November 25, 2012, GAELLIVARE, Swe. (ISN) — Ivan Babikov led the Canadian cross-country ski squad into the new World Cup season after skiing into the top-15, and one of the best results of his career in Gaellivare, Sweden on Saturday morning.
Coming off a bronze-medal finish one week ago in a World Cup tune-up race in Sweden, the 32-year-old Babikov, of Canmore, Alta., was solid from start-to-finish en route to a 14th-place result, clocking a time of 31:24.6 in the men’s 15-kilometre skate-ski race.
“It was a good race for sure and I’m pretty excited to start the season this way,” said Babikov. “I feel like I’m in good shape and just tried to stick to my race plan today and do things right technically. I was smooth in the first lap, and tried to save energy for the final two loops.”
A six-year veteran on the World Cup, the scrappy bulldog is one of four Canadian men ever to win a World Cup cross-country ski race. He captured the top spot of the podium in the final grueling stage of the 2009 Tour de Ski – a race which sends athletes on a punishing nine-kilometre journey with the final three kilometres climbing a 28 per cent hill grade up Alpe Cermis in Val di Fiemme, Italy. But the two-time Olympian only has a handful of top-15 results since.
Babikov and head coach, Justin Wadsworth, are determined that will change.
“We worked hard this summer to really challenge Ivan, and he was really solid today,” said Wadsworth. “He has done his homework, and we knew he was in good shape because he was close to the other guys in training. This is a big year for Ivan and this is a good start.”
“Justin and I just kind of tuned up my training this summer and focused on things I wasn’t doing,” said Babikov. “I’m always open to new training suggestions. It is a really long season and pretty early to say how it will pay off but this is a good start.”
Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby grabbed the first gold medal of the year with a time of 30:37.0. Alexey Poltoranin, of Kazakhstan, skied to the silver step on the podium with a time of 30:45.9, while Sweden’s Marcus Hellner stopped the clock at 30:48.1 for third place.
It was a tough start to a highly anticipated season for the remainder of the Canadian cross-country ski squad.
Alex Harvey, of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., finished in 36th place at 32:01.6. Devon Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., who has been battling an ankle injury, persevered to post a time of 32:12.2 for44th spot, while Calgary’s Kevin Sandau rounded out the Canadian contingent, finishing 64th at 32:53.6 in the field of nearly 100 athletes.
The Canadian women were also a little sluggish out of the gate in 10-kilometre skate-ski race. Daria Gaiazova, of Banff, Alta., was the top Canuck in 61st (24:59.3), while Chandra Crawford, of Canmore, Alta., placed 71st (25:40.2).
“The whole team was just a bit flat today. It’s not like they died or anything, but just had one speed,” said Wadsworth. “We’ve been doing some heavy training and moving around as a group a lot so I think they just need a little rest now heading into next week and we’ll be able to bounce back. They all know they are amongst the best skiers in the world. This has happened before and I totally expect them to do it again.”
Norway’s Marit Bjoergen was the top woman setting the time to beat at 22:31.8. Norway’s Therese Johaug was second with a time of 22:44.4, while Kikkan Randall, of the United States, had an impressive distance result, skiing to the bronze medal with a time of 22:57.7.
The World Cup continues on Sunday in Gaellivare, Sweden with the men’s and women’s distance relays.
Complete Results: http://www.fis-ski.com/uk/604/1228.html?cal_suchsector=CC&;event_id=31846
Top-5 Men and Canadian Results:
- Martin Johnsrud Sundby, SWE, 30:37.0
- Alexey Poltoranin, KAZ, 30:45.9
- Marcus Hellner, SWE, 30:48.1
- Matti Heikkinen, FIN, 31:07.2
- Sjur Roethe, NOR, 31:08.1
14. Ivan Babikov, Canmore, Alta., 31:24.6
36. Alex Harvey, St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., 32:01.6
44. Devon Kershaw, Sudbury, Ont., 32:12.2
64. Kevin Sandau, Calgary, 32:53.6.
Top-5 Women and Canadian Results
- Marit Bjoergen, NOR, 22:31.8
- Therese Johaug, NOR, 22:44.4
- Kikkan Randall,USA, 22:57.7
- Charlotte Kalla, SWE, 22:58.7
- Holly Brooks, USA, 23:00.3
Other Canadian Results:
61. Daria Gaiazova, Banff, Alta., 24:59.3
71. Chandra Crawford, Canmore, Alta., 25:40.2