Though it didn’t quite measure up to the standard they set for themselves on Saturday, Canada continued its strong run of World Cup performances by placing two in the top ten in the Rybinsk 30 k skiathlon on Sunday. Devon Kershaw led the way in sixth with a time of 1:20:47.1, only 9.5 seconds behind the winner Maxim Vylegzhanin (RUS). Alex Harvey was only one second behind Kershaw in eighth, and Ivan Babikov finished 19th (+47.1).
Canada has been producing consistent world-class results for several years now on the World Cup, and seeing them at the top of results sheets weekend after weekend is almost expected at this point. Because they’ve repeatedly raised the bar this season, anything slightly below that mark seems like an off day. And with raised to the top of the podium with Kershaw’s win in Saturday’s 15 k, matching it was a tall order.
Kershaw and Harvey worked their way through the middle of the pack through the first 15 k on classic skis, and after the change to skate skis, began to look like they’d be challenging for the podium again. They hovered right near the front of the pack for most of the second half of the race. Kershaw took 27 extra points for winning the sprint at 21.4 k and taking second in the last preem at 26.5 k. Harvey was also right in the mix, taking fourth at 21.4 k.
When the leading Russians quickened the pace on the final lap, however, the duo couldn’t quite respond.
“The day went OK,” said Canadian National Ski Team head coach Justin Wadsworth.
“I mean two in the top 10 isn’t bad, but we were hoping for more.”
Though they may have fallen shy of their own expectations, their performances moved them up in the overall World Cup standings. Kershaw’s sixth-place finish, when combined with the preems, earned him 67 World Cup points on Sunday, bumping him past Marcus Hellner (SWE) and into third in the overall standings.
The day before the skiathlon, Kershaw’s plan for Sunday was to stay near the front and out of trouble.
“You have to try and conserve energy and ski relaxed in the pack because you need that energy for a sprint finish,” he said.
On the final lap, the lead pack consisted of five Russian skiers up front—Tobias Angerer (GER) and Kershaw were the first athletes to break the sea of blue. Around ten more skiers were still in contact behind them, but after 80 minutes of racing, the final lap saw the field start to string out.
Ilias Chernousov (RUS) and Vylegzhanin were the ones to successfully break away on the final uphill, but after the top two, places three through 16 finished within a 10.4-second window.
According to Wadsworth, those places were pretty much determined before the athletes entered the stadium
“It was a bit tactical for sure, at least with our guys not wanting to do too much early, and then trying to be there for the finish, but it stretched out quite a bit going into the last climb and there was just no chance to move up,” he said.
Harvey described the final hill as crucial for positioning, as a fast descent fed into the subsequent uphill.
“It was more of a ski speed kind of thing since it was a long downhill going into the last climb,” Harvey wrote in an email.
“The Russians had amazing skis, so did the Germans.”
The preceding 27 k or so had certainly been a tactical race. After a fast classic portion, the transition to skate skis brought a significant drop in pace.
“Once we got skating, the pace died and everybody was looking at each other, just like in any other mass start for the men!” said Harvey. “So overall, pretty tactical.”
Harvey’s eighth-place finish moved him from eight to sixth in the overall World Cup, 198 points behind Kershaw. Despite racing three times in four days, he felt strong on Sunday, particularly in the skate portion, where he moved up from 12th at the exchange.
“Skiathlons could be my favorite race format,” said Harvey.
Babikov, who was looking for a little redemption on Sunday after falling in the 15 k the day before, skied the classic portion well, and was eighth at the second preem.
During the second half, he lost contact with the main pack, and finished 19th.
“On the skating part I didn’t feel as good as I felt yesterday, maybe acclimatization kicked in,” said Babikov, who arrived in Russia four days ago after two weeks spent at home in Canada.
Overall, the Canadian mens’ performance in Russia, which began in Moscow on Thursday with Kershaw’s third place finish in the freestyle sprint, can perhaps best be summed up by his tweet on Sunday afternoon: “Pretty decent little Russian trip for Canada. 1st, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th. #decent. Biggest thanks for all the congrats, twittterotti!”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.