OBERSTDORF, Ger.—It was only a matter of time for Canada’s cross-country skiing ace, Alex Harvey, to finally break through for his first podium of the season and he did – finishing third in the fourth stage of the prestigious Tour de Ski in Oberstdorf, Germany on Wednesday.
Progressively striding closer to the podium over the last month and throughout the opening three races of the seven-race grind through Europe, the 28-year-old Harvey of Saint Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que. captured the 18th medal of his World Career after posting a time of 39:07.3 in the 15-kilometre skate-ski pursuit.
“It feels really good. I was really close yesterday in fourth and have been in the top-10 a lot since the beginning of the season so it is a bit of a relief,” said Harvey, who also has four World Championship medals on his resume.
“Being in the top-10 this many times you feel like it is a matter of time until you finally get on the podium, but you also get a little ancy too. I had targeted yesterday’s race as the one for me on the Tour, and to finish fourth was a bit of a heartbreaker. But, I have been motivated by the results early in the season, which has also given me confidence in my ability. It’s just nice to finally get a podium.”
Starting in third place, 1:09 behind the Tour leader Sergey Ustiugov based on cumulative time over the opening three races, Harvey nailed his pre-race strategy to ski hard through the soft, snowy tracks on the 2.5-kilomtre loop, and hope for Switzerland’s Dario Cologna to catch up where they could work together to close the gap on the two frontrunners.
“I had chatted with Cologna yesterday that we were going to ski together. I was not taking it easy and he caught me at the five-kilometre mark so I knew he was working hard. We took turns leading over the next three laps. He asked me to pull a bit more on the final lap, but that is when it is all strategy and I was getting ready to charge on the big uphill,” said Harvey, who finished just off the podium behind Cologna in Tuesday’s skiathlon.
“The way the day was set up it was going to be a one-on-one battle for third. I got dropped on the hill yesterday so I wanted to make sure that I hit the base of the hill with good legs. I knew if I managed that hill right I could take him in the sprint today. I crested over the last hill in his skis and was able to sprint ahead of him in the finish.”
Cologna finished one second back in fourth at 39:08.1
Working with Cologna, Harvey was able to maintain the overall gap between himself and Tour leader – Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov – who held off a hard-charging Martin Johnsrud Sundby. The Norwegian cut Ustiugov’s lead in half over the first 10-kilometres but fatigue set in the final five kilometres. Ustiugov continued his dominance, winning his fourth straight stage with a time of 37:58.5. Sundby was forced to settle for second place at 38:35.7.
One day removed from his best result in two years, Devon Kershaw of Sudbury, Ont., had solid skate-ski effort, finishing 21st with a time of 42:18.7. Graeme Killick, of Fort McMurray, Alta., placed 43rd with a time of 45:59.9. Canada’s sprint specialist, Len Valjas of Toronto, decided to withdraw from the Tour to save his energy for upcoming sprint races on the World Cup and World Championships.
As the Tour now takes a rest day to travel to Italy for the final three races, Harvey sits in third place overall one minute, 18.8 seconds behind the leader Ustiugov. Sundby is in second 42.2 seconds behind.
“I am in great position heading into the final weekend. The technicians have been awesome with giving me great skis everyday,” said Harvey. “It is one of the most consistent seasons of my career for sure. The equipment is good. The training is good and there hasn’t been a bad day yet so everything is coming together and I want to keep it going.”
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.