On The Tour with Devon Kershaw

January 7, 20101

 Internet has been a sketchy operation (in Prague, and in Dobbiaco/Toblach), and I haven’t been able to connect until this evening here in Val Di Fiemme (which is a bit of a shocker since internet in Italy is as likely as spotting, and photographing Big Foot).

I’ll break it down into the 3 stages I’ve neglected to update on:

Stage 3 – 1.6km Classic Sprint, Oberhof GERMANY

Not a lot to report on here. I was fatigued from the 15km classic pursuit which took place the previous day, and my lungs were still feeling tight/sore – but I squeaked into the top 30 after a so-so qualifier (I was 24th).

Conditions were terrible for this classic sprint. There was a Nordic Combined race that began right before our qualifier (why FIS combined the Tour de Ski with Nordic Combined is beyond me), so they groomed the tracks 15 minutes prior to our start. It was a sugary, soft, mess out on the difficult sprint loop – making the two long  uphills even tougher than they already were.

In my ¼ final I felt much better than in my qualification round. I was moving well enough, but alas, didn’t have the speed to match the two leaders of the heat, and finished 3rd in my heat – which meant it was good enough for 16th place overall on the day.

I felt ok with how the race went. Of course, I wanted to be faster and I felt so much better in my quarterfinal than in my qualification – so I was hoping for a semi-final appearance, which I was desperately close to achieving. 

I didn’t have much time to feel sorry for myself, because directly after the competition, it was right in the van and we blasted the 4.5 hours to Prague to get ready for the next day’s skate sprint… 

Stage 4 – 1.2km Skate Sprint, Prague CZECH REPUBLIC


 That’s all I could think when I saw the 4 inches of soft, sugary, schmoo that was being passed off as “snow” on the city sprint track in downtown Prague.

It was ridiculous actually. Even as a kid in Sudbury skiing on non-groomed tracks, I have never skied in such poor conditions. Ever. It was a total joke, actually.

Still, the show must go on, and luckily I ski well in sugar. I didn’t quite know what to expect, because it was faster at times to double pole on certain sections in the skate sprint (because your skis would just get all caught up the slop), making the race a real hilarity.

In the qualification, I surprised myself and qualified 8th. I skied quick and light through the messy conditions to move into the rounds yet again.

In my ¼ final though, things took a nasty turn. In some congestion, my pole was broken at about 20 seconds into the heat. I then skied with that broken pole for the next 1 minute and 20 seconds – loosing my position completely, flailing around with one pole. I was off the back in 6th, when I finally got a new pole for the last uphill sloppy-joe section of deep sugary mess (with about 20 seconds or work remaining in the race). I went ballistic – catching up to 4th and 5th. It was a photo-finish, and I ended up losing in a lunge to finish with 4th, ending up 5th in my heat – 21st on the day. Not cool.

I was disappointed, frustrated and a bit angry. In tight sprint races, bad things can happen – but I was in good position, and I didn’t put myself in a bad location for carnage. It cost me dearly in the overall standings and because of the ridiculously nasty/ghetto conditions it was a great opportunity wasted to move up the overall rankings (Northug, Teichmann, and others failed to qualify for the rounds).

Like everything in the Tour, there’s never much time to mope around – and like Oberhof, it was  directly into the vans, as we blasted to Munich (a 4.5 hour drive away) – getting in at 12:30 AM for a short sleep before continuing on to Toblach/Dobbiaco.

Stage 5 – 36.1 km skate pursuit, Cortina – Toblach/Dobbiaco Point 2 Point pursuit ITALY

Feeling tired in the rest day, and because this point to point race was so much different than any competition I’ve ever done – I was extremely nervous for this event. We would climb out of Cortina for 15 + kilometers of uninterrupted uphill/flat working sections before ever seeing a smidge of downhill. Then, we would be descending on gradual terrain into the ski stadium in Toblach/Dobbiaco, before hammering around a 3.3 km loop – going for broke and the glory. 

I had never raced a loppet before, and on the World Cup circuit we expect steep tough hills followed by descents – and this race was not that. It was for this reason I was sketching out more than normal. It also could prove to be a critical stage in the overall shake-down – with the stage being so long – and I was nervous to see how the body would react after 4 races, and rest/travel day.

Luckily, the race started well, and I was working with Gaillard and Hekkinen as we used some cycling tactics (switching leads often) as we attempted to claw our way back to the lead group. I felt decent, but at around 14 kilometers in – all of which was uphill or flat – I began to crack slightly. Gaillard and Hekkinen got away from me – leaving me a compromised position – alone and tired. I was quickly gobbled up by a big chase group, and after 15 minutes or so, I got a second wind.

Ivan (who was in the chase pack that caught me) and I were on the front of the chase pack racing extremely hard to keep the gap to the leaders small. 

The only teams in the chase pack without teammates in the lead group were us (Canada) and the Italians, so we weren’t able count on many teams to help in the chase. The Italians were content on letting their Tour de Ski chances disappear (by not working even 15 seconds at the front during the entire 36.1km) – which was odd (it’s like they’d never seen a cycling race or something…), so a tough/fast Ivan pushed the pace – even though he had made up over a minute on me (I started bib 11, he was bib 36!?!) in the first 20 kilometers of the pursuit. We switched leads often, and were able to limit the damage.

We worked tirelessly together – occasionally getting help from a couple Germans – which was a relief and much needed – and we kept the gap to the lead group at a minimum.

It was the hardest race I’ve done in awhile. I was dead tired, and although a bit frustrated with being 17th on the day – I was happy to be only 48 seconds from 1st going into my favorite race – an individual 10km classic – that was to happen the next day.

Ivan’s 9th place was unbelievable – and I was in total awe of his guts out there.

 Stage 6 – 10 km individual classic, Dobbiaco/Toblach  ITALY

Which brings us to today. A stage I was looking forward to all year actually. A 10km classic is a “dead race” in the current World Cup, and when I saw that it was back as a Tour stage back in the summer, I was already getting fired up about it.

Even though I was feeling fatigued from yesterday’s colossal effort (something everyone in the field would be feeling) – I was optimistic that I could make some ground on the overall. After all, I was only 48 seconds from 1st… The plan was simple. Exploit my biggest strength and chance in this year’s edition of the Tour and throw – down. 

For the first 7.5km I was skiing fantastically. Feeling smooth, relaxed and sticking with the technique – achieving all my goals I had set out for myself. I was well within the top 8, and moving up the rankings fast as the race wound down (from information on the split-machines of the coaches). 

Then – the unthinkable happened. I came out of a tuck, did a kick double pole stride. To my surprise my ski was launched behind me – and was no longer attached my boot. In total shock, I stopped. Turning around, I skied back to my ski (about 20 m behind me). I looked down, and noticed right away that I no longer had the front my binding on the ski anymore (the part that is attaches my boot to the ski), and it was completely ripped out of my ski. I was in real trouble, the Tour de Ski overall quickly evaporating…

I began to scooter up the longest/toughest hill with only one ski and was yelling at everyone I saw for a “Salomon binding ski.” Nobody I passed had one. Not the Norwegians, Finns, Germans, French, Italians, Swiss, etc… had a ski.

I skied for over 1 kilometer up the longest uphill from the bottom to the top with only one ski. I then descended on one ski, and started up the last climb of the course – still with one boot “sans-ski.” 

Finally, one of our staff was at the top of that climb (about 1km from the line) and had a ski. I put on the ski, and sprinted for my life – but there was only 1 kilometer to go, and the massive, debilitating damage had been done.

I had lost so much. Over 1 kilometer without a ski was a total nightmare. I finished 37th, and lost valuable time on the leaders. I now sit in 16th place – 2 minutes down.

I am now so disappointed, frustrated and extremely bummed out. I can’t believe it happened. I never fell; I never hit my binding in any way, and I was skiing so well (seriously!). It was so strange. We (our team) switched over to the latest Salomon binding (which is much better than the old “pilot classic”) at the beginning of the season, and all I can think of is that perhaps in changing the binding the bond between screw-binding-ski was compromised in some way…

Either way – it was a disaster and was so weird. And now, I sit 16th. I was having my best individual classic race BY FAR this year, and in the end it was all in vain.

I actually can’t believe I finished only 1:13 down… That shows just how good a race I was having… It only adds insult to injury.

Now – I have two races remaining. I am trying hard to park this disappointment. I am struggling right now with that. A broken pole, then skiing over 10% of a race without a ski on my feet stings, and is something that keeps going through my mind over and over…

Rest day tomorrow – that’s the news…


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