—Jesse Cockney storms into top-10 for second best result of career—
QUEBEC CITY—Alex Harvey went to do battle against the stars of nordic skiing on the historic Plains of Abraham, and came out of it celebrating a second-place finish in front of his hometown fans on Friday afternoon in a skate-ski sprint around Quebec City’s famous landmarks.
Harvey, who grew up a short distance away in Saint Ferreol les Neiges, Que., was in prime form while hosting the world in his playground in front of the provincial capital, where captured second spot on the podium in the third stage of the grueling eight-race Ski Tour Canada.
“I had dreams of a podium finish here when I first heard we’d be hosting a Tour in Canada,” said Harvey, who qualified for the round of 30 in the head-to-head heats in 12th. “The crowd got louder and louder all day long every time my name was called. The noise gave me wings today and I felt like I was just floating down the trail.”
It was the 17th World Cup medal of a standout career for the 27-year-old, two-time Olympian. His first medal also came on Canadian snow when he and George Grey won the bronze at Whistler Olympic Park in a 2009 Team Sprint race. It was Harvey’s second medal this year, and best sprint finish. Harvey also won a silver medal at the season-opening weekend in Ruka, Finland in the 10-kilometre skate-ski race.
“It was absolutely awesome out there today. It is a long course and a tough course. My strategy was to draft for most of the first half around the course, and stay in good position to attack going up the final hill,” added Harvey.
The four-time World Championship medallist executed his tactics to perfection through the rounds where he was in complete control all day. Harvey fired a warning shot to the field it was going to be his day after winning his semifinal heat, putting his hands in the air and looking over at Norway’s legendary Petter Northug who finished behind him.
“In sprinting everything counts. Tactics, the body and a big part of it is even the mental side of the game,” said Harvey. “Petter is one of the best finishers in the world. I think when I got around him it made me feel good, and I guess I raised my hands and just wanted to show him that I can finish too – maybe not as consistently as him – but I can when I’m having a good day.”
Harvey carried the same strategy throughout the final on the 1.7-kilometre sprint course, starting slow up the first hill out of the stadium, staying near the back of the pack while descending down in front of the Parliament building and around Fontaine de Tourny before edging his way up near the front, while climbing up alongside the walls to the Old City back onto the Plains of Abraham. Hammering it up the final 200-metre climb, Harvey stuck in the number two spot for the final plunge into the stadium for the long finishing stretch where he double-poled relentlessly to second spot on the podium.
“It is such a hard course and I just took my chance to attack today,” said Harvey. “It is the third stage of the Tour, people are starting to feel fatigue so I went for it. There were a few crashes today, but I think the best skiers won.”
Baptiste Gros, of France, outlasted Harvey at the finish to win the third stage. Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov finished third.
The hometown hero stole the show, but it was also a dream day for national development team athlete, Jesse Cockney of Canmore, Alta., who posted the second-best result of his career in 10th.
The 26-year-old, who was one of the last to be selected for the Canadian squad for the inaugural Tour, qualified 28th for the heats and took full advantage of the opportunity advancing into the semifinals after finishing second in his opening heat. The top-two move on to the next round. Cockney’s day came to an end when he crossed the line fifth in the second round.
“This is absolutely huge for me,” beamed Cockney, whose best finish came in 2012 when he was ninth in a World Cup skate-ski sprint race in Canmore, Alta. “It has been a horrible year for me. I’ve been sick for a bunch of it. I was the second last selection on the Team, and to breakthrough today is just an incredible feeling.
“To be 50th or 60th one day, and the next to be in the top-10 shows just how tight the World Cup field is. The crowd was so loud and supportive. I really fed off their energy today. My skis were so fast today. The wax techs did an amazing job, and I can’t thank them enough.”
Canada’s 20-year-old Maya MacIsaac-Jones, who qualified for her first-ever World Cup sprint heats earlier this week, is demonstrating she is ready to mix it up with the top-30 sprinters in the world on a consistent basis. The Athabasca, Alta. resident backed up her career-best performance by narrowly missing the heats in 34th spot as the top Canadian on the women’s 1.5-kilometre sprint course.
“I have to be happy with where I finished,” said MacIsaac-Jones, who was 31st and 29th in her two previous World Cup sprint starts. “I really wanted to qualify for the heats, but this shows I am still right there. I gave it all I had out there.”
Sweden’s Stina Nilsson won the women’s race. Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla and Heidi Weng finished second and third respectively.
The Ski Tour of Canada reaches its midway point on Saturday in Quebec City with the women’s 10-and men’s 15-kilometre skate-ski pursuit races.
Alex Harvey sits in fourth spot in the overall standings, just under two minutes behind the leader Sergey Ustiugov. Norway’s Northug is second, while his teammate, Emil Iversen is third. Athletes start time-behind-the leader based on opening three stages.
“The first two guys are going to work together tomorrow so they will have a bit of an advantage,” added Harvey. “Emil will likely have to go on his own a bit and so will I. I’m not sure a podium is possible tomorrow, but we’ll see.
“I have to manage myself for the final four stages. The Canmore events are going to be brutal especially at altitude. I just want to feed off the crowd tomorrow again and hopefully get a bit closer to the top-three.”
Devon Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., who broke a pole during Friday’s qualifying round sits 20th overall.
The inaugural Ski Tour Canada, which is also serving as the World Cup Finals, consists of eight races at four renowned Nordic venues in the country starting in Gatineau, Que., Montreal, Quebec City, and ending with four stages in Canmore, Alta., March 1-12.
Top-5 Men and Canadian Results:
1. Baptiste Gros, FRA; 2. Alex Harvey, Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., CAN; 3. Sergey Ustiugov, RUS; 4. Petter Northug, NOR; 5. Maciej Starega, POL
Canadian Results in Top-40:
10. Jesse Cockney, Canmore, Alta.; 38. Len Valjas, Toronto
Top-5 Women and Canadian Results:
1. Stina Nilsson, SWE; 2. Maiken Caspersen Falla, NOR; 3. Heidi Weng, NOR; 4. Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg, NOR; 5. Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen, NOR
Canadian Results in Top-40:
34. Maya MacIsaac-Jones, Athabasca, Alta.; 39. Dahria Beatty, Whitehorse