It looked like Canada’s Alex Harvey would easily advance to the semifinals of Tuesday’s Tour de Ski 1.4 k freestyle sprint in Val Müstair, Switzerland. But by making what Harvey called a “rookie mistake,” Harvey allowed Sweden’s Simon Andersson catch him in the final stretch and outlunge him to take second in their quarterfinal heat.
Going around the final corner, Harvey – who was second in Sunday’s stage, a 15 k classic pursuit – controlled the second-place position behind Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson.
“I thought I was second for sure, so I looked on the left to see if anybody was coming. I thought that nobody was coming so I started easing up a little bit, which is the last thing you need to do. I mean, the first thing you learn as a ski racer is to ski over the line,” Harvey explained over the phone.
Until the final moments, the 26-year-old raced well, especially after being caught behind an early crash by Germany’s Thomas Bing. He stayed behind but within striking distance of the leaders, then made his move on the steep hill before the descent to the stadium, where he went from fifth to second.
“I kind of messed it all up in the last 50 m. So that was really dumb of me,” he said. He ended up 0.23 seconds behind Halfvarsson, who won the heat in 3:17.43. Andersson finished 0.16 seconds behind.
Meanwhile, American Simi Hamilton – who won last year’s Tour freestyle sprint in Lenzerheide, Switzerland – was the lone American to qualify, making it through to the rounds even after suffering a crash on an icy corner during qualification. He qualified in 30th (+8.53), just 0.04 seconds ahead of the 31st place skiers.
A year after winning in Lenzerheide, Hamilton said he was not putting any extra pressure on himself.
“A ski race is a ski race,” he said over the phone. “This is a totally different course, much longer, and I think when you try to compare one day to another day it never works out very well because everything changes so quickly.”
About the crash in the qualifier, Hamilton said he was on the ground for a few moments, but fortunately his skis were still pointed downhill. He explained that there was probably one place were a skier could crash on the course and not lose much time, and he happened to fall at that spot.
Hamilton then skied a strong quarterfinal in the fastest heat of the day. He spent most of the first lap in back of his heat, before making his move in the descent to the stadium and challenging Dusan Kozisek of the Czech Republic and the leader, Northug. Northug won the heat in 3:13.51, and Kozisek outlunged Hamilton for second (+0.60). Though Hamilton took third (+0.65), he made it to the semifinals as a lucky loser.
In his semifinal heat, the 27-year-old maintained a position just behind the leaders for most of the race, but despite his final push he finished the heat in fourth, 1.69 seconds behind Russia’s Evgeniy Belov (3:16:20). He ended up eighth overall, and is 52nd overall on the Tour.
Hamilton said in the semifinal he was trying to replicate his tactic of hanging in the back and trying to make a move during the second lap.
“I felt really relaxed heading into that second lap and when I tried to make another move my body just felt a little bit flatter than it had in the quarterfinal, and I wasn’t able to put in quite the surge that I needed to or wanted to,” he explained.
Despite the feeling of flatness, Hamilton is excited about his fitness, saying today’s result is not an indication of where his body is now.
“I think it’s a fluke flat day and I’m looking forward to more racing to come soon,” he said.
American teammate Andy Newell had a frustrating day, finishing 83rd out of 83 finishers in qualifying after crashing ironically in the same corner which had taken his teammate Hamilton down.
“When he came through on his split I think he was in fifth or so,” USSA Cross Country Head Coach Chris Grover said over the phone. “But he spun out on an icy berm on the top corner of the course, unfortunately, and then he tried to get up and basically ended up into the signage so his day was over.”
Newell was actually the last skier left on the course so, had he not crashed, would have knocked Hamilton out of the quarterfinals, as Hamilton was sitting in 30th.
“[This is] so disappointing for Andy because he looked really good, and he is of course just having such a disastrous Tour right now,” Grover said.
“It sucks because it has been so hard for me trying to score points on the World Cup this year. I am pretty frustrated with that,” Newell told FasterSkier. However, he at least was happy that Hamilton was not bumped out of the quarterfinal.
“We still had one person in the heats. It was kind of a lose, lose situation on that one.”
Canadian Devon Kershaw, who had a disappointing first two stages in Oberstdorf, qualified in 19th, 7.76 seconds behind top qualifier and Tour leader Petter Northug of Norway (3:10.60).
Kershaw stayed in the back of the pack during his quarterfinal heat, which was won by Poland’s Maciej Starega (3:16.24), and was never able to make a move in order to challenge the leaders. He finished the heat in fifth, 3.19 behind Starega, and ended up 22nd overall. However, this was his best finish on the Tour and his best overall result in a World Cup race since finishing 14th in the Ruka, Finland, 15 k classic distance race on Nov. 30.
Canadian Lenny Valjas qualified in 20th, but struggled with the pace of his quarterfinal heat – the fastest heat of the day, which Northug won. Valjas finished it in sixth (+3.74), and was 28th overall.
“It was good to qualify for the heats, but I wanted a little more,” Valjas said to Cross Country Canada. “I went out really fast today, and just had nothing left up the final hill. I just didn’t have the energy today, but I gave it all I had.”
Valjas has dealt with a cold throughout the week, and has decided to pull out of the Tour’s remaining four races.
Tour de Ski overall standings