by Chris Dornan
January 5, 2014, VAL DI FIEMME, Ita. (ISN) – Canada’s Ivan Babikov clocked the fourth-fastest time in the final and most punishing stage of the Tour de Ski to finish 16th overall in the ultimate test of high-performance sport on Sunday in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
Starting well back of the leaders in 21st spot after the first six races, the 33-year-old Canadian went head-to-head with the most daunting stage of all – a nine-kilometre skate-ski pursuit with the final four kilometres straight up Alpe de Cermis, which boasts a 28 per cent hill grade. Despite breaking a pole at the one-kilometre mark for the second time in this year’s Tour, the Canadian bulldog clocked the fourth-fastest time of the day at 32:14.1.
“Ivan was really good today. He is just so tough and good technically going up that mountain,” said Justin Wadsworth, head coach, Canadian Cross-Country Ski Team. “You can be extremely fit, but that climb takes a special person because you need to be fit but you also have to be really good technically. Ivan is a perfect mix and he has such good technique.”
Austria’s Johannes Duerr clocked the fastest time of the day in the unique race format at 31:54.7.
With the world’s best sprawled out on the ground around the finish line, Babikov was the lone Canadian to finish this year’s Tour de Ski – which includes seven races in nine days in three countries – where he finished in 16th with a time of 36:52.8 after the final stage.
A race that throws tactics out the window – forcing man against hill – the hard-nosed Canuck hammered his way up the punishing ascent that has turned the fittest men in the world into boys. The relentless Babikov also posted the fastest time up Alpe Cermis in 2009, and was second in this same race last year.
“I have no idea why I’m good at this stage,” said Babikov following last year’s climb. “Where I grew up there were no hills. Everyone feels the pain at some point on the hill. Maybe I am able to cope with the pain a little better than others. People always ask me why I’m good at it and I don’t know. I just love climbing and I just go with it.”
Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby was crowned the king of cross-country skiing for the first time after crossing the line first at the top of the mountain with a time of 32:49.6. Fellow Norwegian Chris Jespersen was second at 33:25.6. Austria’s Johannes Duerr clocked-in at 33:55.5 to finish third.
Canada’s Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw did not start the final stage.
The two Canadians got the Tour off to a bang finishing one-two in the opening prologue race in Oberhof, Germany. It was the first-ever gold-silver finish for two Canadian athletes in one race.
Harvey also added a silver and bronze medal of his own in addition to finishing third overall in the Tour sprint standings.
“It was another solid Tour for us,” added Wadsworth. “We seem to have good results on the Tour every year and this year was no different. It is definitely encouraging to see the guys deliver when it counts the most. It was unfortunate that Alex and Devon couldn’t finish, but the Olympics are the ultimate goal this year and we can’t lose sight of that.”
Norway’s Therese Johaug was crowned the queen of cross-country skiing after winning the women’s final stage.
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 58,000 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 Inc., AltaGas,. Canadian Pacific and Statoil – along with the Government of Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee and Own the Podium, Cross Country Canada develops Olympic, Paralympic and world champions. For more information on Cross Country Canada, please visit us at www.cccski.com.
Complete Results: http://www.fis-ski.com/cross-country/
Top-5 Men and Canadian Results:
1. Martin Johnsrud, Sundby, NOR, 32:49.6; 2. Chris Jespersen, NOR, 33:25.6; 3. Johannes Duerr, AUT, 33:55.5; 4. Petter Northug, NOR, 34:39.1; 5. Sjur Roethe, NOR, 34:45.3
16. Ivan Babikov, Canmore, Alta., 36:52.8