With two races left in the 2015 Tour de Ski, Canadian cross-country skiing star Alex Harvey was pondering his plans for the last event, in which competitors finish by skating up a huge, 1,200-foot uphill at an Italian alpine ski resort.
Harvey skipped the climb last season, rather than contend with a circulation problem that’s thwarted him on the same course in the past. This year, he was contemplating a new strategy if he was still in the running for a top 10 finish on the last day: skiing the hill using a different technique – classical striding – with a special pair of boots and, potentially, a can of spray-on klister to apply at the appropriate time.
First, though, Harvey had to get through the Tour’s penultimate stage, a 15-kilometer classical race on Saturday, on the steep cross-country trails in Val di Fiemme, Italy. And his efforts in that race were so badly hampered by slow wax on his skis that he finished 34th, more than two minutes behind the winner, Germany’s Tim Tscharnke – dropping Harvey from sixth place in the overall standings to 16th.
Harvey now plans to sit out the final climb. And instead of testing potential climbing methods for the team’s star for Sunday’s race, the Canadian wax technicians spent their time following Saturday’s debacle trying to figure out what went wrong.
“Please be writing something nice,” the Canadians’ coach, Tor Arne Hetland, said in a phone interview. “Today was a bad day for us. Easy said.”
Harvey, 26, said in a phone interview that he’d viewed Saturday’s race as a “good opportunity.” He’d already been on the podium in one classical race in the Tour de Ski, and he thought his chances in Val di Fiemme would be good, too – especially since he didn’t plan to compete for the sprint bonuses sprinkled in the middle of the competition, which would leave his rivals with less energy for the end of the race, Harvey said.
“That takes it out of the big dogs,” he said.
But the conditions in Val di Fiemme were in flux. Harvey said the temperature rose from just below freezing Friday night to 60 degrees Fahrenheit – official race results said 52 degrees – by Saturday afternoon. And the warm snow appeared to confound the Canadian waxers.
At the start line, Harvey lined up in sixth position. On the first downhill on the course, he said, he slipped all the way back to 25th place.
“The coaches saw it. The techs saw it instantly,” Harvey said. “They knew it was gonna be a really long day.”
Or as one of Harvey’s teammates, Ivan Babikov, was quoted as saying in a press release: “That was not fun today.”
Harvey said the Canadians raced on klister, which worked well on the uphills – it was just “really, really slow.” He added that the French and British teams also appeared to have wax problems Saturday.
Hetland said the team tested “a lot of things” before the race, but even after a lot more testing afterwards, no explanation had emerged.
“We are still working on it,” Hetland said, speaking around 7 p.m. local time.
Babikov finished 40th, out of 49 racers, and the third Canadian in the race, Devon Kershaw, finished 41st. Both of those men will race in Sunday’s final stage; neither could be reached for comment Saturday.
For Harvey, however, the Tour de Ski is over. He said he was disappointed in Saturday’s result, but added that “nobody’s pissed.”
“We know it’s part of the game. Our guys, they always do a really great job,” Harvey said, referring to the team’s wax technicians. “It’s the same for us — there are a lot of days I’m getting skis that I can probably win a World Cup with, and I end up 15th.”
Harvey said he was satisfied with his overall performance in the Tour de Ski, in which he completed six stages and earned his first podium of the season. And he plans to have surgery in the spring that he hopes will allow him to skate unfettered up the final climb in next year’s edition of the stage race.
Assuming the surgery works like it’s supposed to, Harvey said, “then I’ll have no excuse up the hill.”
Following the conclusion of this year’s Tour de Ski, the Canadians will head to Seefeld, an Austrian resort area.
Harvey said he’ll take two days off training – one of which will be reserved for an “alpine ski with the boys” – and then he’ll begin to rev up again in advance of a World Cup weekend in Russia, and the World Championships in Sweden next month.
As the Canadians look ahead to those races, there is, perhaps, one salve from Saturday, as Hetland, the team’s coach, pointed out.
“It’s good that we have used our bad skis for this year,” he said.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.