Led By Kershaw’s Bronze, Canadians Produce Solid Distance Races in Otepää

Audrey ManganJanuary 23, 2012
Kershaw striding, ahead of Alexander Legkov (RUS), during the 2012 Tour de Ski. Kershaw was third in the Otepää 15 k classic on Sunday.

Devon Kershaw’s rebound from a disappointing classic sprint in Otepää to a third-place finish in the 15 k the next day certainly had the Canadian excited. He’d been gunning for gold, but the World Champion found it hard to be too upset with a podium finish on what many are referring to as the toughest course on the World Cup.

In a phone interview on Sunday, Kershaw was just as happy to learn that some of his teammates had skied to good results. Perianne Jones and Dasha Gaiazova, both stronger sprinters historically, were 30th and 35th, respectively.

The Canadian men barely had time to reflect on their races on Sunday before packing up and heading to the Tallinn airport. Results from the women’s 10 k, which started three and a half hours after the men’s race, hadn’t even reached their ears by the time they got in the shuttle. FasterSkier caught Kershaw on the phone while he was en route to the airport, and after rehashing his 15 k, he asked for an update on the women’s results.

As his teammates’ names were read off, Kershaw’s reactions were possibly more animated than the way in which he’d just described earning a bronze medal.

“Peri was 30th? Wow, that’s great for her!”

“Dasha in 35th! That’s awesome.”

Jones was just as excited with her result. In an email Sunday evening, she said was happy to have finally put together a solid distance race.

Perianne Jones in the Milan city sprints last weekend.

“I was hoping that it would come before Christmas, but it’s taken me a while to put a decent race together, so I was mostly just really happy to finally get in the points in distance,” she wrote.

With the new World Cup start order, which intersperses top Red Group athletes with the rest of the field, Jones was able to hitch a few rides, briefly, with the likes of Charlotte Kalla (SWE), Therese Johaug (NOR) and eventual winner Justyna Kowalczyk (POL). The fact that she could hang onto them for a few minutes let Jones know she was having a good race.

“[Johaug] caught up to me on the first major climb, and I managed to ski to the top with her, and had no trouble staying with her on the downhill!” Jones wrote.

“Her tempo was really hard to match on the uphill, she’s an incredible skier, and moves super fast.”

Gaiazova’s 35th is one of the better distance classic results of her World Cup career.

Of course, the women weren’t the only ones who had solid distance days. After Kershaw’s third, Alex Harvey was 19th. The result is subpar by Harvey’s own standards, but Len Valjas’s 31st place is an impressive showing for the 23-year-old sprint specialist.

Kershaw’s third-place finish was undoubtedly the highlight, especially since he’d shattered his pole in the qualifying round the classic sprint the day before.

“I just felt robbed yesterday; I had a lot of pent-up energy,” said Kershaw, who thought he could have been in the finals on Saturday had he not been unlucky.

Harvey striding in Oberstdorf during the Tour de Ski.

Harvey, who did make the sprint finals and finished fourth at the end of a day of all double-poling, was a little sore on Sunday.

“My arms weren’t too tired [on Saturday night], neither was my back or core,” Harvey wrote in an email.

“Then on Sunday morning it was a different story.”

On a relentless 15 k course, Harvey said he didn’t have the strength to be competitive on the “retardedly” steep climbs.

“Be strong on the climbs! It’s everything in Otepää! No flats and fast downhills! I didn’t achieve that so that’s why I was 19th,” he wrote.

Valjas, who returned to Otepää this weekend after placing seventh in a sprint there at U23 Championships last winter, said on Saturday that the 15 k would be the “hardest course I’ve ever skied.

“Having to ski up a ski jump landing will be pretty interesting,” Valjas said.

He finished just outside the points in 31st.

Competing in Otepää is particularly special for Valjas, whose grandparents are from Estonia.

“I can still speak the language, so it’s fun doing interviews here, and the people are really excited,” he said.

The Canadian National Ski Team, like the U.S., will be training in Ramsau, Austria for the two-week break in the World Cup before heading to Moscow, Russia.

Topher Sabot and Alex Matthews contributed reporting.

Men’s 15 k results.

Women’s 10 k results.

Audrey Mangan

Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.

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