Expectations of the Canadian team are at the highest point since Beckie Scott’s heyday, what with Devon Kershaw winning races, Alex Harvey and Chandra Crawford on the podium, team sprint medals, Ivan Babikov showing off classic chops and regular appearances in the points by a strong group of up-and-comers.
So a day with a top result of 15th may have once been cause for celebration, but is now just ho-hum, especially coming off of Kershaw’s second victoy of the season in Friday’s sprint.
Today it was Alex Harvey leading the way in extremely challenging waxing conditions.
According to Harvey, the men’s squad, consisting of himself, Kershaw, Ivan Babikov and Lenny Valjas, all opted for hairies, forgoing wax.
There was no easy solution on a day with new snow, high-humidity and temperatures near freezing, as evidenced by race winner Johan Olsson choosing to go the wax route, while women’s winner Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) sided with the Canadians.
Harvey, however, felt the decision may not have been the right one.
“I was able to make my hairies work pretty good for the first two laps but couldn’t quite relax on the ski, so I had to spend a lot of energy,” he wrote to FasterSkier in an email. “Then on the last lap the track got shinnier after all the traffic, and I couldn’t compensate as much so things got pretty ugly!”
He added that the entire top-10, with the exception of Martin Johnsrud-Sundby (NOR) was racing on wax.
At the 6.8 kilometer mark Harvey was in 6th place, but he faded from there, dropping to 13th at 11.8k before crossing the line in 15th.
The good news is that a problematic back that caused him to drop out of the 30k last week was at least somewhat better, if not ideal this time around.
“My back was pretty stiff after 5km but it was just muscular pain, no nerve or articular pain so I was able to keep going,” Harvey said. And with a training camp in Italy for the next two weeks, he will have some time before racing again.
Kershaw placed 26th, struggling all day with his kick. He picked up a few more points in the overall, but his quest to unseat Petter Northug in the second position took a blow.
Northug was not racing today, so Kershaw missed a good opportunity to substantially close the gap.
On the women’s side, Dasha Gaiazova had a strong day, placing 25th. She started slowly, ranking just 46th at 1.8k and 31st halfway through. She continued to pick up the pace however, and cracked the points for the first time this year in a distance race.
Three other Canadians raced, led by sprinter Lenny Valjas, who was pleased with his 39th place finish.
“I was feeling good today,” Valjas said, adding that he was “ happy with my result considering the skis.”
Valjas pointed to variable conditions as the root of the problem.
“None of us had any grip,” he said of the men’s team. “At the bottom of the huge climb the snow changed from a nice glazed track to a dry track. The Zero skis just didn’t work. Herringboning the huge hill completely three times and getting passed by other skiers in the track was frustrating.”
With a fifth place this year, and several other top-20 results, Valjas has established himself as a top-tier sprinter, and is hoping to do the same in distance skiing.
“I really want to get into the top-30 at least once this season in distance,” he said, but will be skipping the 30k in Lahti in order to focus on the sprint.
Ivan Babikov, the final man to start for Canada did not finish the race.
Alysson Marshall was the only woman in addition to Gaiazova when Perianne Jones scratched.
The 23-year-old Marshall is still gaining experience and is focusing on her sprinting.
“I want to get at least one top-30,” Marshall told FasterSkier. “I believe I have a good chance with three classic sprints coming up. I want to get more experience racing at this level, which will hopefully set me up for some good results in the future!”
Marshall described today’s race as “a struggle out there.”
She ended the day in 55th.
“I decided to go on hairies but I was struggling for grip and had to herring-bone a lot of the major climbs on the course,” she said.
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Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.