A broken pole and brutal race conditions weren’t enough to keep Canada’s Alex Harvey from his second-straight top-five finish on the Tour de Ski in Oberstdorf, Germany on Thursday.
One day after heavy rain and high winds forced the cancellation of the fourth stage of the seven-race Tour – a classic-ski sprint race – Mother Nature stole the show once again. The world’s best cross-country skiers were forced to contend with wet and slushy conditions on a relatively flat, 15 kilometre skate-ski mass start race that resulted in countless crashes and broken poles.
Starting in fourth spot in the mass pack of 67 athletes, the 29-year-old Canuck skied to fifth place with a time of 29:53.8.
“It was complete mayhem out there today and I think made our sport look bad,” said Harvey, who added the field skied an altered course due to the damage caused to the regular Oberstdorf course by Wednesday’s storm. “The conditions were sketchy. Guys were crashing everywhere. The course is so flat that everyone was skiing in a large pack and people were breaking poles. They should have just held an individual start race.”
One of those snapped poles on the day belonged to the Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges skier.
Determined to avoid the carnage while sprinting for valuable bonus seconds that were out on the course, Harvey skied smart at the front of the large group throughout the first two trips around the seven-lap race. Making valuable time up on many of the overall Tour leaders, Harvey gave much of it back after dropping back into the pack until the final lap where he put it all on the line.
“I just tried to ski smart and near the front, but with the slow snow it was a tough one,” said Harvey. “I got stuck in the line, busted a pole on the second last lap and then dropped to 40th. The course was flat, kept everyone together and there was nowhere to move. I got lucky.”
Harvey was not prepared to succumb to the elements, fighting to make up for lost time on the outside of the pack on the final 2.5-kilometre loop where he stormed his way into fifth ahead of three other skiers grouped together in a photo finish.
Norway’s Emil Iversen won the race with a time of 29:49.8. Sindre Bjoernestad Skar, also of Norway, was second at 29:50.2, while Italy’s Francesco De Fabiani skied to third place at 29:50.7. Tour leader, Dario Cologna, finished just ahead of Harvey in fourth place with a time of 29:53.5.
“The body still feels really good. Skiing in a large group like that and on a pretty flat course didn’t take much out of anyone at all,” said Harvey. “I’m still in fourth place in the overall and looking forward to another 15 kilometre mass start on what is a tough course in Val di Fiemme on Saturday.
“The team was a bit down after the cancellation yesterday because we felt we had the right wax for the conditions. It looks like it could be raining again so we will be ready.”
Harvey has had great success at the second last stage of the Tour on a demanding course in Val di Fiemme where he has finished second and third at the mass start classic-ski race in the past. One of his five career World Championship medals also came in Val di Fiemme when he was third in a classic-ski sprint race in 2013.
Switzerland’s Cologna will carry the lead into Saturday’s sixth stage (fifth race due to the cancellation of Wednesday’s race). Cologna has a 53 second lead on Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov who finished a disappointing 28th following a crash Thursday. Norway’s Martin Sundby is third – 67.6 seconds back, while Harvey is 83.1 seconds off the leading pace.
The 12th annual Tour de Ski will now consist of six races over nine days in three countries. The featured event on the Nordic calendar – outside of the Olympics and World Championships – 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. The final stage is a nine-kilometre skate-ski pursuit race that ends with a world-renowned 425-metre climb to the top of Alpe Cermis in Val di Fiemme, Italy on January 7.