As every skier has probably experienced at least once, sometimes the wrong wax call in the wrong conditions can be disastrous. The Canadian men were reminded of that in La Clusaz, France, on Saturday during the mass start 15 k classic, when they chose a mixture of hard wax and klister on a day that ended up better suited for something else.
The rest of the field predominantly used hairies, and while the leaders moved around the course with relative ease the Canadian men struggled make their skis work. Ivan Babikov ended up leading the way for the team in 39th, 57.5 seconds behind Alexey Poltoranin’s (KAZ) winning mark. Alex Harvey was 42nd and Lenny Valjas was 50th.
“It was one of those days where you had to make a call,” Babikov said. “It was 50/50, and standing at the start we all had hairies and skis with wax. We’d seen every single athlete walking by and they all had hairies, and we looked at each other and we were like, ‘Yeah, wax.’”
Fifteen kilometers and some mid-race precipitation later, wax turned out to be the wrong call. The two options ran comparably in testing, and the Canadians’ hope that a slight change in conditions would favor hard wax mid-race didn’t come to fruition.
“It was one of those days where we risked it and we felt like we’d get different conditions and we’d have an advantage over the other guys,” Babikov said. “We felt wax would be a safer choice but it wasn’t.”
Though frustrated, the team was ready to brush off the day and leave it behind them. Saturday was the team’s first race back since the Tour de Ski and all three said they felt good, apart from their lack of grip.
“The body felt fine today. It’s frustrating when you’re trying to double pole behind guys and they’re just skiing away from you,” Babikov said. “It’s tough; you don’t want to have this kind of race when you want to do something but it’s just not the day for it. We just try to scratch it and move on.”
The missed call played out differently for each of the Canadians. Babikov had slow skis but decent kick for two laps, which fell apart when the precipitation started. Harvey characterized his equipment as “really, really, really fast skis but absolutely no grip. Like, zero.”
Harvey sat in the top 30 through the first 6 k, dropped to the mid- 40s at 10 k and gained a few places back in the final 5 k to end up 42nd.
“I fought to stay in the track the first two laps, kind of blew up a bit but then didn’t want to get out of the track because there was fresh snow out,” Harvey said. “I just started herringboning… My legs weren’t tired at all, I couldn’t use [them].”
Harvey had high hopes for the day, which made the wax situation all the more frustrating.
“I felt good warming up, felt good yesterday, felt good all week coming back from a little vacation,” he said. “I was going for the podium. So yeah, [it’s] disappointing.”
In summation, the Canadians were looking forward to their next World Cup start, the pre-Olympic weekend in Sochi, Russia, in two week’s time. With Devon Kershaw out in La Clusaz from suspected food poisoning Canada won’t field a team in the relay on Sunday, and will start right into the next training block.
“This stuff happens and you just deal with,” Valjas said of his skis. “Teams always make the wrong call. We’ve done well in making the right call and I guess it was our turn to make the wrong call.
“Now we get training in, then Sochi, then World Champs is around the corner here. It’s gonna get pretty exciting soon.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.