VAL MUSTAIR, Sui—Alex Harvey opened the famed nine-day Tour de Ski with a solid sixth-place finish in Val Mustair, Switzerland on Saturday.
After squeaking into the heats with the top-30 qualifiers after posting the 25th-fastest time on the 1.5-kilometre skate-sprint course, the 28-year-old Harvey overcame heavy legs to advance into his first final and best finish of the season.
“I’m really happy with the result and had some good bonus times today as well,” said Harvey, who remained in Davos, Switzerland to train over the holiday break. “I didn’t feel so good today. I had really heavy legs so I was really happy to be able to convert a bad day into a good result.”
Going hard out of the gate in his qualifier on a venue rolled out at high altitude, the two-time Olympian recognized quickly he didn’t have the jam required to push the pace in the heats.
“I was pretty lucky the pace wasn’t so hard in my quarter- and semifinal heats. I just chilled at the back to save my energy. I pushed on the hill in the final lap of my quarter-final heat and was able to win it. I had the same strategy in the semis and finished second with a strong sprint to the finish,” added Harvey, of Saint Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que.
The top-two athletes in each heat advance to the next round, along with the next two fastest times.
“The final it was hard from the gun similar to my qualifier, and the guys were just too fast. It is a long Tour. The goal is to always to stay in the top-10 if you want to finish near the top in the overall so I’m really happy with the start.”
Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov grabbed the opening stage win of the seven-race Tour de Ski that will see 85 of the top cross-country ski athletes on the planet compete in four venues in three different countries over the next nine days.
Italy’s Federico Pellegrino finished second in the lone sprint race slated for the 2017 Tour. Norway’s Finn Haagen Krogh rounded out the men’s podium.
Toronto’s Len Valjas was the only other Canadian to secure a spot in the head-to-head heats where he finished in 16th place after clocking the 21st-fastest qualifying time.
Starting fast out of the gate in a star-studded heat where he moved to the front, Valjas dropped to the back of the pack in the second lap of his quarter-final. But the 28-year-old tried to capitalize on a three-athlete wipeout while rounding the final corner into the finish straightaway. The lanky Canuck hammered the pace, but came up just short in his bid to move on to the next round.
Valjas has finished in the top-15 in each of his last two sprint starts on the World Cup circuit.
Two other Canadians also began the journey through Europe for the 2017 edition of the Tour de Ski. Devon Kershaw, of Sudbury, qualified 51st. Graeme Killick, of Fort McMurray, Alta., placed 57th.
Modeled after the Tour de France in cycling, the 11th annual Tour de Ski wraps up in Val di Fiemme, Italy on January 8. One of the featured events on the Nordic calendar tests some of the most physically and mentally fit athletes in the world to determine the king and queen of cross-country skiing when they cross the finish line of the Tour, ending with a 425-metre climb to the top of Alpe Cermis.
The second stage of the Tour de Ski is set for New Year’s Day with a 10-kilometre classic-ski mass start race in Val Mustair, Switzerland.
No Canadian women are competing in this year’s event.