After a dozen years on the World Cup circuit, you would think race logistics would be a breeze for Devon Kershaw. Not the case in Beitostølen, the 32-year-old Canadian National Team member explained.
In anticipation of his first race of the season, a 15-kilometer classic International Ski Federation (FIS) race in Beitostølen, Norway, last Friday, Kershaw arrived two days early on Wednesday. He did so alone, without any teammates, coaching or waxing support, and worst of all, no skis.
At one point in the planning process, two of his teammates, Alex Harvey and Jess Cockney, considered a trip to Norway for the season-opening FIS races along with coach Louis Bouchard and the team’s head wax tech Yves Bilodeau. When warm weather threatened to cancel the Beito races, those four decided to head north to Gällivare, Sweden, where the team will race this weekend. Kershaw completely understood, but that left him with some troubleshooting.
“Driving to Beitostølen I was kind of laughing to myself,” Kershaw, a three-time Olympian and six-time World Championships racer wrote in an email. “It’s not exactly like a running race — there are a lot of moving parts in a ski race — especially a classic race. Not only did I not have equipment or support really, I also had barely skied.”
The Beito tuneup marked his third time on skis since May “so I felt a little like ‘Bambi on ice’ for the first few laps before I settled into it,” he explained. “Conditions were a bit beat-up/tricky too – so I struggled with the ‘finesse’ out there.”
The only North American in the race, which was heavily dominated by Norwegians, and included a smattering of German and French skiers, Kershaw placed 33rd out of 134. He finished 2:35.4 minutes behind the winner, Norway’s Sjur Røthe.
Most everyone in the top 30 double poled, he explained. Kershaw didn’t have the option to.
He had borrowed skis from a friend of his wife, Kristin Størmer Steira, in Lillehammer: a pair of 2002 Fischers. In Beitostølen, Fischer lent him a pair as well, bringing his fleet total to two. Before the races, he had asked Swix if they could wax his skis, and they agreed.
“They were fantastic. Not only a huge help — but just really great guys to work with — I was lucky there,” Kershaw wrote. “Hell, I didn’t even have race suit here or toque to race in.”
Because the Canadian national team signed a new clothing sponsor this season (Swix), Kershaw had to wait until he met up with coach Justin Wadsworth, who was bringing the uniforms over from Canada. He couldn’t race in his old suit, so Swix gave him a stock black suit and headband to race in instead.
“That added to the hilarity of the situation, as I was really flying under the radar,” Kershaw wrote.
With two pairs of skis to test — both classic skis — he opted for klister. Wrong decision, he reflected.
“I am pretty sure [France’s Maurice] Manificat [who placed 16th] was the only one in the top 30 on wax,” he wrote. “Then me in 33rd after that. Everyone else double poled. It was much faster (to double pole) but having not skied much, and racing on borrowed skis (I only had two pairs of skis total) my options for testing were limited. I didn’t even test double poling to be honest — again, because I didn’t have a lot of choice (instead one pair had klister, the other klister-cover).”
While he regretted his choice of wax, he explained the rest of the ski world should be well-aware of what’s happening to cross-country skiing.
“In case there are any doubters left that the sport is changing, [the Beitostølen 15 k] should be the final wake up call. The frying pan between the eyes so to speak,” he wrote. “So many people double poled, over 50-60 guys in the field. They are strong enough to do that on a course with over 400m of ascent over 15km without hesitation — and win big — double poling only.”
Last season on the World Cup, most of the field double poled the classic races in Davos, Switzerland, and Toblach, Italy. Considering that, and how many men — and Norwegian woman Ingvild Flugstad Østberg— double poled Beito, “there is very little argument that this is something everyone needs to get a lot better or at least more comfortable at doing during races moving forward,” he added. “I would have never imagined this back in 2003/04/05 when I was a young senior. Back then, nobody would have double poled the race (it was funny talking to Anders Aukland about that during our cool down — he brought that up, and I agreed completely) — it’s happened rather quickly if you think about it.”
At the end of the day, Kershaw had hoped for a top 15, “but that was pretty baseless with regards to my equipment situation and with the fact most double poled — it wasn’t realistic looking back,” he wrote.
Last February, pneumonia and whooping cough cut Kershaw’s season short. He was sick for several months last spring, which affected the start to his training season May, June and July as well. He was curious to see how he’d feel racing again, and given that this was his first race since January — he was grateful to be out there.
“My race itself started off horrendously slow and bad. I felt all over the place as I fought to find my rhythm, but as the race progressed I felt more and more together,” he wrote. “I needed another lap out there! It’s obvious I missed my pacing, but also it was mostly a technique thing.… I was switching from kick double pole, to striding, to double pole and back again over and over early in the race and none were working well. Once I settled into the race and decided to double pole pretty much everything, and transition only to striding when the terrain got steeper, did I figure it out.
“While 33rd doesn’t look like much, I am happy enough with the effort under the circumstances,” he added. “I was happy to have moved faster and faster throughout the race and next stop is Gallivare where I am really looking forward to finally being able to put in some kilometres on snow — which will be both nice and a tad overdue.”
Sweden’s season-opening FIS races kick off in Gällivare this weekend, with a classic sprint on Saturday and 10/15 k freestyle on Sunday. A week later, the World Cup starts with the Ruka mini tour in Kuusamo, Finland, Nov. 27-29.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.