OBERSTDORF, Germany – That was more like it.
Such was the prevailing mood in the Canadian National Ski Team camp after Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey finished sixth and seventh in Stage 4 of the Tour de Ski here on Sunday.
The day wasn’t perfect, with Ivan Babikov suffering a hard crash, but the news that he hadn’t broken any bones combined with the strong skiing from Kershaw and Harvey was enough to put Canadian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth in an optimistic mood.
“I think they’re just getting stronger and stronger, right now, through the Tour, and I’m looking forward to these next few races,” Wadsworth said. “It’s going to be fun.”
Kershaw and Harvey skied comfortably in the lead pack all day, fighting for bonus seconds during several intermediate sprints over the course of the 20 k skiathlon—a mass start race that’s 10 kilometers of classic skiing followed by 10 kilometers of skating. The two men also factored in the finale, with both finishing within five seconds of winner Petter Northug (NOR).
After Harvey and Kershaw had each endured a pair of frustrating races over the last two
days, Sunday’s success was welcomed.
“It washed the bad taste out of yesterday,” Kershaw said. “I was pretty pissed at the finish line yesterday.”
One thing that helped: following a couple of days with tough waxing conditions, the two men “finally had classic skis that they could really ski pretty easy on,” said Canadian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth.
Kershaw said that he and Harvey paid a lot of attention to the intermediate sprints at the top of the tallest climb on the course, which are critical to staying competitive in the overall Tour standings.
“You’ve got to play the [sprints],” Kershaw said.
He and Harvey collected 21 and 14 seconds from the sprints, respectively, that was subtracted from their times at the end of the day.
For the most part, they took turns contesting the bonus seconds, to avoid competing against each one another.
“We never fought against each other,” Harvey said. “I went for the first one; the second he went, I didn’t go; third one, I went.”
Both men got caught in traffic in the closing kilometers that kept them from figuring in the podium: Kershaw said that a Norwegian crashed directly in front of him, forcing him to check his speed slightly, while Harvey said that he couldn’t find any room to pass on the final climb.
But neither seemed disappointed, and each appears to be in great shape as the Tour now swings to Italy for some tougher stages.
“I was a bit too tentative coming into the finish, but yeah—to be sixth, I’m happy,” Kershaw said.
He is now in fifth place in the overall standings, a minute out of the lead, and Harvey is in 11th, some two minutes back.
While most teams are opting to stay Sunday night in Germany and then drive to Italy during the Tour’s first rest day on Monday, Wadsworth said that the Canadians are taking advantage of their gargantuan tour bus to make their trip on Sunday evening.
“I would much rather have their full recovery day in [Italy], where they can wake up at their leisure and go for a light, easy ski and just relax,” he said. “I think they’re going to be much better off than waking up tomorrow and driving.”
In fact, the team had the details of the drive choreographed nearly down to the mile. In a phone interview from the road, Wadsworth said he was following the tour bus in a car.
For the last 45 minutes of the drive, which traverse a narrow road, the Canadian men will hop off the bus and jump into Wadsworth’s vehicle, which he said would cut transit time in half for the final leg of the trip.
“That’s kind of our plan, to get there tonight and have a good night’s sleep,” he said. “We should be there by 7:30.”
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.