Following on the heels of two North American podiums in Dusseldorf, Canadian and American distance skiers turned in a mixed bag of results in the 10/15km individual start classic race in Davos, Switzerland.
The top distance skiers from both countries, with the notable exception of all-rounder Kikkan Randall, skipped the Dusseldorf sprint weekend in order to prepare for the longer event at altitude in Davos.
Devon Kershaw (CAN) led the way, skiing to an impressive 9th place finish in the stacked men’s race.
Kershaw started slowly, finding himself 20 seconds down after just 1.6 kilometers of racing, but the margin never grew by more than a few seconds the rest of the way, and the Canadian star moved up through the field, ultimately crossing the line just 20.9 seconds in back of winner Alexey Poltaranin (KAZ).
“It was a really good race for Devon,” Canadian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth told FasterSkier in an interview. “He paced it really well, and that was the goal going into today. With this course the way it climbs and at altitude, you have to be really careful.”
Kershaw spent the last ten days in Livigno, Italy, putting in what Wadsworth termed a “really solid block of training.”
While he was feeling the load a few days ago, according to Wadsworth, two days of rest was all that he needed to come into form.
“He’s just right in there with that top-10 shape,” said Wadsworth, but noted that too much rest at this point would not be good.
“We’re still looking for the Tour [Tour de Ski] for the really top results…he is going to get better.”
Kershaw was followed in the standings by Kris Freeman (USA) in 23rd.
Freeman turned in a string of strong performances to start the season, and while 23rd is nothing to be ashamed of in this field, after results of 7, 9, 12 and an excellent relay leg, he was not satisfied.
But more importantly, Freeman does not feel there is anything to be concerned about.
“I’m not freaking out. It wasn’t that much of shock,” Freeman said, explaining that he had come down with a bit of a cold following the Ruka Triple two weeks ago.
It was nothing overly serious, but took him down for nearly week.
“I think that took just a little bit of the edge off…I need something hard like this to blow it out.”
Like Kershaw, Freeman started slowly, describing his pace as “relaxed and conservative.”
Between five and seven kilometers, Freeman held his deficit on the leader at 38 seconds, and increased his place from 38th to 21st.
At 7.5 kilometers Maxim Vylegzhanin (RUS), starting 30 seconds behind, came by halfway through a blazing second lap that moved him into the race lead. Freeman latched on, staying close for the next three k before falling off the pace.
“After he dropped me I pretty much blew up,” Freeman said. “I was pretty much limping to the finish line for the last 4 k.”
Freeman recognized that the aggressive move to stay with Vylegzhanin may have cost him, saying “I think if I had paced it, and skied my own race, I could have made the top-20, but I’m looking for more than that.”
Heavy snow fell just before the start of the women’s race, and with temperatures just below freezing, waxing was not simple.
The Canadians all ended up on kick wax and both Freeman and Kershaw had good skis.
“It was tricky today,” said Freeman, “and getting good skis was a challenge, but the wax team came through.”
Wadsworth pointed out that it was surprising to see the race so tight given the challenging waxing conditions.
“I think it was just one of those days—maybe everyone ended up going on pretty similar skis, Wadsworth said. “Though some people early on were trying hairies and zero skis.”
Freeman described the skiing as “…glazy and just on that spot where if you go with too much kick you ice, and if you go with too little you get nothing. You kind of have to be in that position where you are icing a bit sometimes.”
Canadians George Grey and Ivan Babikov bounced back from rough starts to the season to post respectable results. Babikov arrived back in Europe on Thursday after returning to western Canada following the completion of the Ruka Triple less than two weeks ago.
He skied to 38th, just under two minutes off the pace, while his teammate Grey fared even better, placing 32nd, one second outside the points.
Babikov had already shown signs of coming around when he skied the 31st fastest time in the final leg of the Ruka Triple, but Grey had been nothing less than bad, finishing 78th, 84th, and 79th in his first World Cup starts of the season.
“It’s going in the right direction,” said Wadsworth. “I’m pretty happy with where it’s going for those guys.”
A new father, Grey will now return to Canada, while Babikov will stay on to race in La Clusaz next weekend
Kershaw and Freeman will both race tomorrow, with the Canadian looking to qualify for the heats and advance from there.
Freeman, who has not had strong results in World Cup freestyle sprints, sees the race as an opportunity to improve his points, and notes that coming off a cold and his effort today, he should feel better on Sunday.
Stefan Kuhn (CAN) placed 67th, two places ahead of Noah Hoffman (USA).
According to Freeman, Hoffman “lost his composure real early,” and was definitely not happy.
“When the snow is like this, as soon as you lose any composure, there’s just no faking it,” said Freeman.
Brent McMurtry (CAN), the final North American starter, placed 75th out of 80 finishers.
Chris Cook (USA) did not start.
The Canadian men will start Kershaw, Kuhn, McMurtry, Len Valjas, and Phil Widmer in Sunday’s freestyle sprint wile Andy Newell, Simi Hamilton, Freeman and Cook get the nod for the US.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.