All photos courtesy of Erik Wickström – www.erikwickstrom.se
The Canadian men’s team has established itself as one of the top squads on the World Cup circuit. When international press discuss field strength, the absence or presence of the team is noted, along with the likes of Norway, Sweden, Russia, Germany, Italy, Finland, and France.
The Canucks kicked off the 2012 season in the 15km freestyle FIS race in Bruksvallarna, Sweden. Alex Harvey led the way in 10th in a deep field of Swedes, Norwegians, and Russians.
Sprinter Lenny Valjas placed 18th in what Head Coach Justin Wadsworth described as “the best distance race of his career.”
Valjas on his race:
“It was definitely a good race for me. I felt really smooth and powerful throughout the whole race. I had a pretty slow and conservative start, and kept trying to pick up the pace right up until the end. It felt like a paced it maybe a little bit too much, I had lots of energy for the last couple kilometers. For sure it is one of the better distance races that I have done. Now I just need to fine tune my pacing for next weekend and everything should be fine!”
On whether or not he was surprised, and his distance skiing:
“I am a little surprised, I just finished a hard training block and I am still getting over the jet lag. I didn’t expect to feel this good so early. I thought it would take a couple races to get back in the swing of things.
“I worked hard all summer improving my distance skiing. I feel like I am in much better shape this year for both sprints and distance skiing.”
Valjas told FastersSkier that he aims to crack the top-30 in World Cup distance races this year. While his potential as a sprinter has been evident for some years, he broke through last year, finishing 9th in the pre-World Championship World Cup sprint in Drammen, Norway. He qualified fourth in that race, and followed up with a 15th at Worlds.
Despite Valjas’ strong performance Friday’s race was not all positive for the Canadians. Devon Kershaw struggled to 28th place. Remember, this is a man who not only won World Championship gold with Harvey in the Team Sprint, but skied to four podium finishes in the Tour de Ski last year, including a victory in the freestyle sprint.
When asked what went wrong, Kershaw responded jokingly ” if I knew the answer to that question – I would have adjusted mid-race to salvage it!”
The first 10k went well, but over the last third of the course he lost over 50 seconds to the leaders, an inauspicious feat that he described as “inexcusable.”
“My legs just really got heavy – and when that happens on a technical (read: lots of corners you had to accelerate out of) skate course you are in trouble,” Kershaw wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “I wasn’t able to accelerate out of corners well enough, and even pushing on the sugary climbs – I could feel the definite change in velocity. I didn’t feel like I ‘died’ but muscularly – something went wrong in the last 5km.”
But overall he feels he is in excellent shape.
“I’ve had an amazing spring/summer/fall of training. I mean, I’ve now had what I’d consider 4 ‘bad’ workouts (intensity sessions) over the last six months – and like what? 40-50 good ones? So I know I’ve done good preparations and that ‘it’s in there.’ That said – today was on of the “4 bad workouts” and that’s frustrating – especially when it’s the first ‘real’ race of the season – and one where I’ve been traditionally pretty good in.”
Kershaw noted that he has been training a fair amount of the last three weeks – 18-22 hours with some “solid intensity sessions.” He said this was not an excessive amount for this time of year – noting the need to build fitness for later in the the winter, notably the Tour de Ski.
“But for whatever reason,” he said, “this year it seems the body needs time to digest the work (pretty obvious – after today’s dismal performance).”
Historically, Kershaw has performed very well in early season FIS races—”I can never remeber finishing outside the top-5,” he told FasterSkier. And thus 28th “hurts a little.”
But he also points out that he hasn’t always been able to carry the early successes into the World Cup openers the following week. Two years ago he won the 15k in Bruksvallarna before finishing 37th in the World Cup opener. Last year he was fourth here, and a sorry 58th six days later on the World Cup.
“I’m hoping that I just needed this hard effort – and that with another week to digest the hard work I’ve done (although this week coming up is by no means easy hour-wise – but more in the 16-17 range (with the two WC races on the weekend) I’ll be feeling better/moving better by next weekend in Sjusoen.
“Still – it’s a long season. It’s only the 12th of November – and I want to be racing really well into March too. That’s almost five months from now. Perspective-wise, I know that even Sjusoen isn’t THAT important. Starting in Kuusamo though – I would really like to be feeling good/normal again because that mini-tour is pretty important all around.”
Three other Canadians took to the start line as well—Drew Goldsack, Kevin Sandau and veteran Graham Nishikawa.
Nishikawa was 45th, Sandau 52nd, and Goldsack 82nd.
A two time NorAm overall champion (including last year), Nishikawa raced the final World Cup period last year, and has 11 career European World Cup starts and another ten on Canadian soil.
Nishikawa was not thrilled with Friday’s performance, but given that he dislocated his shoulder in August, he was happy to be out there competing.
“Today’s race was not super but there were some positive signs,” he said. “The first race after travel is always tough…I am happy just to be racing, but definitely looking for another step up.”
With several European World Cup trips under his belt now, he is feeling more confident and is shooting to crack the points during the first World Cup period.
“I know what to expect now with travel, racing, food, etc.” he said.
“Today was a good test against a stacked field. It feels good to get the first race finished and get ready for the 15km next weekend [in Sjusjoen].”
The World Cup gets under way next weekend in Sjusjoen, Norway.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.