TOBLACH, Italy – Alex Harvey (CAN) advanced to a World Cup sprint final for just the second time in his career on his way to a 6th place finish in the Tour de Ski skate sprint.
Harvey posted his best-ever sprint qualification result, throwing down the fifth fastest time in the morning time trial.
He saw that as a good sign, and followed up by winning his quarterfinal.
He told FasterSkier that he “didn’t have to push too hard to advance” out of his first heat.
The semis were a different story. Harvey says his biggest strength on skis is pushing over the top of climbs, and a strong one skate (V2 alternate).
He was in position to catch a good draft over the top of the last uphill setting up for a good run on his preferred gradual terrain.
But his skis were not running quite as well as his competition, and he dropped back to lucky loser territory.
The first men’s semifinal was highly tactical and the pace slow.Harvey expected a fast pace in his heat (the second semi), with Alexey Petukhov (RUS) leading the way.
The Russians are known for skiing hard from the front in sprints, and this semi was no different, and Harvey moved on to the final despite placing fourth in his heat.
In the final, Harvey got off quickly, having what he described as the best double pole of his career.
With Petukhov and fellow Russian Nikolay Morilov in the heat, Harvey expected another fast race. But after a hard push for the first ten seconds, the pace dropped.
“Usually the Russians, especially Petukhov and Morilov, they just take off,” Harvey said. “I was expecting them to push the pace. I was feeling good so I was open to that… but they just sat on the first hill, they were going really slow.”
He was in good position at the top of that climb, sitting solidly in fourth, with an excellent draft.
On the descent, however, the remaining two skiers came by.
“It was not bad skis,” Harvey said. “It was just some guys had a bit faster skis.”
He kept contact, but was never in position to make a move, and finished last in the heat.
“I think I made the most of the equipment we had,” Harvey said.
He added that his form is good, and that he felt better after the final than after the semis. He was prepared for a fast pace, and “was open to that,” even though it never materialized.
With the gradual finish, similar to Drammen, Norway, where Harvey placed 2nd last winter, he would have liked to have been in contention at the end.
He said his skis were competitive, but didn’t give him quite enough.
Harvey continued a roller-coaster of a Tour, where he has alternated strong races with poor ones, though his off-races have generally been a result of wax troubles.
With his result today, and the associated bonus seconds, Harvey climbed to ninth in the overall standings, 2:46.2 behind leader Dario Cologna (SUI).
More importantly, Harvey is just 1.2 seconds in back of Marcus Hellner (SWE), so the two will start nearly simultaneously in Thursday’s 35km pursuit.
With extensive gradual climbing up from Cortina, followed by a long winding downhill to Toblach, groups of skiers will have an advantage.
Teaming up with Hellner, who has had an extensive bout of bad luck in this Tour, including a trip on a climb in today’s sprint when he caught a tip in the snow on the side of the trail, is ideal.
They are only seven seconds behind Lukas Bauer (CZE), a two-time Tour de Ski Champion, who Harvey says “is the guy you want to be skiing behind.”
He plans on starting fast with Hellner working to reel in Bauer quickly.
Sixth through 12th places in the overall are only separated by 22 seconds, with more following close behind.
Harvey’s teammate Devon Kershaw, the winner of the Tour skate sprint last year, was eliminated in the quarterfinals, in part at the hands of Harvey.
Based on their qualification results of 5th and 6th, the two met in the quarters.
“He is not happy for sure,” Harvey said of Kershaw.
He pointed out that he and Kershaw have different strengths, and Kershaw was not able to fully bring his powerful and quick V1 to bear today.
“He was trying to use his strength, but he couldn’t stay out front,” Harvey said “The skis were missing a little bit.”
Kershaw attacked the climbs, moving into good position, but lost everything he had gained on the descents.
But according to Canadian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth, the result may have been a blessing in disguise for Kershaw.
“For Devon, even though he got knocked out of the first round he actually finished with quite a high placing which gave him bonus seconds, and he didn’t have to ski the last two rounds of the race so he is able to conserve energy for tomorrow,” Wadsworth said. “I know it is kind of counterintuitive to think Devon getting knocked out of the quarterfinals is a good thing, but I don’t think it was such a bad thing today.”
Harvey also pointed out that had Kershaw performed better, he would have been starting closer to Alexander Legkov (RUS), who is third in the overall.
Kershaw may have been tempted to hang with the Russian, who is expected to chase hard after leaders Cologna and Petter Northug (NOR).
Last year Kershaw started the pursuit in second, and expended a ton of energy trying to hold his position.
He was eventually caught anyway, at much greater cost.
In his current position, 32 seconds up on Bauer, and just nine ahead of Maxim Vylegzhanin (RUS) Kershaw can start at a moderate pace, waiting for the inevitable, and then have legs left to counter attacks or to kick at the finish.
“Tomorrow is biggest stage of the tour for guys who want to be in top-10,” Harvey said of the 35k pursuit.
Nat Herz contributed reporting.
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Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.