Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw (CAN) posted the best North American results on Saturday with 10th and 16th, respectively. Andy Newell earned his first career distance points by skiing in 24th.
The game plan for the Canadian men on Saturday in Rogla, Sweden was to be near the front and contest the bonus points on the third lap of the course. They’d never gone for intermediate premiums before, but wanted to experiment with the option to dial in their strategy for the Tour de Ski, where they feature twice.
Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw learned that it’s probably not the best idea to attack early in a sloppy, windy 15k at altitude. Kershaw won the first premium, and though it collected him an extra 15 World Cup points, he eventually dropped to 16th (+16.8). Harvey collected on the first of the two bonuses in fourth, but lost ground and ended in 10th (+9.2).
Harvey said he felt the lactate build up in his legs after pushing hard midrace, and the fast pace never gave his muscles the chance to recover. But, he noted that the extra points he gained at both checkpoints–8 for the first and 4 for the second–gave him enough to move up in the overall standings.
His teammate didn’t fare quite as well from the early surge.
In the last few kilometers, “I was doing what I could to save energy,” said Kershaw. “I had nothing in the last 400 meters, which is unusual for me.”
Though they’re disappointed with the result, the experiment served its purpose: Harvey and Kershaw learned to be more conservative the next time bonus premiums encourage mid-race sprints. And as Harvey pointed out, the next time they appear in a race setting on the Tour, it will be at lower altitude, and mid-race recovery would be easier.
Early in the 15 k Ivan Babikov skied with his teammates near the front. He ended up finishing 22nd (+21.1), one of his best career classic finishes.
“I just tried to stay at the front of the pack as long as possible, and there was an opportunity for bonus points, so I was very happy about that,” he wrote afterwards. “I got a bit tired on the last lap and couldn’t go with the leaders but [I’m] still satisfied with the overall.”
Canadian National Ski Team (CNST) Head Coach Justin Wadsworth felt that on the whole, the men’s results showed they were in good shape for the Tour.
“We were maybe a little disappointed that they weren’t a bit better, but they got a lot of World Cup points,” he added.
He felt for Kershaw’s tactical error especially, as the World Champion had been feeling so fast in his warm-up. “After Daniel Rickardsson (SWE) made that move, Devon had to react…maybe a kilometer after he’d won the sprint premium, which really put him in a bad situation.”
For the Americans, the mass-start classic ended up playing to the scrambling strengths of sprinter Andy Newell, who scored the first World Cup distance points of his life in 24th (+23.7).
“I’m pretty comfortable skiing classic mass starts these days, and my fitness for sure improved from last year,” said Newell.
The mass start wasn’t as chaotic as he was expecting, and though there was “definitely bouncing around,” he thought the race overall played out cleanly.
Newell’s bet with teammate Kris Freeman–that he, a sprinter, would score his first distance points before Freeman scored sprint points–was perhaps more public, but Newell also made a deal with himself going into the final distance race before the Tour de Ski. He needed to make the top 30 in a distance race before the start of the grueling 9 stage event in order to believe entering the Tour would be worthwhile.
“This definitely adds some confidence,” said Newell of meeting his goal. “I’m psyched to be top 30.”
Freeman, however, didn’t fare as well, finishing 42nd (+1:44.8). Whitcomb said that the veteran was not satisfied with his race, nor with how the first period of the World Cup has gone, but was confident that the results would come.
“He has a pretty impressive head about him right now, and is staying positive within the team,” said U.S. Ski Team women’s head coach Matt Whitcomb. “He’s working on new training approaches to figure out how to get the result back in him. I definitely have a lot of confidence in Kris.”
Noah Hoffman finished in 51st (+2:04), and though he wasn’t happy with where he placed, was encouraged by how he felt energy-wise. Lars Flora rounded things out for the American squad, finishing in 54th (+2:10.5).
Contributing reporting by Matt Voisin.
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