Kick-double pole was the name of the game on Sunday in Gällivare, Sweden; if you did that well, you were basically golden on the four-lap course. Easier said than done, but the Russians managed to power through, with Evgeniy Belov pulling out the 20-second win in the International Ski Federation (FIS) men’s 15-kilometer classic race.
The 24 year old finished with the top time of 35:04.3 minutes, 20.67 seconds faster than Saturday’s classic-sprint winner, teammate Sergey Ustiugov. And while the Canadians fared similarly well on Sunday with all four men in the top eight (and their lone woman, Emily Nishikawa, in fourth), most of them will be happy to race on a harder, hillier course next weekend at the first World Cup in Kuusamo, Finland.
“[Gällivare] is quite opposite from the race course there because here, there’s lots of kick-double pole, double pole — that’s what the Russians were really strong at,” Ivan Babikov, of the Canadian World Cup Team, said on the phone Sunday. “Talking to Devon, it sounds like Belov was like a beast on those sections. That’s where he made all the time.”
For Babikov, as well as several other Canadians, bigger climbs in next weekend’s classic sprint and 15 k classic — the same race formats as Gällivare — should be a good thing.
Babikov placed sixth in his first FIS race of the season, about a minute and 38 seconds behind Belov and 13.34 seconds behind teammate Devon Kershaw in fifth. Alex Harvey, who was second in Saturday’s sprint, took third, 27.51 seconds behind the winner and 0.8 seconds from Ustiugov.
Harvey started second-to-last, just in front of Gällivare’s hometown hero, Marcus Hellner, with the advantage of knowing where he stood for most of the race. In fourth at the end of the first 3.75-k lap after three Russians — Ustiugov, Belov and Stanislav Volzhentsev, respectively — Harvey moved to third ahead of Volzhentsev by the halfway point.
“I felt good today. A bit sore from yesterday’s classic sprint but everyone was in the same boat there!” Harvey wrote in an email. “It’s nice to do a distance race for sure, but it was a reminder of how hard ski racing is, especially individual start!
“The course was work the whole time,” he added. “I feel like I was strong in the kick double pole section, I think I could push it a bit further up the hill compare to the others.”
On his last lap, he caught Babikov, whom he started a minute behind, with about three kilometers to go.
“I wasn’t feeling like I was racing, it was kind of like a bit harder than Zone 3 or Zone 4, but I couldn’t get in my hurt locker, you know?” Babikov said. “I couldn’t go all-out for some reason.”
When he saw Harvey, he knew he had something left.
“That’s where I could feel that I can go faster and last lap was much better, more like racing,” Babikov said.
Before then, he had been waiting for Volzhentsev, who started 30 seconds behind him, to catch him on the last lap. Babikov said the Russian came within 10 seconds of him on the third loop around.
“For some reason, he died a bit on the last lap and next thing I know, it’s not him passing me but Alex,” he said. “I did not see him coming at all so I kind of got a bit surprised there.”
But it wasn’t a bad thing. Babikov pushed even harder and estimated he made up about 17 seconds on Volzhentsev, who ended up fourth (+1:24.8). Babikov stayed with Harvey for as long as he could, before Harvey took off with about two kilometers to go.
“After I caught him I yelled at him ‘stay with me,’ so he did for a while,” Harvey recalled.
“I think it was a good weekend for me,” Harvey summed up. “Of course, nobody is at 100%. Personally I’m coming off 2 weeks of 20+ hours of training so I’m not super fresh but again, I think everyone is in the same boat here.”
He was looking forward to Monday — his first rest day in almost two weeks.
“I’m gonna take a normal week of training next week and do some high quality intensity on Wednesday before travelling to Kuusamo,” he wrote.
The Canadians leave Gällivare for Finland on Wednesday.
“Good racing and training this weekend for everybody,” Canadian World Cup Head Coach Tor-Arne Hetland wrote in an email. “We needed this weekend and will be better prepared next weekend and later in the season. The races had ok race quality.”
According to the event website, Belov called it a “good race on fine courses and a lovely start to the season with two podiums the first race weekend,” he said, after placing third on Saturday. “I’m very happy with this shape before the World Cup premiere next weekend.”
Hellner, who finished seventh, 1:41 behind Belov, said the Russians were impressive.
“They skied really hard today; it would’ve been enough for a World Cup,” he said, according to a translation. “I didn’t have a good race, but it’s still nice to be competing again. It always takes a few races to get started with both the technique and feel. I’m still training hard and it’s the World Championship in Falun, which is the big goal. I don’t expect top results at the start of the World Cup.”
Out of the top seven, Ustiugov was the earliest starter and posted the times to beat at each 3.75 k checkpoint. Kershaw consistently clocked the second-fastest times after him, and Harvey started two minutes after Kershaw and came through 3.75 k just one place and 11 seconds faster.
Kershaw wrote in an email that his goal was to start hard.
“It’s the last chance to try some stuff before the big leagues start again next weekend,” he explained. “That didn’t really work that well for me today. I started what I thought was hard, but felt like I was just stuck in the pace I could go. Not feeling much lactate, but not able to really push it any harder. I guess that’s a bit of fatigue I’m carrying.”
“It’s the last chance to try some stuff before the big leagues start again next weekend.” — Devon Kershaw, fifth in first FIS race of 2014/2015 season in Gällivare
Belov caught him at 7.5 k, where Kershaw recalled feeling so good, he thought, “OK, here’s the race — stay with him!”
“And I did for 3km before exploding big-time,” he added. “The last 3.75km was a rough outing. I was on fumes. I lost a lot of time to Alex, Ustiugov, and Belov but compared to the other dudes, I guess I didn’t lose that much. I felt like I was giving away minutes actually. So it was a race with two very different, very distinct feelings in it.”
At the finish, Kershaw described feeling “pretty bummed. … I was frustrated that I got owned so hard by Belov. He really crushed me.”
What he didn’t know was that Belov crushed most of the field.
“Of course I was completely outclassed by the top 3 — but compared to last season’s opening race, the feelings were better for sure, as was the result (even though this wasn’t a world cup),” Kershaw wrote. “It was a good, hard workout at least — which is needed at this time of year with the World Cup on the horizon.”
Next weekend, “the big show starts,” Kershaw explained. His goal is to finish in the points (top 30) at least once. “That’s easier said than done sometimes. We’ll just have to see,” he wrote. “I’m excited and nervous.”
Canada’s fourth man, Graeme Killick (Development B Team) placed eighth out of 16 men, 1:57 behind Belov and 3 seconds behind Hellner in seventh.
Three Czechs and Nishikawa
Another Canadian national-team member, Emily Nishikawa placed fourth out of 10 women. She finished 1:22.8 behind Petra Novakova of the Czech Republic, who won in 25:44 and was second in Saturday’s sprint to Canada’s Perianne Jones.
The Czechs swept the podium with Eva Vrabcova-Nyvltova in second (+39.0) and Karolina Grohova in third (+50.9). Their team has been in Gällivare since early November.
“It was good to get the first race of the season done!” Nishikawa wrote in an email. “I felt good for the first half of the race, then started to fade towards the end. Definitely room for improvement!”
The third-to-last starter, she came through each checkpoint with the second-fastest times after Grohova, who started 1:30 in front of her. Ultimately, all four of her lap times ranked fourth.
“The conditions were really good today and we had great skis,” Nishikawa added. “I just wanted to focus on the process for my race today and get back into the routine of racing again.”
Now done with her first race, she plans to compete in distance races at every World Cup before Christmas.
“Looking forward to lots more racing to come!” she wrote.
- 10 k classic
- 15 k classic
- Alex Harvey
- Canadian World Cup Team
- Devon Kershaw
- Emily Nishikawa
- Eva Vrabcova-Nyvltova
- Evgeniy Belov
- Gällivare 10 k classic
- Gällivare 15 k classic
- Gällivare distance races
- Graeme Killick
- Ivan Babikov
- Karolina Grohova
- Marcus Hellner
- Petra Novakova
- Sergey Ustiugov
- Stanislav Volzhentsev
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.