Coming from lightly-attended FIS races in Gällivare, Sweden, last weekend, the Canadian national team knew that the World Cup openers would be a little bit tougher.
“I’m not shocked and am never shocked anymore to see just how close it is on the World Cup,” Devon Kershaw wrote in an e-mail to FasterSkier after placing 57th in the classic sprint in Kuusamo, Finland. “It’s not my first rodeo, and I know that it’s a really tight game – especially a really fast course like Kuusamo. There’s no room for errors – even for sprint specialists – and everything needs to be firing these days to get through and then from there the differences are even tighter to move through the rounds.”
Canada only started four skiers, one woman and three men. None are first-timers: all have been on the World Cup for several seasons, and all have stood on the podium in either team or individual events.
But only one, Alex Harvey, was able to start the season off with the jet packs turned to “on”. Harvey made the quarterfinals but was stopped there. Perianne Jones finished 48th in the women’s race, while Lenny Valjas narrowly missed qualifying in 39th in the men’s race.
Harvey 14th, Undone by Iced Skis
Harvey started off the day by qualifying in 17th place, which he seemed pleased with. He was placed into a tough quarterfinal with fourth-seeded Timo André Bakken of Norway and Norwegian superstar Petter Northug, as well as Andy Newell of the United States. In the end, the two Norwegians advanced and Harvey won a photo finish for third with Anssi Pentsinen of Finland.
His time wasn’t quite fast enough to make it to the semifinals as a lucky loser, so he ended his day in 14th place.
“I’m happy with 14th, it’s my – last year my first top-15 came at the Tour de Ski, now it’s is a month earlier, so it’s good,” Harvey told FasterSkier.
What hung him up was icy skis coming over the top of the last hill. Team Canada was on klister and Harvey described his skis “jamming”, which made him lose his balance and a valuable jump at a crucial point in the race.
“Over the top like our [his and Newell’s] skis had iced a little bit and we kinda both lost balance and that’s when I lost contact with the two or three leaders,” Harvey said. “I was able to come back after that with one of them, but in those conditions you just really have to ski like, always glide a little bit in between each step. Because if you just run your klister grabs too much snow then you cannot jump over the top.”
Harvey noted that many other competitors seemed to have this problem at the crux of the course, including the Swedes and Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk. The Norwegians – who dominated the day – seemed to have perfect glide.
“I think the Norwegians had better skis, but the rest, other dudes were able to still move through with skis that I would say were the exact same as mine,” Harvey explained. “So I kind of lost balance when it jammed, and I wasn’t cautious enough on the climb, but I was happy with my skis. They were fast enough and I had enough kick on the hill. I just kind of lost balance when it jammed a little bit, and then that was kinda it for the top two.”
He also managed to find some humor in sharing the situation with Newell.
“It’s like a pretty funny the situation, like the guy next to you jammed and then actually, well I didn’t fall, but I got launched into the other track, the left track, then stumbled again and changed tracks again, I looked like a deer on a frozen lake,” he said.
The good news, though, is that Harvey feels fit. He’s psyched up for tomorrow’s 15 k classic.
“I like distance racing a bit better, so it’s gonna be fun,” he said. “Yeah, so the body felt good today, had good skis and felt good at the end of the heat so looking forward to tomorrow for sure. And it’s gonna be good to start the season with two strong results.”
Still Revving Up for Rest of Team
After last week’s races in Gällivare, Valjas said that he was finally feeling like his usual self after a disastrous season last year that saw knee surgery go bad and then illness derail him at the Olympics. He wasn’t quite as thrilled with today’s result in Kuusamo, but finishing less than two seconds out of the heats while feeling subpar wasn’t the worst thing, he said.
“I felt flat today, not nearly as good as last week,” Valjas wrote in an e-mail. “I had a really easy week this week because I felt run down and didn’t want to get sick so I took training really easy. I’ll get some more intensity and speed this week and will be back. Happy that I wasn’t too far back time wise today.”
Jones was perhaps the least happy of the team, finishing over four seconds out of the heats.
“Yeah today was not the best for me,” she wrote. “It was a combination of a number of things. I really struggled with the conditions today, and wasn’t able to ski well at all. I feel good though, so I’m looking forward to next weekend, and optimistic. It’s not the best way to start the season, but it’s a start.”
Kershaw was disappointed not to make the heats, and said that he struggled with the skis even more than Harvey, having to step out of the tracks on part of the uphill.
But like the rest of the team, he was able to find some reasons not to call the missed opportunity a disaster.
“If you look historically at how I do in the classic sprint here in Kuusamo, as rough as 57th looks on the results sheet – many years when I’ve had great seasons I’ve been around there,” he wrote. “It’s a hard course for me to figure out I guess, and with some icing happening on top of that – it wasn’t good enough to make the heats today. Fitness-wise, I actually feel like things are ticking along nicely. I have been training a lot, and I know that it takes some easier (i.e. lower hours + more hard intensity and/or races) time to get that snap back. I am happy with the training I’ve done and now I just need to be patient, do everything I can everyday, and in time I’m sure it’ll be there.”
—Alex Kochon and Seth Adams contributed reporting
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.