OBERSTDORF, Ger.—Canada’s Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw charged into the New Year and the top-10 at the third stage of the prestigious Tour de Ski in Oberstdorf, Germany on Tuesday.
Harvey, of Saint Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., narrowly missed the podium in fourth spot, while Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., put down his best race in over two years with an impressive 10th-place finish in the men’s 20-kilometre skiathlon, which combines 10 kilometres of classic-skiing followed by 10 more kilometres of skate-skiing. Athletes enter a transition zone between the two legs to change ski equipment with the clock still running.
Heading into the race in third place in the Overall Tour de Ski standings, the 28-year-old Harvey was rock solid with a fourth-place time of 48 minutes, 43.1 seconds.
“It was my best result of the season so I’m really happy,” said Harvey, who has been edging closer to his first podium of the year while consistently placing in the top-10 over the last month.
“Things played out exactly according to plan. I had really good skis again and the body felt good. After watching the girls, I knew it would be a tight race. I really thought I was going to be on the podium today, but in the end I came up a little short.”
Racing near the front of a tight pack, Harvey’s goal was to remain in the hunt for a daily podium, while also capturing precious bonus times available in two intermediate sprint sections set up throughout the course.
“I knew with a tight pack I could go for the bonus seconds. I won the first sprint and was third in the second one so that gave me some extra time in the overall,” said Harvey, who remains in third spot in the overall standings as the seven-race Tour hits the midway point on Wednesday.
Harvey made a charge for the podium heading up the final punishing climb, but ran out of steam while cresting the hill for the sprint finish.
“I hit the base of the hill in fourth and passed the French skier, but then Ustiugov was stronger than everyone and I dropped back into fourth,” added the two-time Olympian.
Ustiugov won his third straight leg with a time of 48:40.4. Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby was second at 48:41.0, while Switzerland’s Dario Cologna edged out Harvey for the final spot on the men’s podium with a time of 48:41.4.
While not a podium, it was a result worthy of serious celebration for Canada’s 34-year-old Devon Kershaw.
One of only three skiers in the world to compete in all 11 Tour de Skis, the three-time Olympian demonstrated he still has some gas in the tank after finishing in 10th spot with a time of 48:47.8 for his first top-10 since 2014.
“It was just an excellent day for me. I woke up and I felt really good. I felt amazing in the warm up and all of my classic skis I tested felt really good. I took a lot of confidence in that while climbing the steep hill, and it just continued throughout the race. The guys (wax techs) gave me excellent equipment as they have all year and I’m just incredibly satisfied. It feels that extra little bit special since it has been a while for me,” said Kershaw.
One of the best classic-skiers in the world, Kershaw put on a clinic in the opening 10-kilometre leg where he bolted to the front of the pack, and led the final 2.5-kilometres into the exchange zone.
“That was some of the best I’ve felt in classic-skiing in my career. I have been feeling good in classic all year. It’s weird though. I feel I have been slightly on the wrong side of things and today I was able to ski at the top and also hold my own in the skate,” added Kershaw, who finished fourth overall at the 2012 Tour de Ski.
“This gives me a lot of confidence. I just know to feel like the way I did today, and to have great equipment, I can still ski with the best in the world and be back on the podium.”
Toronto’s Len Valjas skied to 37th place with a time of 50:51.0, while Graeme Killick, of Fort McMurray, was 50th at 52:14.1.
Harvey will head into the fourth stage – a 15-kilometre skate-ski pursuit race – in third place, just under one minute 10 seconds behind the overall leader Ustiugov and 15 seconds ahead of Dario Cologna.
“I’m going to work with Dario to stay away from fifth. He got me today, but I hope tomorrow I’ll get him,” said Harvey. “The best way to go for the overall podium is to have podiums on the day. The key now is recovery between stages. Need to eat and sleep well and keep the legs moving. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Devon Kershaw moved into 20th place overall.
“This is my 11th Tour so I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what I need to do to give myself a fighting chance,” said Kershaw. “I have just been feeling better every day. Managing my energy well and not pushing too hard where I don’t need too – that’s where my experience comes in.”
One of the featured events on the Nordic calendar, the Tour de Ski consists of seven races in nine days at four Nordic venues in three countries. The ultimate grind in high-performance sport 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 in Val di Fiemme, Italy on January 8, ending with a 425-metre climb to the top of Alpe Cermis.