—Harvey moves to fourth in overall standings, four Canadian men finish in top-25—
CANMORE, Alta.—Canada’s men’s cross-country ski team had the sixth stage of the Ski Tour Canada – a skiathlon race – pegged as a difference maker at the beginning of the two-week trek across the country.
The grueling 30-kilometre battle that featured punishing steep climbs that has made the Canmore Nordic Centre famous lived up to its billing with Canada’s Alex Harvey and Ivan Babikov skiing into the top-10.
Harvey, of Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., finished in seventh spot at 1:16:37.3. Babikov, of Canmore, Alta., had his best performance in three years in 10th with a time of 1:16:46.6. The skiathlon combines 15 kilometres of classic skiing followed by 15 more kilometres of skate skiing. Athletes enter a transition area to change equipment between the two legs with the clock still running.
“It was a tough day especially in the skate. We were pushing hard from beginning and that’s how I wanted it,” said Harvey, who bounced back into fourth in the overall Tour standings. “I was hoping one of the guys in front of me would have a tough day and it happened to be (Emil) Iversen so it moved me up into fourth place. I think I’m too far back for the top-three, but they can always have a really bad day. My focus will be on staying in the top-five in the final two stages.”
Wednesday was the best performance for the scrappy Babikov since the 2013 World Championships where he was seventh in a 15-kilometre mass start race. The 35 year old, who relishes the more difficult courses around the world, has also had great success on his home trails in Canmore throughout his career. He finished 12th in a World Cup skiathlon in 2012, and was fourth during a World Cup 15-kilometre individual start in 2005.
“Finally! I love the pursuit races and the skiathlons. Everything just came together today. The skis and the body were both really good. I’m super happy,” said Babikov. “I know this course like the back of my hand. I train here everyday in the winter and summer so I’m super happy with the effort.”
Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby led a pack of 13 including the two Canadians throughout the 15-kilometre skate portion of the race. Sundby put down the gauntlet with just over one kilometre to go, and cruised to the finish with a time of 1:16:29.7.
Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov had his career-best skiathlon result in second position with a time of 1:16:32.5, while Finland’s Matti Heikkinen finished at 1:16:33.4 for third place.
Harvey, along with Babikov, Graeme Killick of Fort McMurray, Alta., and Devon Kershaw of Sudbury, Ont., were in a large lead group of skiers for the entire classic-skiing leg. The pace separated the field into a lead pack of 13 for the four skate-skiing laps.
Harvey and Babikov worked together while skiing with the lead pack until it stretched out as the finish approached.
“It was great to see Babs rocket out there. When you see your teammate in the lead group, we definitely try to help each other and scream where to go, searching for the fast snow,” said Harvey. “That big wall on the classic was tough and on the skate the course is a steady climb the whole way. The pace made it really challenging.”
Graeme Killick matched his career best World Cup finish by skiing to 19th. The 27 year old was rock solid, matching strides with the world leaders on the Canmore tracks that wind in front of Mount Rundle, finishing with a time of 1:18:03.9.
Devon Kershaw held on once his legs started cramping after the first loop in the skate portion to finish 24th at 1:18:43.9.
Russia’s Ustiugov is the Tour leader with two stages to go. Norway’s Petter Northug is 47.3 seconds back in second, while Sundby sits third 1:04.5 off the pace, followed by Harvey 2:51 back.
Babikov is 17th overall, Kershaw 18th and Killick in 27th.
Earlier in the day, it was Emily Nishikawa who finished as the top Canadian in the women’s 15-kilometre skiathlon race. The lone Canadian woman to compete full-time on the World Cup this year, Nishikawa skied to 37th at 43:57.6.
“I’m starting to suffer from the fatigue. Racing at altitude on this course is one of the toughest things to do,” said Nishikawa. “To be the top Canadian, and lead this group of incredible young women is special. The course is amazing. I love racing here in Canmore, but my body is definitely starting to feel the fatigue. I was quite tired today.”
Cendrine Brown, of St-Jérôme, Que., is edging closer to the elite group of the top-30. The 22 year old enjoyed her career-best result on the World Cup, finishing 38h at 44:00.9.
The Norwegian women continued their dominance of the Ski Tour Canada by sweeping the podium once again. Heidi Weng and Therese Johaug wasted no time separating themselves from the field hammering the pace from start-to-finish.
Weng drafted her teammate down the final hill into the long finishing stretch where she exploded around Johaug to cross the line first with a time of 39:41.0. Johaug was forced to settle for second place with a time of 39:41.8. Astrid Uhrenholdt finished 10 seconds off the pace in third at 39:50.8.
The Ski Tour Canada will take Thursday off before resuming on Friday with the seventh stage – a 10- and 15-kilometre individual start.
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., over a 12-day period.
Top-5 Men and Canadian Results:
1. Martin Johnsrud Sundby, NOR, 1:16:29.7; 2. Sergey Ustiugov, RUS, 1:16:32.5; 3. Matti Heikkinen, FIN, 1:16:33.4; 4. Finn Haagen Krogh, NOR, 1:16:34.7; 5. Didrik Toenseth, NOR, 1:16:36.8
Canadian Results in Top-40:
7. Alex Harvey, Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., 1:16:37.3; 10. Ivan Babikov, Canmore, Alta., 1:16:46.6; 19. Graeme Killick, Fort McMurray, Alta., 1:18:03.9; 24. Devon Kershaw, Sudbury, Ont., 1:18:43.9; 40. Kevin Sandau, Calgary, 1:22:19.3
Top-5 Women and Canadian Results:
1. Heidi Weng, NOR, 39:41.0; 2. Therese Johaug, NOR, 39:41.8; 3. Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen, NOR, 39:50.8; 4. Krista Parmakoski, FIN, 39:54.4; 5. Anne Kylloenen, FIN, 39:54.5
Canadian Results in Top-40:
37. Emily Nishikawa, Whitehorse, 43:57.6; 38. Cendrine Browne, St-Jérôme, Que., 44:00.9