If you still had any doubts about Canadian Devon Kershaw’s ability to ski with the best in the world, they should now be put to rest.
In a talent-packed final in the 1.4 k skate sprint during Stage 5 of the Tour de Ski, Kershaw not only skied with fastest men on the circuit, but blew them away on route to the stage victory, the first of his career.
“I’m more than happy,” said Kershaw in the post-race press conference, “I’m completely surprised to be honest.”
Standing on the start line of the final, Kershaw was all smiles, and looked incredibly relaxed. Advancing to the final as the ‘lucky-loser’ only after a nail-biting wait, Kershaw looked happy just to be there. And with Dario Cologna (SUI), Petter Northug (NOR), and Marcus Hellner (SWE) on the line with him, the final was set to be tactical battle on the tight and fast course.
Known for being a slow starter, Kershaw began the final conservatively at the back of the six-man pack. He was skiing comfortably next to his main rival for the overall victory, Cologna, for most of the first lap. When he hit the first downhill, Kershaw rode a fast pair of skis past much of the pack as the group moved into the stadium.
“I had the best skis in the world today. Our technicians are the best in the business and are the key to these podium results,” said Kershaw to Cross Country Canada following the race.
Kershaw then went on the attack, creating a gap on the field on the first small uphill to take a five meter lead into a short flat section, and then exploded again on the final climb to take a massive 15 meter lead over Cologna and Northug, who were the only two skiers able to respond. While Kershaw himself called it a “suicide move,” with Canadian coaches and staff urging him on, he managed to keep the pace high all the way over the top of the hill.
While almost everyone else who had created a gap into the last downhill during the days’ racing (including Kershaw’s teammate, Alex Harvey) had been reeled in and speedily dispatched in the finishing stretch, Kershaw held his lead going around the final corner.
A hard-charging Cologna followed by Northug finally managed to get back on Kershaw’s tail as the skiers hit the final straight, but after two second-place finishes in earlier stages, one to Cologna, and sitting second overall in the Tour standings, Kershaw wasn’t going to let a third opportunity for a win get away from him.
The Canadian powered all the way to the line, and despite Cologna threatening, Kershaw out-lunged the Swiss skier for the stage victory.
Kershaw was clearly excited following his victory; “I —-in’ WON!” he was overheard yelling at the finish.
Kershaw’s skiing has earned high praise from his competitors as well.
“Kershaw is a really good skier, in all disciplines,” said Cologna at the post-race press conference, “I think Tour de Ski is the perfect competition for him.”
With the top 3 men in the overall Tour standings in the final (Cologna, Kershaw, as well as Sweden’s Marcus Hellner), it was a crucial day to do well, but a complete overhaul of the standings was unlikely.
With the win Kershaw receives 60 bonus seconds clawing back just four seconds on Cologna in the overall, as the Swiss earned 56. For his fourth place effort Hellner received 48 bonus seconds, and remains third, 1:14.1 back of Cologna.
The big winner of the day was Petter Northug – after being stripped of 15 of the bonus seconds he collected during his 17th place effort in the Stage 4 pursuit, the Norwegian jumped to 4th in the overall, receiving 52 bonus seconds, placing him 1:45.4 back of the lead.
After qualifying sixth, American Andy Newell looked to be quite strong, and advanced to the semi-finals after skiing a dominating quarter-final. However in his semi-final, Newell ran into some trouble. On the final downhill, the American, sitting third with fast skis, attempted to squeeze through the two skiers in front of him, but Sweden’s Jesper Modin and Cologna shut the door, leaving Newell with little room to maneuver down the final stretch.
Placed in the second semi-final, Newell finished a close third, but his time was not good enough to advance, and he was forced to end his day in 8th. After adding his 38 bonus seconds, Newell sits in 51st overall.
Fellow American Kris Freeman broke into the top 30 in a sprint yet again, and actually ended up in Newell’s quarter-final. After a strong start to the heat, Freeman faded badly to finish 6th, placing him in 29th, good enough for just 2 bonus seconds.
However, Freeman has improved to 20th in the overall, and has a good shot at moving up. Several sprinters lead Freeman in the overall, and the remaining stages are all distance races where he can make up significant ground.
Likewise, Ivan Babikov (CAN) can now focus on moving up, as he has his forte, the long distance stages left, and in particular Alpe Cermis. Babikov sits in 33rd position, 5 minutes back of Cologna.