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 – Alex Harvey flat out wanted the podium on Sunday. On a great day, he believed he could win.
Two years ago, the Canadian World Cup Team member had been fifth in the 50-kilometer freestyle mass start at the Nordic World Ski Championships in Olso, Norway. Better yet, Harvey became Canada’s first male to medal at World Championships last week, placing third in the classic sprint. But that wasn’t his race; the 50 k classic mass start was.
On a day with temperatures rising about 12 degrees (53 Fahrenheit) in the relentless afternoon sun, it was clear from the get-go it wasn’t going to be an easy one. Wax technicians scrambled to nail the wax and athletes prepared for the slush-fest, six-lap 50 k.
Unfortunately for Harvey, he just wasn’t feeling it early. Icing skis didn’t help, he said, yet he managed to hang with the lead group for the first half of the race. Around the 25 k mark, it became clear he wasn’t going to contend for the podium. Nearly 30 seconds behind the chase group, Harvey was 29th and a minute and 15 seconds behind Sweden’s eventual winner Johan Olsson, who controlled the race from nearly the start to the finish.
Harvey was leading a second pack of nine, which included Finland’s Matti Heikkinen and Marcus Hellner of Sweden. Canadian head coach Justin Wadsworth told Harvey that catching back up with the group was possible. He knew it was going to be difficult nonetheless.
“You never know, if he changed the skis on one of the laps and maybe started to feel good and the pack slowed down,” Wadsworth said. “Today was pretty interesting because that main group, somebody kept pushing the pace a bit. It was tough to be on that back end of the group. You saw that for [Norway’s Petter] Northug, too, he was in the same situation.”
The two-time defending World Champion and 2010 Olympic gold medalist in the 50 k, Northug stayed with the pack throughout the race and ended up 21st, two minutes behind Olsson. Harvey finished 28th, 4:31.4 back.
“It was bad,” Harvey said. “The body wasn’t there. … The first lap, it didn’t feel easy enough for the pace we were going. It just felt bad. I don’t think it was fatigue. I don’t know what it was.”
Skiing with teammate Ivan Babikov on the first lap, Harvey seemed to be having more trouble with his skis. “He saw me almost crashing a couple times,” Harvey said. “But it wasn’t just the skis.”
Nearly 3 ½ minutes back at the halfway point in 43rd, Babikov stopped racing after the third lap. He had also hung with the leaders early and skied behind Olsson at the end of the first lap. Ultimately, however, Wadsworth said Babikov wasn’t feeling it and his skis didn’t help.
“He didn’t have the body today,” Wadsworth said. “He was just working so hard and he couldn’t make the skis go to catch the group.”
For them to have succeeded, Wadsworth explained they needed “decent enough skis that [they] weren’t in jeopardy right from the word, ‘Go,’ ” he said. “The ice was coming off, it sounded like, but it was still jamming a bit.”
Canada’s third starter, Graham Nishikawa of the Alberta World Cup Academy placed 48th (+13:00.3). “Tough day,” Wadsworth said. “It’s an accomplishment just to finish a race like this.”
On the final day of World Championships, Wadsworth summed up the week as a “moderate success.” Harvey started them off with bronze in the classic sprint, and he and Devon Kershaw followed up with fourth in the team sprint, 0.03 seconds off the podium. Babikov placed a career-best fourth in the 15 k freestyle individual, but on Friday, the team was disappointed with finishing 12th in the 4 x 10 k relay.
“With Lenny sick for the sprint and Devon pretty much out with his body, I guess it’s been just like it’s been the whole year, really rough for us,” Wadsworth said. “So much sickness and injuries and just fighting it. Nothing’s been smooth.”
Kershaw, who sat out Sunday’s 50 k, has been fighting stomach ailments since mid-January. According to Wadsworth, he recently had blood tests and will get a full screening to determine the problem, and will skip next weekend’s World Cup in Lahti, Finland, to recover.
“He’s gonna take a week off and see if he can rest up for Drammen,” Wadsworth said.
— Audrey Mangan contributed reporting
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.