MONT SAINT-ANNE, Québec – To say that Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey are close would be a massive understatement.
When Kershaw decided to pack it in for the season, Harvey and some of his other teammates on the Canadian National Ski Team convinced him to reconsider.
They found Kershaw on the start line Saturday as fired up as ever for the 50-kilometer classic mass start at Canadian Ski Nationals. After skiing together with a lead pack for more than 10 kilometers, Kershaw and Harvey turned to each other. One had to go to the bathroom; they figured the other did as well.
Second and sixth respectively in the overall World Cup standings, Kershaw and Harvey stood in the woods together, off the trail, taking care of business.
A moment later, they were back on course, but found they had some catching up to do.
One of their World Cup teammates, Ivan Babikov boosted the pace when the two took a pit stop. Coming into the stadium at 15 k, he led a tight group of 15, and Kershaw and Harvey trailed nearly 15 seconds behind.
That didn’t last long into the fourth of 10 laps, when the duo blew past the leaders and skied away to a 3-½ minute lead. They finished nearly 2 ½ minutes in front of anyone else, and once again, they did it together.
Side by side entering the finishing stretch, Kershaw and Harvey snowplowed just before the line, wrapping their arms around each other’s shoulders and trying to cross at the exact same time. They were awarded a tie with a time of 2:14.45.96.
Dan Roycroft of Zone4 timing said photo finish doesn’t work when racers are moving that slowly.
Harvey and Kershaw found it a suitable way to end their seasons, and Babikov “Tebowed” across the line in third (+2:27.10).
“I didn’t think I was gonna drop [Kershaw]; Devon didn’t think he was gonna drop me so we’re like, might as well just go for the tie,” Harvey said.
The hometown hero from Club Nordique Mont Ste. Anne, Harvey also wanted to thank the fans for all of their support throughout the week and season. He and Kershaw actually had two options, he said. Their head wax tech, Yves Bilodeau, could stop them about 100 meters before the finish and restart them for an all-out sprint, or they could do what they did.
Harvey was happy with how the later turned out.
“Devon’s had such a good season; he’s had an amazing career also, but this year was just tremendous and it’s just a way to celebrate him,” he said. “We push each other really hard every day and both try for the same thing … to improve every year and excel in our sport. It was fun to share the moment.”
Kershaw figured they would give Harvey the win. For most of the race, he heard spectators calling Harvey’s name.
“I found it really funny, barely anybody was cheering for me,” Kershaw said with a laugh. “It felt like I was racing in a different country. That was pretty interesting.”
Kidding aside, he was amazed by the energy of the week and thrilled he could soak it in for the last 10 kilometers. The two had broken away from the pack before the 20-k mark and skied hard for another 10 to 15 kilometers before asking each other what they wanted to do.
“We’re like, ‘Well the race is over, no one’s going to get us so we just cruised,’ ” Kershaw said. “Then we decided, ‘Ah, we might as well tie the thing because it’s been such a great season.’ ”
Nothing was premeditated, Kershaw said, since he wasn’t even sure he was going to race until before he went to sleep the night before.
“It just didn’t sit well for me to end,” Kershaw said. “Just seeing all the youth here so excited about ski racing and just the excitement at Mount Saint-Anne. … I’m like, ‘Ah, I can suffer through 50 k,’ and actually, I felt amazing today.”
While the two up front chatted about the season and their back problems (Kershaw’s bothered him a little, Harvey’s didn’t), a group of four a few minutes behind remained in a battle for third.
After Babikov and Senior Development Team members Graham Nishikawa, Brent McMurtry and Kevin Sandau took turns leading for most of the race, Babikov saved a little extra for the last lap and attacked on the first hill out of the stadium.
He built a gap and finished 9.41 seconds ahead of Nishikawa (Alberta World Cup Academy) in fourth. Sandau (AWCA) was fifth and McMurtry (Pierre-Harvey NTC) placed sixth after falling on a long, steep and curving downhill on the second to last lap.
“I knew I had to try to hurt a bit on the uphill because I knew those guys were going to be stronger on the finish,” Babikov said.
When Kershaw and Harvey first took off, Babikov said he immediately tried to keep up. The rest of the group opted they were better off conserving their efforts.
“When they attacked, if I tried to stay with them it would have been the demise of my 50 k,” Sandau said. “There was 35 k to go almost, I didn’t want to ski that much hurting.”
“You knew it was going to happen, did you see Kersh before the race?” Babikov asked Sandau and McMurtry. “He was freaking out. When Kersh is freaking out he’s gonna freakin’ go out. When he freaks out, he cares.”
Babikov was pleased with how he placed considering.
“Those guys are the strongest in the world right now so no disappointment there,” he said. “It was a decent week. Good way to finish the season for me. I struggled the last few races on the World Cup. I didn’t finish a couple, had some health issues, but it was fun here, super-nice crowd, better than some World Cups.”
Nishikawa said he also felt good about his performance. He knew one of them would go for it on the last lap; it was just a matter of who had anything left.
“After the Harvey-and-Kershaw surge, things calmed down a bit,” Nishikawa said. “We could get back in and relax. It could’ve gone either way for me, I haven’t been feeling super, I didn’t know if I would totally bonk. … I’ve had some horrendous 50 k’s in my life that have gone the other way.”
McMurtry said the writing on the wall regarding Harvey and Kershaw was clear early on.
“They do everything together,” McMurtry said. “I don’t know if you saw them come across the line; bro-mance, maybe even a step higher than that.”
After McMurtry finished 3:22.62 after the winners, Jesse Cockney (AWCA) placed seventh (+4:33.25). Cockney bridged a 40-second gap on Michael Somppi (NDC-Thunder Bay), who skied alone behind the chase pack for at least 20 kilometers.
Somppi finished eighth (+4:36.51), Colin Abbott (Whitehorse) was ninth, and Harry Seaton (NDC-Thunder Bay) was 10th.