Alex Harvey will leave the season-opening World Cup weekend without a medal around his neck, but it was certainly mission accomplished for the leader of the Canadian cross-country ski squad following a fourth-place finish on Sunday in Ruka, Finland.
Starting in 12th 83 seconds behind the leaders – based on results from the opening two days of racing in the Ruka Triple mini-tour – Harvey was on a mission to hunt down precious spots on the leaderboard, and ultimately secure a place on the podium, in the 15-kilomtre skate-skiing pursuit race.
When his day at the office was complete, the 29 year old finished a stride short – just .6 seconds from his first podium of the Olympic season, clocking a time of 36:24.8.
“I started really hard and spent a lot of energy coming back to catch the field,” said Harvey. “I am in good shape but not my best shape yet so I was cooked at the finish and just needed to cross the line.”
Working in a chase group, Harvey gradually plugged his way up to the lead pack while sinking his teeth into the punishing hills and relentless course the world’s best Nordic skiers were faced with in Finland. By the midway mark, the St-Férréol-les-Neiges, Que. native had caught the lead group of a dozen skiers who played a game of tactics until things stretched out near the 10-kilometre mark.
“I knew I had to start really hard to catch the leaders. They for sure had a big advantage of ahead of me because of all the energy I spent coming back on them,” said Harvey. “Once I got them it got tactical to until Sundby made his speed burst.”
Harvey took his turns pushing the pace, pulling the group around for portions of the final lap until one of his top rivals – Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby – made a break with 1.5-kilometres to go. Harvey, along with two Russia skiers responded, leaving it a fight for four to determine the podium.
“I was happy I was able to go with him but that put me too much in the red for the finish. If we had opened the gap a couple of seconds more I think we would have stayed away, but that speed burst put me over the line. I could see the guys coming back and my legs were cooked.”
When the snow dust finally settled following the sprint finish, it was Norway’s Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo holding onto his top spot that he carried heading into the race, clocking a golden time of 36:23.2. Sundby held on for the silver at 36:23.6, while Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov topped Harvey at the line to claim the bronze medal with a time of 36:24.2.
“The goal was to come in and fight for the top-10 and I was able to do that today” said Harvey. “I think the ceiling is big for us. The technicians did another great job today. We have a lot of experience now together and we are able to take on the challenges that we face. It’s my best start to the season so I’m happy.”
Devon Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., also skied into the points with the elite group of 30 for the second-straight day. The three-time Olympian stopped the clock at 38:11.0 for 29th spot.
Toronto’s Len Valjas placed 44th (39:10.7); Graeme Killick, of Fort McMurray, Alta., was 68th (41:02.7); Knute Johnsgaard, of Whitehorse, skied to 81st (43:06.8); and Julien Locke, of Nelson, B.C., finished 83rd (43:56.8).
Emily Nishikawa, of Whitehorse, was the top Canadian in the women’s 10-kilometre skate-ski pursuit, finishing 69th at 31:56.1. Cendrine Browne, of St-Jérôme, Que., fought her way into 72nd place at 32:10.8, while Dahria Beatty (Whitehorse) was lapped, putting her in 79th position.
Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla skied away from the field to win the women’s race with a time of 25:50.1. Norway’s Marit Bjoergen claimed the silver medal with a time of 25:59.8, while her teammate – Ragnhild Haga – took her place on the final step of the podium with a time of 26:24.0.