(ISN) – KUUSAMO, Fin.—Canada’s Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw tested their offseason training in the opening World Cup of the year against the best skiers on the planet and delivered on Sunday with both finishing in the top-15 in a 15-kilometre classic-ski race in Kuusamo, Finland.
Harvey, of Saint-Ferreol les Neiges, Que., took advantage of fast skis to push the pace early on the challenging Kuusamo course where he finished seventh with a time of 35 minutes, 37.2 seconds (35:37.2), while Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., battled into 14th-place finish after clocking-in at 35:51.5 on an incredibly close race with less than 45 seconds separating the top 15 athletes.
“It was a bit of a surprise for me. The hills are so steep here and I have never had good races in Kuusamo,” said Harvey. “It is always super tight here. I was just hoping to get into the points today. The skis were good, but I’m just a bit surprised.”
Coming off a career-best third place finish on the Overall World Cup last year, the 26-year-old Harvey has traditionally started slow each year. Happy with a 14th place finish in the season-opening sprint race on Saturday, Harvey now moves into eighth overall after the first weekend of the World Cup.
“Early in the season everyone comes to the start line in very good shape after a strong summer of training so it makes the races very difficult and tight,” said Harvey. “Every time I put the bib on I’m trying to win. I realize that has only happened four times, but I am always going for the podium and halfway through the race you have a pretty good idea if that is going to happen or not.”
Another Canadian who proved he is poised to charge his way back onto the podium is Devon Kershaw. The 31-year-old had one of his strongest 15-kilometre classic races on Sunday since finishing second overall on the World Cup in 2012.
“It was a good to start the season well, and especially to wash the bad taste out of my mouth from yesterday (sprint race),” said Kershaw. “I have been feeling really good. I need to take confidence from this and build on the result.”
Struggling over the last two seasons to find his top form that made him a regular on the World Cup podium, the three-time Olympian credits changes to his offseason training for the strong start.
“When things aren’t working and you are getting older like me you have to make changes,” said Kershaw. “I am training more. I made a slight change in the velocity of my training and to my intensity training. It is not always the results to measure where you are, but I do like to have confirmation so today was comforting.”
The Canadian duo was less than 30 seconds off the podium pace. Finland’s Iivo Niskanen thrilled the hometown crowd with a golden time of 35:09.4. Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby was second at 35:19.7, while Finland’s Sami Jauhojaervi won the dash for the bronze medal with a time of 35:21.9.
Two other Canadian men also hit the start line on Sunday. Ivan Babikov, of Canmore, Alta., was 57th at 37:16.6, while Graeme Killick, of Fort McMurray, Alta., placed 71st (38:08.4).
Emily Nishikawa was the lone Canadian in the women’s 10-kilometre classic-ski race. Nishikawa, a 25-year-old Whitehorse-based Olympian, had one of the best results of her young career against a deep field, placing 38th with a time of 28:31.1.
The Norwegian women skied to the top-two spots on the podium. Therese Johaug hammered the field, crossing the finish line more than 40 seconds ahead of her teammate, Marit Bjoergen, with a time of 25:47.2. Bjoergen celebrated the silver medal at 26:29.2, while Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla rounded out the podium in third at 26:31.3.
The World Cup of cross-country skiing now travels to Norway for a series of races next weekend.
CCC 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 60,000 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, Mackenzie Investments and Statoil – along with the Government of Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Own the Podium and B2Ten, CCC develops Olympic, Paralympic and world champions. For more information on CCC, please visit us at www.cccski.com.
Complete Results: www.fis-ski.com
Top-5 Men and Canadian Results:
1. Iivo Niskanen, FIN, 35:09.4; 2. Martin Johnsrud Sundby, NOR, 35:19.7; 3. Sami Jauhojaervi, FIN, 35:21.9; 4. Niklas Dyrhaug, NOR, 35:22.0; 5. Alexander Bessmerthnykh, RUS, 35:29.1
Other Canadian Results:
7 Alex Harvey, Saint Ferreol les Neiges, Que., 35:372; 14. Devon Kershaw, Sudbury, Ont., 35:51.5; 57. Ivan Babikov, Canmore, Alta., 37:16.6; 71. Graeme Killick, Fort McMurray, Alta., 38:08.4
Top-5 Women and Canadian Results:
1. Therese Johaug, NOR, 25:47.2; 2. Marit Bjoergen, NOR, 26:29.2; 3. Charlotte Kalla, SWE, 26:31.3; 4. Justyna Kowalczyk, POL, 26:50.6; 5. Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg, NOR, 26:55.7.
38. Emily Nishikawa, Whitehorse, 28:31.1