World’s best begin seven race, nine-day journey through Europe

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cross country_canada

December 29, 2012, OBERHOF, Ger. (ISN) – Alex Harvey made a charge for the podium in the opening stage of the epic seven-race Tour de Ski, finishing sixth in the men’s skate-ski prologue race on Saturday in Oberhof, Germany.

The 24-year-old Harvey, of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., hammered his way through the slow, yet highly technical, four-kilometre Oberhof track in a time of eight minutes, 40 seconds (8:40.0) for his first top-10 finish of the season.

“Oh yeah I’m happy to be in the top-10. It is a good feeling to be back where I feel I belong,” said Harvey, who was also sixth one year ago in the same race where he went on to finish 12th overall. “It is the same result as last year, but I feel it is better. I felt a lot more relaxed and smooth today whereas last year I was empty and struggled to the finish. That is a good sign for me.”

The prologue forcesathletes to move fast, yet pace themselves to the finish with the distances being double that of a sprint race. Harvey has had success in the unique prologue distance throughout his young career. He captured his first World Cup victory in a prologue at the 2012 World Cup Finals in Falun, Sweden.

“It is a tricky format because you have to move really fast, but really have to hold on to your technique when it gets hard,” said Harvey, who has six World Cup medals to go along with his World Championship title. “I think today, even with 500 metres to go when it really started to hurt, I was able to make up time on the rest of the field.”

Norway’s Petter Northug won the opening stage with a time of 8:28.7. Sweden’s Marcus Hellner claimed second spot at 8:34.8, while Russia’s Alexander Legkov rounded out the men’s podium, clocking a third-place time of 8:35.9.

Three other elite Canadian cross-country ski athletes hit the start line for the their annual nine-day journey for gold through Europe with the best Nordic athletes on the planet.

Distance Specialist, Ivan Babikov of Canmore, Alta., was the next best Canuck in 32nd spot with a time of 8:54.4. Devon Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., who finished fourth overall in last year’s Tour, was 48th (8:59.8). Toronto’s Len Valjas, who is competing in his first-ever Tour de Ski, placed 52nd at 9:01.3.

The prologue race marks the official beginning of the nine-day affair, modeled after the Tour de France in cycling, which wraps up in Val di Fiemme, Italy on January 6. One of the featured events on the Nordic calendar tests some of the most physically and mentally fit athletes in the world in seven punishing races at five different venues in three countries to determine the king and queen of cross-country skiing.

When all is said and done, the men’s field will have raced nearly 100 kilometres when they cross the finish line of the Tour, which ends with a 425-metre climb to the top of Alpe Cermis.

“I think having a strong result today is good for the confidence but this race doesn’t mean anything in the big picture,” said Harvey. “The distance races are critical to success so the Tour really begins tomorrow. For me, it is just good to know I’m back where I belong after a slow start to the season.”

Kikkan Randall, of the United States, continued her strong season winning the women’s 3-kilometre prologue with a time of 7:28.1. No Canadian women are entered in this year’s Tour de Ski.

The Canadian men will be back in action on Sunday when the Tour continues with the 15-kilometre classic-ski pursuit race.

Complete Results: http://www.fiscrosscountry.com/

Top-5 Men and Canadian Results:

1. Petter Northug, NOR, 8:28.7
2. Marcus Hellner, SWE, 8:34.8
3. Alexander Legkov, RUS, 8:35.9
4. Dario Cologna, SUI, 8:38.8
5. IIia Chernousov, RUS, 8:39.4.

Canadian Results:

6. Alex Harvey, St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., 8:40.0
32. Ivan Babikov, Canmore, Alta., 8:54.4
48. Devon Kershaw, Sudbury, Ont., 8:59.8
52. Len Valjas, Toronto, 9:01.3

Cross Country Canada is the governing body of cross-country skiing in Canada, which is the nation’s optimal winter sport and recreational activity with more than one million Canadians participating annually. Its 55,000 members include athletes, coaches, officials and skiers of all ages and abilities, including those on Canada’s National Ski Teams and Para-Nordic Ski Teams. With the support of its valued corporate partners – Haywood Securities, AltaGas, Statoil and Canadian Pacific – along with the Government of Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Own the Podium and B2ten, Cross Country Canada develops Olympic,Paralympic and world champions. For more information on Cross Country Canada, please visit us at www.cccski.com.

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