The Canadian men bounced back from a rough sprint day to turn in solid results in the second stage of the Ruka Triple, a 10-kilomter individual start freestyle race. Alex Harvey led the way, finishing in 17th place in a time of 22:28.
The 24-year-old began the race conservatively, trying to avoid the pitfall of so many starters before him — attacking the opening climb too aggressively only to fade in the final third of the race course.
“In a sprint qualifier you just go as hard as you can, you either have it or not. In an individual start, you gotta ski well tactically too, and I feel like I skied the flats very fast today, which I think is important on this course, feather the climbs and attack the flats,” Harvey wrote in an email to FasterSkier.
The splits bear this out. Harvey ceded over 21 seconds in the opening 3.1 km of the course to Alexander Legkov (RUS), the eventual winner.
Harvey gradually accelerated into his rhythm, wary of overdoing it on the first big climbs out of the stadium.
“I know I lost a whole lot of time in the first kilometer, but it’s a huge/steep uphill and I just can’t go out too hard on this course if I want my legs responding when they need to,” Harvey wrote. “I think I gained a decent amount of spots in the last 1.5km which is a good sign for me.”
Harvey looked smooth and powerful throughout the course, and was able to tap into his reserves in the finish, snatching 9 places in the last 1.8km.
Ivan Babikov, the one Canadian man to start the season with some consistency, had another day in the points, finishing 23rd in a time of 22:38, 45.7 seconds behind Legkov.
His race splits also show the signs of intelligent pacing, but in retrospect Babikov wished he was more aggressive in the first lap.
“(I) felt like I didn’t ‘dig’ deep enough and maybe saved too much energy for the 2nd lap, and at the finish I felt pretty fresh,” Babikov told FasterSkier.
Babikov’s early start meant that he didn’t have much split information, and thus had to measure his race by feel rather than the clock. His goals were to “finish fast”, but he reiterated “I lost too much on the first lap.”
The former Russian national was unfazed by the cold, though he did admit that “For some reason my thumbs got very cold during the race, but other than that cold wasn’t so bad.”
Overall Babikov was pleased. Notorious for slow starts to the season, he hopes to hold his current form through the season.
“Past years I had a very poor start to the season, and Justin (Canadian head coach Wadsworth) and I worked very hard to change that. It’s working so far,” Babikov said.
Scanning down the results sheet, one might be alarmed to find Devon Kershaw (CAN) slotting into 35th place. Kershaw finished in 22:50, 57.9 seconds behind Legkov.
Second place in the overall World Cup last year, Kershaw cautions not to read too much into his current form.
“It’s actually kind of scary how similar this beginning of the season is for me when compared to last year. I’m 36th going into tomorrow – last year I was 37th. Last year I was 32nd, today 35th. Last weekend too…The sprint both years was a total disaster…I guess it indicates that I am not the best-ever starter every year, and that it takes some time to both get that race feel back, and digest the hard load that Justin and I set up every autumn,” Kershaw wrote to FasterSkier in an email.
Weighed down by a heavy training load that he’s hoping will pay off during the Tour de Ski and World Championships, Kershaw fought to find that extra gear that can make the difference between 30th and 10th.
“It was rough. I had to really, really fight to get everything out of myself – knowing I didn’t have my usual snap/pop in my technique, so it made for a toughy of a race,” Kershaw said.
He was effusive in his praise of Babikov, struggling to keep up with his teammate up Kuusamo’s famous wall climbs.
“Out of the start I was just concentrating everything with the technique. I was just trying to ski efficient and not blow up my legs on the first big climb. I caught Babs there (about 1-1.5km in) on his 2nd lap (my 1st) and led him around — but on the climbs it was nutty how much stronger he was than me up those hills.”
While Kershaw is confident his top form is lurking below all the training, he admits that it’s difficult keeping his confidence high after a slow start to the season.
“While it might be ‘normal,’ to be feeling like this when compared to other seasons, it is still really hard on me. I need to be patient, have good perspective and believe – like last year – but the first hour after today’s race I was quite down to be honest. Still, on to the next one – tomorrow will be another opportunity. The Tour is the first objective for me for the year – so I’ll just do the best I can with what I’ve got as I move forward,” he concluded.
Kevin Sandau placed 75th and Len Valjas 81st to round out the Canadian squad.
Topher Sabot contributed reporting