RUKA, Fin.—Alex Harvey woke up on Sunday morning flatter than expected following the opening World Cup sprint race in Ruka, Finland yesterday, but the veteran dug deep to pull out a strong performance in a punishing men’s 15-kilometre individual classic-ski race where he finished 11th in Ruka, Finland.
“I think the cold weather and first day of racing just sucked a lot more energy out of me than expected. I had really heavy legs this morning so I tried to jump-start the engine a little bit with a longer jog than normal,” said Harvey. “It is tough when you wake up and you know you don’t have it, but there are days I have woken up like this and finished on the podium too. I just adjusted my morning routine, made sure to break into a good sweat and get the engine a little more warmed up than usual.”
Experience paid off for the 28-year-old veteran of the Canadian squad who was able to shake off the rust and grind out a strong effort over the three loops on the five-kilometre, well-balanced classic-skiing course that tests the world’s best with three long, steep hills.
“The goal was to be in that group with the top-10, or close to it, so I was right on target today,” said Harvey, who hails from St-Férréol-les-Neiges, Que. “Individual starts are difficult because you have to start at a pace that feels hard, but you know you need to hold it for 35 minutes, and you are battling against yourself which is really different than a mass start. They (individual starts) have grown on me. I’ve never been close to a podium in an individual start until last year so I’m feeling much more comfortable with them.”
Harvey’s comfort level increased throughout the race on Sunday. He completed the first lap in 16th spot, and slowly edged closer to finishing in the elite group of 10 – missing the mark by just two seconds.
“The splits from both coaches Louis (Bouchard) and Ivan (Babikov) today were really important,” added Harvey. “Sometimes you get splits and you can’t do anything about it, but I knew I was within reach, and I felt better and better throughout the race. I think the critical part on every lap was the flat sections at the top of two of the hills. I was able to gain a couple of seconds on the field there where many can’t accelerate. The course today is a great measuring stick of where everyone’s fitness is at.”
Finland’s Iivo Niskanen proved he is in top form after thrilling the hometown faithful with a hard effort to win the first distance race of the year. Niskanen finished 35 seconds ahead of Canada’s Harvey with a time of 35:27.6. Two Norwegians skied onto the final two spots on the men’s podium. Emil Iversen was second at 35:37.8, while Martin Johnsrud Sundby finished 11 seconds off the leading pace in third place with a time of 35:38.8.
Canada’s Devon Kershaw, who has been showing strong form in his World Cup tune-up races, also put down a solid performance on Sunday. The Sudbury, Ont. resident finished just outside the points, in 33rd place, with a time of 36:51.0.
“The race wasn’t great, but not bad either. It was just a solid effort to start the distance season,” said Kershaw, who added he expects to be in the top-15 to 20 in every distance race so was expecting a bit more today. “I feel like the body is reacting decently, but I am obviously missing that top gear required to be where I want to be.
“Kuusamo is always competitive and the course here is one of the most punishing on Tour. It was a steady effort. I have decent feelings about the result, and technically I was happy with how I skied. To be just outside of the points is never a great feeling, but to know that I’m knocking on the door in only the first competition of a long World Cup season gives me some confidence moving forward. I’m looking forward to the next stop!”
Graeme Killick of Fort McMurray, Alta., placed 53rd at 37:40.5, while sprint specialists – Len Valjas (Toronto) and Jesse Cockney (Canmore, Alta.) – were 76th and 78th respectively. Valjas stopped the clock at 38:47.4, while Cockney was timed at 38:53.6. Knute Johnsgaard, of Whitehorse, was 85th at 39:21.0, while Andy Shields, of Thunder Bay, Ont., rounded out the Canadian contingent in 91st (39:53.7).
A trio of young Canadians gaining valuable experience on the World Cup finished in the middle of the pack of the women’s 10-kilometre classic-ski race.
Cendrine Browne, a 21-year-old rookie from St-Jérôme, Que., led the way for the Canucks in 58th at 30:00.0. Emily Nishikawa, of Whitehorse, finished on Browne’s heels after clocking-in at 30:02.3 for 59th spot. Dahria Beatty, also of Whitehorse, placed 74th with a time of 30:49.6.
Norway’s Marit Bjoergen made a statement in her return to the World Cup by winning with a time of 26:55.2. Finland’s Krista Parmakoski finished just over four seconds back in second at 26:59.8, while Norway’s Heidi Weng was third with a time of 27:07.9.
The World Cup now travels to Lillehammer, Norway for a mini-tour next weekend where – next to this weekend’s test in Finland – athletes will be faced with one of the toughest courses in the world. Harvey heads to Norway sitting in 15th spot overall on the World Cup after the opening weekend.
“I’m really happy with where I’m at. The results are nothing special, but really good. Two positives are the equipment was really good both days so that is very important for our entire team. But, for me personally, I felt that I skied well this weekend, and was strong technically both days. I’m looking forward to the days ahead,” said Harvey.
Top-5 Men and Canadian Results:
- Iivo Niskanen, FIN, 35:27.6; 2. Emil Iversen, NOR, 35:37.8; 3. Martin Johnsrud Sundby, NOR, 35:38.8; T4. Didrik Toenseth, NOR, 35:44.6; T4. Johan Olsson, SWE, 35:44.6
- Alex Harvey, Saint Ferreol les Neiges, Que., 36:02.6; 33. Devon Kershaw, Sudbury, Ont., 36:51.0; 53. Graeme Killick, Fort McMurray, Alta., 37:40.5; 76. Len Valjas, Toronto, 38:47.4; 78. Jesse Cockney, Canmore, Alta., 38:53.6; 85. Knute Johnsgaard, Whitehorse, 39:21.0; 91. Andy Shields, Thunder Bay, Ont., 39:53.7
Top-5 Women and Canadian Results:
- Marit Bjoergen, NOR, 26:55.2; 2. Krista Parmakoski, FIN, 26:59.8; 3. Heidi Weng, NOR, 27:07.9; 4. Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg, NOR, 27:32.0; 5. Nicole Fessel, GER, 27:37.6
- Cendrine Browne, St-Jérôme, Que., 30:00.0; 59. Emily Nishikawa, Whitehorse, 30:02.3; 74. Dahria Beatty, Whitehorse, 30:49.6