LAHTI, Fin.—Alex Harvey opened the 2017 World Cross-Country Ski Championships with a solid 12th-place effort in a skate-skiing sprint race on Thursday in Lahti, Finland.
The lone Canadian to qualify for the head-to-head heats under the lights with the top-30 athletes after posting the 13th-fastest time, Harvey battled through fresh snow and the top sprinters in the world to finish in the top-15.
“I felt great all day. The qualifier, I may have went out a bit too easy in the first half, but I had a lot punch on the last climb,” said the 28-year-old Harvey.
With fresh snow blanketing the 1.6-kilometre track following the qualifying round, conditions changed drastically for the heats, putting an emphasis on tactics and conserving energy.
Playing a wise man’s game, Harvey of Saint Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., dropped to the back of the pack in his six-man quarter-final heat until the final climb which sets up a fast descent into the Lahti Arena finishing stretch. A wizard from 150-metres in, the fourth-ranked athlete in the world, bolted to the outside where he secured a spot into the semifinals after finishing second.
A three-time medallist on the World Cup this year, Harvey exercised the same tactics in his semifinal, but his day came to an end after finishing fifth in his heat. Only the top-two in each heat, along with the next two fastest times overall move on to the next round.
“I kept getting pinched on the inside of the last corner all day,” said Harvey. “I had a lot of power, but with the fresh snow it was really tough to go outside the race line.
“It was key to be out front, but that is not really in the cards for me to be in the lead. The sides were quite slow today, so with my style of racing, it was quite hard coming from the back.”
Italy’s Federico Pellegrino had no problem finding the fast line to receive the first World Championship title of the week in men’s racing. Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov was second, while Norway’s Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo skied to the bronze medal.
Other Canadian men’s results included: Jesse Cockney, of Canmore, Alta., in 47th; Toronto’s Len Valjas 48th; and Knute Johnsgaard, of Whitehorse, finishing 53rd in the 156-man field.
Meanwhile, Canada’s Dahria Beatty finished just outside the top-30 in the women’s sprint race. The World Cup rookie from Whitehorse qualified 37th.
“I was definitely way more nervous over the last 24 hours than I have been for any World Cup this year. It is just a bigger atmosphere,” said Beatty. “I felt really good in my race prep yesterday. When I got out there today I just didn’t have that extra snap, but it was still really exciting to have raced in my first World Championships.”
Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla was in control all day en route to being crowned World Champion. The Americans delivered a one-two punch with Jessica Diggins sprinting to second place, and Kikkan Randall powering her way back onto the World Championship podium with a bronze-medal finish. Randall returned to elite racing this year after taking last season off to have a baby.
Other Canadian women results included Cendrine Browne, of Saint-Jérôme, Que., in 48th; and Katherine Stewart-Jones, of Chelsea, Que., in 58th.
The World Championships in cross-country skiing continue on Saturday with the skiathlon races.