Devon Kershaw has become the poster boy of slow Canadian starts to the season, but in typical fashion, Kershaw, and the rest of the team is beginning to round into form.
Kershaw skied up to 22nd place after starting the day in 36th, and while he still wasn’t thrilled with the performance, he did post the 16th fastest time of the day, his first time in the points this season.
“I felt rough at the start,” Kershaw wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “Actually, for the first 7.5km (3 laps) I had the feeling I was in slow motion. I wasn’t dead, exploded or anything — just lacking any snap/punch. Things got better for the last 3 laps as I sunk into my technique.”
He finished just one place ahead of teammate Alex Harvey, who began the day in 21st, and lost 2 places throughout the race.
Coming off a solid 17th in the 10km freestyle, Harvey made an aggressive move on the third lap.
Attacking with Lukas Bauer (CZE), he attempted to bridge up to the main chase group for a shot at the podium.
The pair closed 12 seconds, but according to Harvey, they blew up. “It ended up costing us quite a bit in the end,” he said.
He added that his body felt fine, better than his ultimate result in fact.
Canadian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth pointed to Harvey’s tough start spot, just out of reach of the main group.
“He pushed really hard for a while but it was just too much work and he didn’t want to [catch] everybody then die,” Wadsworth said.
Along with Ivan Babikov’s 25th, the Canadians had their big three in the points for the first time this year. Babikov has been the most consistent of the trio early on, and Wadsworth was particularly impressed with his mini-tour result.
“For him to be in a mini-tour and to finish where he did today, I think it’s a really good sign for him to be so close to Alex and Devon,” Wadsworth said.
Babikov struggles mightily in sprints so is at disadvantage right off the line in tour formats.
Headed into the day with the usual tightly packed field, Wadsworth told his team to be ready for anything.
“We just said, ‘Look, it could all come together, maybe not with Northug, but everybody else,’” Wadsworth said. And while that didn’t happen, the potential was there.
“It’s so fun, the race dynamics, the way it goes sometimes,” Wadsworth continued. “[Today] it just split those two groups, two through 15, 16, and then the next group of 15 guys and it was just too much to overcome.”
Coming off a series of poor races, Kershaw looked to remain patient and controlled.
“I was trying to tell myself to just ‘let it be what it will be,’ not to press,” Kershaw said.
He didn’t feel good warming up which he said was “rough mentally,” but he “just unplugged and let go a bit.”
While his body didn’t respond well and his legs and arms lacked the power needed to contend, he was able to move up through the field.
“I just really lost myself in my technique and tried to stay super present and therefore stay positive,” Kershaw said. “I had no idea how I was doing for the race actually.”
The team flew down to Helsinki after the race and will catch a flight back to Canada tomorrow morning to prepare for two weeks of World Cup racing on home snow.
“I think everybody’s really looking forward to getting back to Canada. We’re gonna be charging really hard in these home World Cups,” Wadsworth said.
Alysson Marshall was the only Canadian woman to start the race. Perianne Jones withdrew after skiing in the heats in Friday’s sprint while Chandra Crawford and Dasha Gaiazova raced the 5k freestyle but did not start today.
According to Wadsworth, Jones is sick while both Crawford and Gaiazova are focusing on the Quebec city sprints next weekend.
Marshall did not finish the race today, struggling with the cold.
“Alysson just had a tough race, felt like her lungs were having a hard time, I think, from yesterday,” Wadsworth explained.
With significant travel ahead, Wadsworth sees the team at an advantage compared to their European competitors.
“Even though we’re traveling from Europe we’re just much better as a team in general than the Europeans are at traveling,” Wadsworth said.
He added that the team has dialed in training and recovery around travel, so they have a clear plan for the time ahead and are confident they know when to rest and when to push.
Reflecting on the first World Cup weekends, Wadsworth went with “not fantastic” as an overall appraisal. But he is unconcerned moving forward, concluding, “we’re gonna be there when it counts.”
Alex Matthews contribute reporting
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.