VAL DI FIEMME, Ita.—Alex Harvey struggled to a 19th-place finish in the 15-kilometre classic ski mass start on Saturday, dropping him to sixth place overall at the Tour de Ski with one race remaining.
Harvey, of Saint Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., squeaked into the top-20 with a time of 41 minutes, 18.7 seconds on one of the most demanding courses in the world loaded with steep climbs and difficult flat sections.
“It is a tough course and the guys are pretty tired but they dug deep today,” said Ivan Babikov, coach of the Canadian Cross-Country Ski Team at the Tour. “We might have missed it a bit with the skis. We may have gone with something a bit too sticky.
“It was really hard, packed snow and this is a tough course to get the skis right. Ideally you want to have good kick and a fast glide, but it is a gamble on a course this tough. The tracks were firm and icy but there were some sections where there were no tracks and others with powdery snow. We will debrief on it tonight.”
Starting the day fourth overall, the 28-year-old Harvey was hungry for bonus seconds available in the intermittent sprints on the course, while staying in the hunt with the leaders. He won the first bonus sprint, but was not able to maintain pace with the frontrunners.
Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby ended Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov’s unprecedented five-race winning streak. Sundby clocked a winning time of 40 minutes, 40 seconds. Ustiugov captured the silver medal in a photo finish with a pack of seven skiers at 40:42.2. Finland’s Matti Heikkinen secured the final step on the podium at 40:42.8.
Devon Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., fought his way into the points with a 27th-place finish at 41:52.1. Graeme Killick, of Fort McMurray, Alta., placed 32nd after clocking-in at 42:11.0.
Russia’s Ustiugov will have a 72 second lead on Sundby as the seven-race Tour wraps up on Sunday with a punishing 9-kilometre pursuit race that ends with a 425-metre climb straight to the top of Alpe Cermis.
Harvey will begin his final quest for the overall podium, 38 seconds behind Switzerland’s Dario Cologna.
“Alex is a competitive guy and is hungry. He will be in a group of about four guys who are all good climbers,” said Babikov. “Dario is always strong, but anything is possible.”
The spectacular Val di Fiemme track has been kind to Harvey and the Canadian squad over the years. Harvey has two of his Tour de Ski podiums in Val di Fiemme, and also captured a bronze medal on the challenging course when it hosted the 2013 World Championships.
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.