FasterSkier’s coverage of the 2013 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, is brought to you by the generous support of Fischer Sports.
VAL DI FIEMME, Italy – When you start the Nordic World Ski Championships with a medal on the first day, where do you go from there? Canadian Alex Harvey faced that conundrum on Saturday and didn’t have to think too hard to solve it.
Go for the podium again, the 24-year-old Quebec native thought. Because, why not?
Unlike the five men he had to take on in Thursday’s classic sprint final, where Harvey placed third as the first Canadian male to medal at World Championships, he had about 90 men to contend with from the start of Saturday’s 30-kilometer pursuit.
Feeling confident in his classic and ability to contend through the freestyle portion, Harvey made his way into the top 10 on the second of eight laps. He continued to hang there, a few seconds outside the top 10 with competitors like Norway’s defending champ Petter Northug, eventual bronze-medalist Sjur Røthe (NOR), and Harvey’s teammate Ivan Babikov, who was 16th by the 5.5 k checkpoint.
With an even pace throughout the classic leg, Harvey held his own in a pack of 50 through the transition. Tensions were high, several men had already crashed or tripped on one another, but the Canadian remained on control, he said.
“It was such fast conditions, I knew there was no point being in the front,” Harvey said. “It was super-easy pace too, and I was just trying to conserve energy in the classic and hoping for a harder skating part.”
Nineteenth at the halfway point and 3.1 seconds out of the lead, Harvey remained patient until the second-to-last skate lap, where he rose to ninth, three seconds behind eventual winner Dario Cologna of Switzerland up front.
As Cologna tested his competitors, including Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby, who broke away on the second skate lap but was back with the group the next time around, Harvey remained in the top 15.
When Cologna finally went for it with two kilometers to go, only three men were in position and had the energy to go with him, namely Sundby, Røthe and Russia’s Maxim Vylegzhanin. Harvey was stuck behind a three-lane train up the long climb and dropped back around 20th amid the chaos. His podium hopes out of reach, he strived to pick off some places.
Just 6.1 seconds behind Cologna at the finish, Harvey ended up 13th after outsprinting Switzerland’s Curdin Perl and Johannes Duerr of Austria.
“I was hoping for a podium,” Harvey said. “I like this race, but I wasn’t positioned well enough and I obviously wasn’t strong enough to really be able to fight every inch from kilometer 20 to kilometer 30. … I made a couple bad lane choices in the last lap and it moved me back just a bit too much for me to be able to react when Cologna went.”
While it wasn’t the result Harvey had hoped for, Canadian assistant coach Eric de Nys said he couldn’t be upset with it, either.
“Alex had a great race,” de Nys said. “The guys are super professional about what we’re doing. Of course we’re always trying to hit the podium. Sometimes you have to have some luck on your side, and today I think everything went really well, but just some guys were a little bit stronger.”
The second-best Canadian, Babikov placed 32nd (+53.7) after skiing in ninth on the last classic lap. In the top 25 after the transition, he fell outside 30th with about ten kilometers to go.
“Classic felt really easy and I was controlling it and good technique,” Babikov said. “I was just relaxed and feeling really good, but as soon as I switched to skate, my legs, my muscles were so heavy. It’s a weird feeling and I couldn’t go with the tempo so I got dropped a bit. By the end, I felt a little better, but still not what I wanted.”
Battling a strep throat since before the Davos World Cup a week ago, Babikov said he’s on the upswing and physically felt good. “My muscles just weren’t cooperating with me today,” he said.
“I was on antibiotics for a week, 10 days actually and maybe that’s the reason,” he added. “Hopefully for the relay and for the rest of the races it’ll be over.”
Kershaw, who did not start Saturday’s skiathlon, will partner up with Harvey to defend their 2011 title in Sunday’s freestyle team sprint. Struggling with a long-lasting stomach bug, Kershaw sat out the 30 k to prepare for that event.
“We signed him up just in case he felt like going for it,” de Nys said. “He decided it would be best to save himself for the team sprint and be fresh.”
Just outside the top 50 on Saturday, Graham Nishikawa of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) said he was “a bit disappointed” with 51st (+4:09.6). Through the first two classic laps, he remained with the group around 30th.
“I was still with the pack until the last loop of classic, but on the last hill I got blown off and once you’re off, you’re off,” Nishikawa said. “If you’re dropped in classic then it’s hard to get back.”
In his first race in 20 days since fighting a cold of his own, Nishikawa was hoping this was what he needed to recharge.
“I felt pretty good the last couple days, but you need to have everything working for you out there; it’s so tough,” he said. “[The pace] was easy, but I was never too comfortable. I just didn’t really have it today.”
Nishikawa’s sister, Emily, did not finish after pulling out of the 15 k around two kilometers in. According to de Nys and Nishikawa’s mother, she had some kind of heart issue and was going to get checked out by the team doctor.
The other Canadian female in Saturday’s 15 k skiathlon, former national team member Brittany Webster (Highlands Trailblazers) placed 57th (+6:20.6).
“It definitely wasn’t a good one, but I’ve been traveling a lot,” Webster said. “It took me three and a half days to get here and I was sick over the course of that so I really haven’t been able to train much and do much. Today was the first day I woke up feeling completely normal so I was hoping for a good one, but the legs just weren’t there.
“I wanted to sort of be in the race more,” she added. “I was definitely way off the back and that really wasn’t something I was happy with. I would’ve loved to be in the 30s and sort of be in a pack a little more, but I was just out there.”
Coming off surgery in the fall, which she had a rod removed from her leg from a past injury, Webster said she had to train “extra hard” to make Canada’s World Championships team.
“I think now I’m paying the price a little bit,” she said. “But I’m just here to really enjoy it and race as hard as I can but not beat myself up over a crappy result.”
— Audrey Mangan contributed reporting
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Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.