RUKA, Fin.—It may not have been the result Alex Harvey was looking for finishing 25th as the season-opening World Cup sprint in Ruka, Finland, but Canada’s top cross-country ski finisher is clear there are a lot of positives to build on from Saturday.
“Finishing 25th definitely leaves me wanting more, but Kuusamo is always a really competitive field. I believe it is one of the deepest on the circuit with lots of guys fighting to just get a start next week. There is no room for error here and the difference between moving on to the next rounds is so small. It is so tight out here,” said the 28-year-old Harvey.
That’s for sure.
The St-Férréol-les-Neiges, Que. product advanced into the head-to-head heats with the top-30 qualifiers after posting the 28th fastest time around the relatively short 1.4-kilometre sprint track. But his day came to end after being pitted in the fastest quarter-final heat, where he crossed the line fifth in a photo finish that saw fourth athletes stretching across the line in hopes of earning a spot in the semifinals. The top-two athletes in each heat, along with the next two fastest times overall, move onto the next round.
“The goal was obviously to go much further in the rounds, but I think it was positive to just make it in the qualifier,” said Harvey. “The skis were great and really fast today. Heavy snow overnight made it challenging for everyone to find the right skis. We went with really light kick in the qualifier and took it to the limit with getting up that final steep hill to the finish. We went with a little more grip in the heats for the hills. It was a tiny bit slower, but we knew I could draft the downhills. I was much stronger up the hills, and had a really strong finish, but just not quite enough.
“It is an improvement from last year when I didn’t qualify here so overall it is a step in the right direction. Sometimes sprinting for me before Christmas is hit and miss. Distance races are all about endurance whereas the sprint is power and speed. With the depth in the field if you are one or two seconds slow you don’t qualify because it is so competitive. Every athlete is different, but sometimes it takes a bit for me to get in that top form. The great news is my shape is there and I have a lot to take away from today.”
The top-two finishers on the day came out of Harvey’s quarter-final. The eventual gold medallist, Paal Golberg of Norway, edged Harvey out for one of the two lucky loser spots in the first round. Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson, who won Harvey’s heat, finished second. Norway’s Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo locked up the bronze-medal position.
Six other Canadian men hit the start line for the first race of the season, but came up short in their bid to earn a spot in the heats. Len Valjas (Toronto) qualified 54th; Devon Kershaw (Sudbury, Ont.) was 63rd; Knute Johnsgaard (Whitehorse) finished 69th; Bob Thompson (Thunder Bay, Ont.) was 80th; while Jesse Cockney (Canmore, Alta.) was 83rd; and Andy Shields (Thunder Bay, Ont.) was 91st.
Canada suited up two of its next generation focused athletes for the women’s race who are both rookies on the World Cup circuit this year.
Dahria Beatty (Whitehorse) was the top Canuck in the women’s sprint, qualifying 50th. The 22-year-old Beatty turned heads last spring when she posted a 15th-place classic-sprint finish at the Ski Tour of Canada in Canmore, Alta.
Another young 21-year-old Canadian loaded with potential, Cendrine Brown of St-Jérôme, Que., placed 62nd.
Sweden’s Stina Nilsson picked up where she left off last year in sprint racing, finishing on top of the podium. Two Norwegians grabbed the silver- and bronze-medal positions. Maiken Caspersen Falla was second while Heidi Weng was third.
The World Cup continues on Sunday in Ruka, Finland with a women’s and men’s 10- and 15-kilometre classic-ski race.
Top-5 Men and Canadian Results:
- Paal Golberg, NOR; 2. Calle Halfvarsson, SWE; 3. Johannes Hoesflot, NOR; 4. Teodor Peterson, SWE; 5. Alexander Panzhinskiy, RUS
- Alex Harvey, Saint Ferreol les Neiges, Que.; 54. Len Valjas, Toronto; 63. Devon Kershaw, Sudbury, Ont.; 69. Knute Johnsgaard, Whitehorse; 80. Bob Thompson, Thunder Bay, Ont.; 83. Jesse Cockney, Canmore, Alta.; 91. Andy Shields, Thunder Bay, Ont.;
Top-5 Women and Canadian Results:
- Stina Nilsson, SWE: 2. Maiken Caspersen Falla, NOR; 3. Heidi Weng; 4. Natalia Matveeva, RUS; 5. Krista Parmakoski, FIN
- Dahria Beatty, Whitehorse; 62. Cendrine Brown, St-Jérôme, Que.