(Note: This article has been updated to include comments from Heidi Widmer.)
This weekend’s races in Davos, Switzerland, aren’t the biggest, nor are they International Ski Federation (FIS) sanctioned. But if you ask Alex Harvey, the Swiss team organizers held them to the highest standard, complete with team meetings the night before, chip timing, bibs, a starting gate, and everything exactly on schedule, although “this part is to be expected in Switzerland!” Harvey wrote in an email on Friday.
A day after winning a low-key classic sprint, held in King’s Court format to allow racers more opportunities for head-to-head competition in the heats, Harvey, of the Canadian World Cup Team, placed second in the men’s 10-kilometer classic on Davos’s snow-farmed course, starting last in a field of 45 — right behind local favorite Dario Cologna of Switzerland.
“The Swiss team made the starting list according to FIS distance points to make it official like a real race, so I did start last,” Harvey noted on Saturday.
Over the first half of the course, the Canadian posted the fastest split times. On laps three and four, however, he relinquished the lead to Cologna and finished 4.4 seconds behind him. Cologna won the race with a time of 26:09.1, Harvey placed second, and Livio Bieler of Switzerland was third (+35.0).
“It’s always rough for me to race at altitude, so I was very pleased with the result and the way the body worked,” Harvey wrote in an email. At 1,560 meters (5,120 feet) above sea level, Davos is considered the highest “town” in Europe. “Looking back I might of started a bit too fast but it’s why we do those test races before the start of the World Cup…to get the nerves out!”
Harvey noted that some French long-distance team skiers double poled the entire race on skate skis, as did Russia’s Ilia Chernousov.
“Dario and I both thought this was a better option but [my coach] Louis [Bouchard] and the Swiss coaches had agreed that we would all go on classic skis with wax…after all the goal is to prepare for Kuusamo and Lillehammer which are some of the hilliest courses on Tour!” he explained.
“I couldn’t see Dario during the race since the course is pretty turny here but I was getting some splits from Louis,” Harvey added. “We were pretty close to each other for the whole race, it made it exciting!”
Asked about the spectator turnout, Harvey explained that the race was held on the upper part of Davos’s World Cup course, which was closed to the public.
“Tourists with purchased bibs were allowed on the track after the race was done [and] Swiss TV was there though along with some print media,” he explained.
In the women’s 8 k, Cendrine Browne (Canadian U25 Team) placed 12th, 2:30.9 behind the Swiss winner Laurien van der Graaff, who won her second race in as many days. Van der Graaff started in the middle of the pack of 28 women and finished well ahead of anyone else, clocking in at 21:36.2, with runner-up Elisabeth Schicho of Germany 25.1 seconds behind her. All three of the women who podiumed in Friday’s classic sprint reached the podium again as Nadine Fähndrich (Switzerland) placed third (+26.3).
Heidi Widmer, born in Canada but competing for Switzerland while living in Davos, finished 15th (+2:54.1) after placing eighth in Friday’s sprint.
For the 23-year-old Browne, Harvey’s teammate at the Pierre-Harvey Training Centre in Quebec, Saturday’s distance race was her first race of the season.
In an email, Browne explained the training in Davos has been good and conditions are “fabulous.”
“I didn’t feel great out there today but it’s normal, it takes me a long time to get used to altitude,” Browne wrote. “My first lap felt good but then the altitude hit me and I was gasping for air in the 2nd and 3rd lap. I didn’t have any goals for today except to ski well and to use this race as an icebreaker for the season.”
At this point in the season, she’s confident in her fitness.
“I just need time to get adjusted to the jet lag and the altitude,” she wrote. “I think that the races next weekend [at the World Cup in Finland] will go better.”
For Widmer, her season will start in earnest in early December at the Swiss Cup in Goms, Switzerland, followed by the Davos World Cup Dec. 10-11. After that, she’s hoping to continue on the World Cup circuit and qualify for World Championships in February.
In an email, she explained that this weekend’s Davos races were “training opportunities” with a casual race-prep atmosphere.
“To sum these past two days of ‘test races’ in Davos up, it is FAR off the mark!” Widmer wrote of her performances. “We raced on training skis, but regardless, the fitness is not where it should be, but! I am healthy, happy and have a plan to get me back in the green. I’ve pushed my training this year, and I know I have fitness in the bank, but it is now a matter of resting up, keeping positive and allowing my hard work to sink so that I can put it on the line when it counts.”
With racing in Davos over, Browne, Harvey and Bouchard will leave Tuesday to join their team in Kuusamo, Finland, where the first races of the World Cup season will be held Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 26-27.
“That will be the next race for me! I’m looking forward to race on the World Cup and to see what I can do when I’m in a good shape!” Browne wrote.
“I think it’s a better start in classic than last year in Gallivare for me,” Harvey added. “I feel really solid technically and looking forward to Kuusamo and Lillehammer.”
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.