NewsPhoto GalleryRacingUlricehamn Extras: Bonus Quotes & Photos

FasterSkier FasterSkierJanuary 24, 2017
The Canadian men's relay after placing third for Canada's best World Cup result in the 4 x 7.5 k, with (from left to right), Lenny Valjas, Alex Harvey, Knute Johnsgaard, and Devon Kershaw. (Photo: Salomon/NordicFocus)
The Canadian men’s relay after placing third for Canada’s best World Cup result in the 4 x 7.5 k, with (from left to right), Lenny Valjas, Alex Harvey, Knute Johnsgaard, and Devon Kershaw. (Photo: Salomon/NordicFocus)

Last weekend’s first-ever World Cup in Ulricehamn, Sweden, was one Canada will remember for a long time, after Alex Harvey won Saturday’s 15-kilometer freestyle individual start for his second-straight World Cup victory (after winning the freestyle team sprint with Len Valjas the weekend before) then reached the podium again in the men’s 4 x 7.5 k relay on Sunday — which was a first for the Canadian men. Safe to say, Canada is riding some serious momentum, as are the U.S. women, which missed the podium by 0.2 seconds in the Ulricehamn 4 x 5 k.

Saturday’s 10/15 k freestyle

(Men’s report | Women’s report)

On the atmosphere: 

“I love Sweden, so I kind of get into my happy place when I enter this country and the fans today really brought out the happy in me. It was really amazing out there.”

— Liz Stephen (U.S. Ski Team), 16th

“Competing in Ulricehamn was pretty awesome today.  The course was packed with some of the most enthusiastic fans I’ve ever seen!”

— Kikkan Randall (U.S. Ski Team), 40th

 “An awesome Swedish vibe.”

— Sadie Bjornsen (U.S. Ski Team), 12th

“I’ve been so impressed with the venue, the spectators and especially the enthusiasm and hard work from the organizers and volunteers here in Ulricehamn! We haven’t had a course this packed with energized fans all year long, so it was a really special atmosphere out there!”

— Jessie Diggins (U.S. Ski Team), 7th

On getting to know a new venue: 

“We got here on Thursday … we went skiing Thursday afternoon, and that was the first time on the course. Then yesterday we skied again and did some race prep on it. Yesterday was actually quite different from today, it was slushy and really soft, but it was still a fast course. Even though the 5 k loop is longer than five kilometers, 5.1 k or something so at the end that makes it a 15.5 k … even though it was a longer loop, we thought with our race prep was pretty fast, covering the distance pretty fast, so we knew it was going to be a fast race. Then looking at the girls race this morning, it was 24 minutes for a 10 k, that’s really fast. Devon and I were like, ‘Yes! It’s going to hurt a little less longer than other 15 k’s.’ ”

— Alex Harvey (Canadian World Cup Team), 1st

“It was a pretty cool course too.  Deceptively hard with a lot of gradual terrain and not many places to recover.”

— Randall

On pacing and ski style:

“In the team meeting, we said that we thought it was going to be hard to gain time in the last lap, so it was important to open hard, but still steady, not kill yourself, just be in it from the beginning. We thought it would be hard to come from behind.”

— Harvey

“For Alex, it is a really good course. There is that one big uphill but the rest of it is kind of rolling, super punchy, you have to be really proactive, really aggressive everywhere. Good speed, good glide, and with a good power. And that is exactly his technique, and today it just clicked together.”

— Ivan Babikov (Canadian World Cup coach)

“It was great to have [Sadie Bjornsen] pull me into the finish the last few kilometers, especially when they like flat like that are often challenging for me so it was great to like follow her and see how she races and have a strong finish.”

— Rosie Brennan (U.S. Ski Team), 24th

On not quite getting it right:

“Devon, it didn’t work out perfectly. He had a really good first split and then maybe had to take a break in the middle of the race. But he was still satisfied and he said that there was good moments and bad moments. It is really important in this kind of course, and this kind of race, that you have someone to ski with, and unfortunately he didn’t have anyone today and had to work by himself the whole time.”

— Babikov

On steady improvement:

“Fifteen k individual start has been my weak event for a long time, but over the last two seasons, it’s been coming along nicely. I was second in Kuusamo, and a few top tens in 15 ks, so I knew it was coming along.”

— Harvey

“I think the Tour left me in a good zone, mentally and physically, and I am just psyched. We have five weeks till World Champs, and four of those weeks I will be in Sweden and one week in Asia so I have a pretty fun situation coming up and I think it will leave me in a good mental state going to World Champs.”

— Stephen

“Skating has been going well this year. I have a lot more confidence every time I start a race, so that is fun.”

— Bjornsen

On team spirit:

“Alex is just lifting everyone’s spirits. Of course it’s Alex’s thing, he won it, but its not only for him. It’s for our whole team, our whole country, Team Canada and everyone. It’s just the best for everyone. Like, the waxers are super psyched, coaches, everybody, and other skiers back home, it’s just a big boost for all of us.”

— Babikov

“To witness a performance like that, it has really invigorated the whole team and staff …  It was a beautiful performance to cement his legacy. Simply fantastic skiing.”

— Devon Kershaw (Canadian World Cup Team), 38th

“You actually had all the American ladies, all four of those, all really close to each other at the track if not skiing actually in a pack at times, so it was pretty fun.”

— Chris Grover (U.S. Ski Team head coach)

On a one-person women’s team:

“That was kind of last minute decision between Louis [Bouchard] and [Cendrine Browne]. There was opportunity, there were spots, and she was one that was kind of close to the points and showing good shape before [Christmas]. Today again, she proved that she is mature — she had a really good race. She started really aggressive, and maybe at the end it just wasn’t enough. This was more for training to get in shape as well for the World Champs.”

— Babikov

***

Sunday’s relays

Men’s report | Women’s report

On making Canada ski history:

“It was a really special moment, [head wax technician] Yves [Bilodeau] was crying, Ivan was crying, too — he’s actually raced relays with us so many times, and we were fifth or seventh, which was not stellar, but he was still able to live it on the other side of the fence as a coach … it was great.”

— Harvey

“Today was a special day. It was my dream for a long time. When I was racing it was my number one priority of my career to be on the relay podium, so it is really emotional for all of us, especially me. We finally achieved it .”

— Babikov

“It was a career highlight for me, and one of the best days of my life.”

— Knute Johnsgaard (Canadian U25 Team)

“It means everything to us — and for me as well. We had NEVER hit the podium in arguably cross-country skiing’s marquee event on the men’s side. It’s incredible that it’s taken this long, but my whole career this was something I have dreamed of being involved in. I remember all the talk and dreams as a young senior with George, Stef, Drew, Chris, Gord, Dan, etc… and then again only five years ago when we had four guys (Len, Alex, myself, and Babs) skiing at an insanely high level together in individual races, but not being able to get it done together … So to break through and do it was just incredible. “

— Kershaw

On pre-race confidence: 

“At the team meeting last night we were all saying that there is no expectation, no matter what we do, good day, or bad day, there’s no expectation, which is pretty nice, but then this morning, I’m rooming with Knute, the young guy, and we both woke up, and were like, ‘This is the day.’ We were both confident that neither of us would let the group go.” 

— Len Valjas (Canadian World Cup Team)

“We knew we had a really good chance. I knew last week when I decided to come to Sweden, I knew that Len and Alex won the team sprint last weekend in Toblach, and I knew the guys were in really good shape.”

— Johnsgaard

On doing it against the odds: 

“We have been in a tough situation with our budget lately, and I don’t just mean our operating budget. The burden on the individual athletes right now in Canadian skiing is extremely debilitating and the worst I have ever seen. All except Alex in the country are paying tens of thousands of dollars to do this, so to be at that kind of disadvantage compared to the rest of the world could obviously be just too much. Yet, despite the situation, to still break through and stand on the podium with the likes of Norway and Sweden is a testament to our team as a whole. It’s just incredible. I hope this is the beginning and that we can be fighting for relay medals for years to come now that we know we can do it.”
— Kershaw
On ski-community support:
“These four guys did this, they made it possible, but it’s also only because they have these amazing people behind them; all the wax techs, the people back home, the cross-country ski community, they care so much. You should have seen the amount of emails and texts I got from random people who care so much. It was very special, and amazing.”
— Babikov

On getting your mojo back:

“I wish we had some more skate races coming up this weekend, because I feel like I’m getting my skate legs under me again. It will be fun to see if I can get some classic legs under me, too.”

— Stephen

On Germany hitting the podium:

“Over the years we’ve become good friends with the German team, and if anybody was going to step onto the podium above us, it was fun to see them. Because similar to the the American team, they are not just dominating every weekend. It takes more of a really neat day to put everything together, and it was cool to see them do that. I think the last time they would have been on the podium was the Olympics, so it was fun to see how well they did.”

— Bjornsen

“I think all of us feel the same way, and even Norway, who wins a lot. It’s nice to see new people on the podium. We’re close with the Germans, as [our coach] Matt [Whitcomb] is dating one of them, and they’re really friendly, smiley, and it was really nice to see them on the podium. I was trying to think when the last time I saw the German team on a relay podium was, and so I asked Steffi Böhler — and she said, ‘I don’t know!’ … You always want it to be you up there, but it’s good to see people equally joyful and excited about being up there as you are.”

— Stephen

On keeping perspective:

“I got overwhelmed a few times with the whole World Cup scene, but just tried to focus on little things like testing skis, and getting in my warm-up and getting to the start, and just remembering that it’s still a ski race like any other one.”

— Liz Guiney (Craftsbury Green Racing Project)

“Those guys [the U.S. women’s team] raced great. They had something like the fifth, second, fourth, and then the fastest leg times. Of course it was all really close being so fast out there, especially on the skate side. In fact Jessie, Sandra Ringwald, and Hanna Falk were all within the same second for their ski times. And of course, Ringwald and Falk both raced incredibly well yesterday too, so they are clearly in good shape. Those were some daunting competitors for her at the end. So obviously, it’s super tight and they raced great.”

— Grover

On the men’s race:

“That was disappointing, just to lose contact. On a different day I think we could have been in contact for a lot longer. It was the kind of day where if you could keep the contact it was pretty easy to stay in it, but if you’re all by yourself, you’re just out by yourself. [We] definitely suffered from that.”

— Grover

On crazy pre-race logistics:

“Skis were great all day, which was really a testament to how good of a job the wax team did. Because it was a tough day. It did not freeze last night, and because of that they did not open the course on time as planned, they delayed it. The women were never allowed to skate on the course before the relay. The men maybe just for a little bit. We ended up trying to do all of our testing, kick and all of the glide testing, and work with athletes testing skis, all in about an hour before the start. And make all the skis, with two [women’s] relay teams. Which was incredibly crazy. And then there were only 25 minutes of open track between the women’s race and the men’s race. There’s no natural snow here, so they just had a really tiny 300 meter test track. It was a real challenging day for the wax team and they did an awesome job of being able to produce great skis for these guys and keep everybody in contention.”

— Grover

“The snow conditions held up really well for the skate legs. We were not allowed on the course, it was completely partitioned off, so being the fourth or fifth person on the course, I thought it was great! I’m sure it slowed down significantly for the men, and maybe even for the fourth-leg skiers, I don’t know, but it was pristine when I was out there.”

— Stephen

On future plans:

“The race I would have liked to target in Period II is next weekend in Falun (30km mass start classic), but with my wife Kristin expecting (the due date is next Saturday), I doubt I will toe the line there… Too much stress! I will put in some great training coming up here ahead of Otepaa and World Champs and Norwegian Nationals are actually only a 1:15h drive from Oslo — so I have signed up for two races there — but with the arrival of our first child, it’s all about ‘baby-watch’ now. Can’t make too many long-term plans with regards to a race schedule.”

— Kershaw

“I’m really excited — I love Falun! I love Sweden and I’m psyched to be staying in this country. And then I get to go to Asia for the first time ever after that, which will be very exciting as well, and then coming back to Sweden for the pre-World Championships camp, so I’m in a good mental spot right now. Sweden always brings out my happy, and the fans and the organizers did a phenomenal job and really made this weekend what it was.”

— Stephen

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