For someone who finished the World Cup last winter ranked second in the overall standings, Canada’s Devon Kershaw flies relatively well under the radar. While his own teammate Alex Harvey is treated as a “pseudo-god” in Quebec, Kershaw is rarely mentioned by name when European journalists ask Dario Cologna (SUI) or Petter Northug (NOR) whom they’re watching out for in the coming year. This relative anonymity, Kershaw says, is just fine by him.
“It’s pretty sweet,” he said in a recent phone interview from Canmore, Alberta. “I have zero target on my back, I don’t have a lot of sponsor obligations, no big media interviews. I like it that way. In the spring I can go ski touring and surfing. I have a huge [amount of] pressure on myself; I want to do well. But as far as externally, I see my name nowhere, if ever.”
While Northug and Cologna have been routinely sought-after for interviews all summer, Kershaw has been quietly logging the hours in Canada, Hawaii, Norway, New Zealand and Park City, Utah, with the rest of the Canadian National Ski Team. At 29, he is about to embark on his ninth year on the World Cup, and appears to be enjoying the life of a cross-country skier every bit as much as when he first started.
How do you top a season in which you were second in the world? To start, World Championships is helpfully on the schedule this year, so there’s a major event to focus on that wasn’t there last winter. The importance of the races in Val di Fiemme, Italy, will change the dynamic of the hunt for the overall World Cup in 2013, and Kershaw says he is no exception.
“A second overall probably won’t happen this year, my objectives have just changed,” he said. “Last year getting a top-three overall was really important; I went a lot for sprint preems like you saw and I extended my lead to stay safely in second.
“Last year everyone was going for the overall, everyone was going for the Tour de Ski, but this year World Champs will be the bulk of the focus.”
Kershaw had a hard time choosing one race in Italy he’s particularly fired up about. “This is always a tough question to answer since I love them all!” he said.
He took a stab at it nonetheless: a repeat win in the team sprint with Alex Harvey was at the top of the list. “I’ve been very keen to have another amazing team sprint race,” Kershaw said.
However, the schedule of events this year complicates that goal. While Harvey, Kershaw and every other skier that podiumed in the team sprint in Oslo, Norway, skipped the 15 k classic the day before, there’s a 30 k pursuit preceding the race this year and it’s one that Kershaw doesn’t want to miss.
“That poses a bit of a problem,” he said. “[Skipping the day before] will be harder with an event that suits both Alex and I better, so we’ll just have to wait and see how that all plays out.”
Either way, he has plenty of other goals on his list. He’d like to help lead Canada’s 4 x 10 k relay to a top-three showing.
“It’s been a dream of mine for ten years now to be on the podium at a championship with our men’s relay,” Kershaw said. “We were close in 2009 (Canada was fifth), and I believe if we are all healthy and in decent shape that 2013 could pose a great chance to show the skiing world on the big stage what we are capable of as a team. That’s a dream I’d like to see accomplished before I retire.”
There’s also the prestigious 50 k classic. “I love that event, and it’ll be a couple years before I get to do that again so I’d like to take advantage,” he said. “I really like Val di Fiemme’s classic course. The last two seasons (at the Tour de Ski) the 20 k classic there has gone decently well, so we’ll see.”
Speaking of the Tour de Ski, Kershaw is loath to dismiss it entirely this winter. He admits that World Championships and the fact that the Canadian World Cup races directly precede the event will make his Tour preparation very different, but he’s looking for a good performance there all the same.
“The Tour is my favorite race of the season, one that I hold so close to my heart,” Kershaw said. “But Alex and I and the North Americans will be the only skiers that will be racing in Canada. Nobody else that’s of any note will come over. So I don’t know how the Tour will go, but I’m hoping good.”
To be clear, he doesn’t see flying back to Canada for the Quebec and Canmore World Cups as a burden. Far from it, actually.
“I’m really excited to race in Canada,” Kershaw said. “Even though I race terribly in Canmore, to race in my backyard is such a thrill. And in Quebec, Alex is a pseudo god there so it’ll be a complete zoo. It’ll be an amazing experience as an athlete, and as a Canadian skier it’s super chill. To be able to see how massive a deal Alex has become will be really cool to see, and to compete alongside him.
“At the same time, the World Cup is the World Cup, and it’s good to see that it comes to North America.”
In writing a list of pre-interview questions, there are certain bases you want to cover with any athlete. Goals. Training. With Kershaw, there was one other unavoidable topic this time around: his breakup last season with longtime girlfriend and teammate Chandra Crawford.
“Did my breakup affect me skiing last season? Without a question it did,” Kershaw said. “Last season was one of absolute contrast. It was the worst season of the last 10 years. No question. Winning, hitting the podium — all of that — I felt nothing and it simply was not fun. At all. That might sound like lip service, but I was just so empty. So in that regard, it sucked.
“Yet on the results sheet, it was my best-ever season. I don’t get it. When I think back on the 2011-2012 season, it was for the most part horrible and that’s sadly what stays with me. Here’s to (trying at least!) to enjoy the next seasons!”
Moving right along to the topic of training. At this point in his career, Kershaw’s 800-hour plan has reached a certain level of consistency — “I’m getting older, even though I’m growing my hair out and trying to look like a bum,” he said. He hasn’t changed much in the past few years since it’s already clearly working; the Canuck has inarguably turned himself into one of the best and most tactically intelligent skiers in the world.
One thing Kershaw has adjusted is his strength training. The success he had in mass start races last season was the result of a conscious effort to capitalize on the group tactics of head-to-head racing as it’s become an ever more important part of World Cup skiing.
Kershaw and CNST head coach Justin Wadsworth have focused a little more on his strength training in order to boost his finishing kick. If the consistency with which Kershaw was able to attack sprint preems last winter is any indication, the work on his explosiveness has already started to pay off. The trick from here on how will be for Kershaw to have something for the actual finish.
There were six mass-start races on the World Cup last season in which bonus points were up for grabs. Because he knew exactly how much those preems could make or break his hold on his overall ranking, Kershaw attacked every single one of them; all told he amassed 198 bonus points alone. That’s nearly two full wins (which are 100 points each) and accounts for nearly 14 percent of the total World Cup points Kershaw earned last winter.
With a top-three within reach last year, which became a top-two, the effort was worth it. Kershaw promises that this year will be different, even with a BMW now sweetening the bonus-sprint pot.
“At this point I’ve talked a lot with Justin about the bonus points and we feel that there were quite a few races last year when I was in ridiculous shape, yet my result at the finish wasn’t amazing because I went bananas for the bonus points,” Kershaw said.
“This season I am really, really, really going to try and keep it contained and just go for good ‘actual’ results in World Cup races,” Kershaw said. “The focus being on the World Championships instead of the overall World Cup means that I will not be (at least I’ve promised Justin) all over the bonus points like in the past.
“That said, if I ever have a shot at the overall World Cup, and that looks realistic, then you’ll see me back in there going for those puppies (sorry Justin, but I mean: World Cup overall globe? Come on!)”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.