Alex Harvey skied like he had something to prove in Sunday’s final stage of the World Cup mini tour in Lillehammer, Norway.
In Saturday’s 10 k freestyle interval start, Harvey finished 33rd after suffering from characteristic leg pains and walked away wanting more. Fortunately for the 2011 World Champion, his standing in the tour didn’t fall far after the race – 11th place – meaning he was in position to fight for a spot in the top-ten in Sunday’s 15 k classic pursuit.
Starting 59.0 seconds back from tour leader Finn Krogh of Norway, Harvey quickly joined a large pack of skiers that included Swiss Olympic Champion Dario Cologna, Andrew Musgrave of Great Britain, and Norwegians Niklas Dyrhaug and Didrik Tønseth, among others.
As they attempted to chase down the five leading men Harvey jostled between the middle and front of the pack, at times heading the charge.
However, when it came to the final kilometers, Harvey could not hold the pace set by a surging Tønseth and crossed the line in tenth position, 52.5 seconds from tour winner Martin Sundby of Norway. Despite his improvement of one place, Harvey clocked the seventh fastest time of the day, trailing Tønseth by 20.5 seconds.
After the 15 k Harvey said that he was happy with how his racing played out and said the previous day’s recovery played a large role in his ability to preform in the pursuit.
“During these stage races, at some point your body dictates how you are going to feel. You have to focus on recovery so last night I just did all the proper things to allow my body to recover overnight and I felt really good and strong today,” he said in a press release.
In regards to the weekend of racing, Harvey explained that he considered the mini tour a success even if he was disappointed in his 10 k freestyle.
“Overall I had two out of three good races this weekend so I have to be happy,” he said. “I guess I’ll have to work a bit on my skate-skiing but overall I am pleased.”
Starting roughly a minute behind Harvey was fellow Canadian Ivan Babikov in 56th position.
Babikov, who advanced from 100th to 56th after Saturday’s freestyle race, made another large jump in the classic pursuit.
With fast skis and a strong will to improve his standing, Babikov maneuvered the chaotic spread of skiers. Initially jumping in behind a group of Norwegians and then facing the last kilometers by himself, he advanced 28 spots to earn the 10th fastest time on the day.
“I was surprised. I was feeling well and skiing well but I didn’t know I was that close,” Babikov said in a phone interview. “Coming from the 50s and 60s it’s tough. Everyone is trying to ski around everyone. I was super happy with the race. It’s one of my best classic races ever.”
The result is one of Babikov’s best finishes in a classic discipline in World Cup racing. The only races in which he earned better placement were in a 2013 Tour de Ski 15 k classic mass start in Val di Fiemme, Italy where he place 7th and in the 15 k classic mass start in Szklarska Poreba, Poland where he finished 9th in January of 2014.
Babikov said his 28th place overall was affirmation of his fitness and abilities – especially after the opening World Cup weekend in Kuusamo, Finland and the first mini tour, where Babikov said he struggled to find speed.
But with the pursuit under his belt, he said that Sunday’s race was “exactly what he needed” before progressing through the rest of the season.
Shortly after completing the mini tour, Babikov left Lillehammer to begin the journey back to Canada. He will be sitting out the World Cup races in Davos in order to spend time with his family but plans to be back in Europe for the following World Cup races in La Clusaz, France Dec. 20-21.
Demonstrating another strong effort from the Canadian men was Devon Kershaw who advanced 25 spots from 66th to 41st. Clocking the 29th fastest time, Kershaw wrote that he was motivated to have a strong start after “awful” races the previous days.
After skiing an aggressive first half in which he caught Babikov, Kershaw began to struggle. However, despite a near blow up he was able to salvage his race for his best result of the weekend.
“The turning point in the race was halfway up the giant hill in the back on my second lap. That’s when the race went from very good to in danger of being another stinker. I got dropped by Babs (Babikov) and [Simen] Sveen there and then started to really, really hurt. I was deep in the pain cave there and the fact that I was able to bring it around at all is a small victory for me,” he wrote in an email.
Other Canadians who competed in the 15 k pursuit were Jesse Cockney in 67th, Len Valjas in 71st, and Graeme Killick in 73rd.
For the women, Canada’s only finisher was Emily Nishikawa who gained 22 places to finish in 46th. Perianne Jones did not start.
The Canadians and the rest of the World Cup circuit will now travel to Davos, Switzerland where they will compete in a freestyle sprint and a classic 10/15 k. The distance races were originally scheduled to be 15/30 k distances but due to the lack of snow in Davos, FIS and local race organizers decided to cut the lengths.
Lander Karath is FasterSkier's Associate Editor from Bozeman, Montana and a Bridger Ski Foundation alumnus. Between his studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, he is an outdoor enthusiast and a political junkie.