Following their first races of the season in Europe last weekend in Bruksvallarna, Sweden, many of the Canadian national team members were ready to get back at it. Saturday’s World Cup opener in Sjusjøen, Norway, seemed like the perfect place for redemption for a few of the men and continued improvement for others (the women did not race, instead training in Ostersund, Sweden).
Not all of the Canadians got their wish. In fact, few of the North Americans did in the men’s 15 k freestyle.
Alex Harvey was a bright spot, placing fifth in 32:49.9, 40.6 seconds behind Sweden’s Johan Olsson, the winner. Additional coverage of Harvey’s performance can be found in the main race recap here.
Devon Kershaw was 37th (1:37.1), a week after placing 28th in Bruksvallarna. Saturday’s finish wasn’t exactly the result he had hoped for, but it was an improvement from last year’s World Cup opener. A year ago in Gällivare, Sweden, he was 58th in the 15 k freestyle.
“After my disappointment in Bruks’ last weekend I really didn’t know what to expect for today,” Kershaw wrote in an email. “I was anxious to see how the body would be feeling – so ahead of the race I was a bit more nervous than normal – but once I started (ok, after I “really started” at around 2.5km, haha) those nerves went away.”
He wrote that he started “WAY too slow — which is WAY out of character for me,” and blamed his hesitancy to not trusting his body.
“So I regret that in a big way,” Kershaw wrote. “But there were a few laps in there that I was feeling ‘ok’ and skiing (I feel anyway) pretty well technically.”
Canadian head coach Justin Wadsworth said Sunday’s relay would include Kershaw, Ivan Babikov, Graham Nishikawa and Lenny Valjas. Harvey decided to rest up for next weekend’s mini tour in Kuusamo, Finland. With three races in one weekend, they could play a big role in Harvey’s and Kershaw’s run for the overall World Cup title.
“Alex feels right now, with the travel over last week and the mini tour coming up, it’s a bit too much to do race both races,” Wadsworth said. “I respect that decision. We’ll field the team we have.”
On Saturday, Babikov was 42nd (+1:41.3), Valjas was 64th (+2:11.1) and Nishikawa was 71st (+2:27.6).
Valjas on coming off his best distance race last weekend (18th in 15 k freestyle in Bruksvallarna):
“Coming off a pretty good distance result for me last weekend I was really hoping for a top 40 today,” he wrote in an email. “Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling it out there today.
“The first two laps were hot garbage for me. It felt like I was trying too hard to go fast, I needed to relax and let my skis glide out there. The last two laps really went well for me. I was skiing much more relaxed and my lap times improved big time. Overall I am not too upset about this result, for a tough 15km course it went well for me.”
On the team morale:
“We are all happy with the start of the season, even though some of us did not have the best day, we are still much improved from the start of last season.”
On Harvey’s performance:
“I am so pumped for Alex, that is a huge result considering he has never cracked the top 30 in an individual start WC. I am not surprised whatsoever, after watching him train in Quebec all fall, I knew he was in ridiculous shape this year.”
Nishikawa on Saturday’s race (after placing 45th in Bruksvallarna):
“I struggled from the gun. The season is long so I am going to shake it off and prepare for next weekend.
“Conditions and course were perfect. They were not a factor at all. The race showed who is fit, now.”
Wadsworth on individual performances:
“Alex had a great race,” he said. “You’d call it his weaker discipline. It shows how well rounded he is. We as a team worked hard on skating technique, and it’s working well for him right now. We’re excited.”
“Not a great race for (Kershaw). For him it kind of builds, but he’s been training a lot. … The good thing is he felt good and is pretty confident for the mini tour.”
Note: While the Canadian men raced in Norway, the team’s three women (Chandra Crawford, Perianne Jones and Alysson Marshall) and two development team members (Drew Goldsack and Kevin Sandau) finished their second week of training in Ostersund. Without enough members to field a relay, the women opted out of traveling to Norway for one race, and there were not enough entry positions for all the men.
When alternate plans to race in Rovaniemi, Finland, this weekend were canceled, the remaining Canadians chose to race against Swedish development team members and some university athletes in a classic time trial on Friday. On Saturday, they did team sprints and watched the guys on T.V.
Saturday night, Crawford tweeted that they were going out to dinner for her 28th birthday. “#soawesome,” she wrote.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.