The Tour de Ski is one of those beasts that rarely goes according to plan, but for a couple Canadian skiers, including Devon Kershaw and Ivan Babikov, the seven-stage series was especially off track this year.
Kershaw and Babikov were the lone Canadian World Cup Team members still in the Tour for the last stage on Sunday: the 9-kilometer freestyle pursuit up Alpe Cermis in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
With disastrously slow klister skis in Saturday’s 15 k classic mass start, the pair and teammate Alex Harvey plummeted through the Tour rankings (Harvey finished 34th to end up 16th overall. He withdrew before Sunday’s pursuit due to a pre-existing circulation issue that bothers him in ultra-steep skate hill climbs).
In the final pursuit, Babikov and Kershaw started 34th and 35th, respectively, 8:09 and 8:15 behind Norwegian leader Petter Northug.
“It (as you witnessed) was a really disappointing event for me,” Kershaw wrote in an email on Sunday. “I was trying my best to stay positive and present to give myself the best chance everyday — even though after most of the competitions I was pretty down on myself with how things were going.”
Babikov was able to move up to 31st by skiing the 12th-fastest time in the 9 k race, while Kershaw stayed in 35th with the 40th-ranked time.
“I tried to rally and decided that even though there was absolutely nothing to gain for today up that monster hill, I was going to take the start and just do my best,” Kershaw explained of his decision to continue the Tour after what he described as his biggest disappointment of the season: Saturday’s 15 k classic.
“I’ve never been good up that beast, but I was starting in the wave for the first time ever, so I thought perhaps that could have been an advantage,” he added. “I know that Ivan is amazing up the hill usually, so the race plan was pretty simple. Stay with Babs for as long as possible.”
Babikov is typically one of the fastest up Alpe Cermis: in 2009 he clocked the fastest pursuit time, and last year he had the fourth-fastest time. However, on Sunday, he wasn’t able to pull out quite that performance, but he did grab some World Cup points for his pursuit time.
During the race, he thought it was going well after starting with what he considered a fast group.
“We were moving well on the flat part and then on the uphill, I kind of dropped all of them,” Babikov said on the phone. “I was moving well passing people and compared to past years, my legs felt good. I thought like I was moving well, but when I heard I only got 12th time, I was kind of a bit disappointed. I don’t know how I lost all that time or where.”
He did notice that the top-10 men broke the record for fastest-time ever up the mountain.
“I think before, the fastest time ever was by [Lukas] Bauer [of the Czech Republich] and now they all almost beat it by a minute,” Babikov said. “That was really surprising and conditions wasn’t even that fast — it was actually raining.”
While he improved slightly to 31st in the Tour (and Kershaw ended up 35th), it was a far cry from where Babikov, a distance skier and hill-climb specialist, had hoped to end up in one of his target events of the season.
“That was my worst hill-climb result in all of the years, even when I was sick, and a few years ago I was skiing with, not broken ribs, but I went to hospital — I crashed in Oberstdorf,” he said, referring to his 2012 Tour. “I had to finish the Tour with a support brace and still like I was 11th that day. So it is kind of a bit bitter and disappointing and that is one of my best races of the year, but … maybe I should have pushed harder. I don’t know where I lost all of those seconds, it is hard to say, maybe they were moving faster in the flat.”
In the coming days, Babikov said he will reflect and try to figure out what happened.
“Maybe it is just shape or maybe it is just the day before that in the classic skis when we missed the skis completely,” he said. “Maybe that kind of had a bit negative mental kind of thing.”
Kershaw explained that while this was his worst Tour yet, he had glimpses of good skiing in several stages, such as the freestyle sprint, the 10 k classic and pursuit skate.
“The take away from the Tour for me is a mixed bag,” he wrote. “I had some ok races for where I am right now. Of course I feel like I am WAY off where I should be, but I’m trying to focus on the baby steps. … It fell apart badly here in Val di Fiemme … I’ve dropped out before because of sickness, but I’ve never been destroyed like this.
“Still, onwards and upwards I guess,” he added. “Next up is some quiet time in Seefeld [Austria] then to Rybinsk [Russia, for the World Cup]. I have good memories of those tracks, so I will have some quiet days, then start preparing from there. And then the big goal of the season remains the same – World Championships. I have my eyes on feeling my best in the 50 k classic, so I’ll try and keep my eyes on that prize and keep my head up. It’s feeling heavy after the beat down today, but hopefully some nice chill days in Seefeld will help with that.”
Babikov pointed out that Harvey “had a boss tour and some podium results. Of course that is good for our team,” he said. “But in the overall, Devon’s disappointed, [and I’m] disappointed, too. Lenny [Valjas] had some health issues in the Tour so I am sure he would have showed some much better results.
“Half of the season is kind of done so we are all kind of all looking forward to the next period and the World Cup in Rybinsk. I am looking forward to get back to Russia and the World Champs … Hopefully we will turn it around and have some better skis and better bodies, better shape in the next races.”
— Alex Kochon and Matt Voisin 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.