(Note: This brief recap of the men’s 10 k freestyle race at the Kuusamo World Cup on Saturday was published before a full article about Alex Harvey and his second-place finish. For a more detailed account of Harvey’s race, click here.)
The Canadians have said it before, and they’ll probably say it again: they don’t expect much before Christmas — specifically, results-wise during Period 1 on the World Cup.
That’s why Alex Harvey’s podium on Saturday in the second race of the World Cup season, the 10-kilometer freestyle, came as a pretty big surprise for the 27-year-old Canadian World Cup Team member.
This spring, Harvey had surgery on his iliac arteries in both his legs in hopes of remedying a longtime blood-flow issue that affected his skiing, mostly while skating up hills. Before the surgery, he skipped hill-climb freestyle events like the final climb of the Tour de Ski. This year, he was hoping he wouldn’t have to.
After placing second in Saturday’s skate race in Kuusamo, Finland, one of the most brutal courses on the World Cup circuit, he’s feeling good about his chances.
“It is my first podium ever before the Christmas,” Harvey told FIS after the race, in which he finished 11.2 seconds behind Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby, who won in 21:05.5 and moved into first in the Ruka mini tour. In Friday’s classic sprint, Harvey missed qualifying in 47th.
“Ruka was not the best for me because of the steep uphills. It is a good sign of recovery to be on the podium,” Harvey added. “My skis were working very well. I had to push a lot with my legs because the snow was soft.”
The 23rd starter, Harvey originally bumped Norway’s Anders Gløersen out of the leader’s chair, finishing 3.4 seconds ahead of him. Switzerland’s Dario Cologna started 30th and came within 0.4 seconds of Harvey, but finished second to him at the time.
Until Sundby came charging into the finish in bib 54, Harvey enjoyed the hot seat. He sat back, appeared relaxed, then stood up to welcome his challenger into the finish. Sundby consistently clocked faster times through each checkpoint on the course, and around 8 k, he was nearly 17 seconds ahead of Harvey (who’s time ranked fourth behind Sweden’s Martin Johansson and Cologna, respectively).
While Harvey’s final two kilometers kept him in contention for the podium, he anticipated well ahead of time that Sundby was going to take the win. He walked over to Sundby in the finish pen, and as the defending overall World Cup champion gasped for air, Harvey congratulated him. “You still got it,” he said.
With the win, Sundby, who placed 14th in Friday’s classic sprint, moves into first in the Ruka tour standings with one race to go: the 15 k classic pursuit on Sunday. He has a 13.8-second lead on Norwegian teammate Finn Hågen Krogh, and is 19.4 seconds ahead of Gløersen in third after Gløersen placed fourth on Saturday.
Johansson placed fifth in the 10 k, and Krogh tied Russia’s Alexander Legkov for sixth.
“I reckon I have some seconds [to play with] tomorrow; you have to prepare mentally for doing that,” Sundby said of his lead going into the final race. “But hopefully I will have a good game tomorrow and a nice end to the tour.”
Petter Northug, who was third on Friday and 16th on Saturday, will head out of the gate fourth, 24 seconds behind Sundby, and Cologna and Harvey will follow in fifth and sixth, 1 second later.
He explained he would try to work with Cologna to pick off the places.
“It is going to be a big fight,” Harvey said in a Cross Country Canada press release. “We will have to see how we wake up in the morning. We have all had two days of racing. I’ll ski as hard as I can tomorrow and hopefully get off to a good race.”
“Before the first World Cups you never know where you [stand],” Cologna told FIS. “I wanted to keep the steady pace, but it was not always easy. Towards the end of the race I lost some time. Alex was very fast today.”
Also in the men’s race, Canadian Devon Kershaw placed 24th. His teammates Ivan Babikov placed 52nd, Graeme Killick 57th, Michael Somppi 93rd, Len Valjas 95th, and Jess Cockney 101st of 111 finishers.
Simi Hamilton was 49th for the U.S., Erik Bjornsen was 54th, Noah Hoffman 58th, Andy Newell 85th, and Kris Freeman finished 88th after falling and breaking his pole.