down on my back. But – I did race 8 times, all out in 3 different countries with my friends and teammates and we all gave 100% effort. No matter what, we’ve got to be happy with that.

I’m now back in Canmore and just woke up from my first jet-lagged sleep in my own bed. It’s so great to be home, and now I’ll look forward to some days of recovery (both mentally/physically) before I begin the big push for the 2010 Olympics.


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