Alex Harvey has accomplished nearly everything in the sport of elite cross-country skiing, but on Sunday, he finally wrapped his hands around the Canadian Team’s long-term goal – becoming the first non-European to finish on the podium at cross-country skiing’s famed Tour de Ski.
The 29-year-old Harvey finished third overall after his second-straight bronze-medal performance in the final weekend of the Tour de Ski in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
“I think on paper this may not be as big as winning World Championships, but for me in terms of satisfaction, this is the number one achievement in my career,” said Harvey, who posted the sixth fastest time up the final climb. “To be steady throughout 10 days of skiing, and never really have a bad day, that gives me huge satisfaction.”
Harvey secured the final spot on the overall podium after finishing Sunday’s final, and most punishing stage of all in the epic seven-race journey through Europe, in third with a time of 30:22.7.
“You don’t get on the podium for the Tour overall without a strong team behind you. The wax techs work so hard and know that we cannot afford a bad day with the skis. The physio and massage therapists are critical for recovery, and the coaches make it all seamless the second you walk out the door. This is huge for our entire team.”
Harvey’s best Tour finish was fifth in 2016. Canada’s Devon Kershaw was fourth at the 2012 Tour de Ski.
“This is just a great feeling. It is a podium for the entire Canadian Team,” said Harvey. “Devon (Kershaw), Lenny (Valjas), Ivan (Babikov) and I have all had great success on the Tour over the years, but we have always come up short in the overall. I always left the Tour with a little disappointment because we were good, but not quite good enough. One of us had always came up just a bit short. I’m happy we finally got it done.”
Starting the final stage in third place after Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov pulled out of the event with injury, the 29-year old Harvey went head-to-head with the most daunting stage of all – a nine kilometre skate-ski pursuit with the final three kilometres straight up Alpe Cermis, an alpine ski hill that boasts a 28 per cent hill grade.
Harvey was forced to skip the final stage of the Tour for four straight years due to circulation issues in his legs that prevented him from climbing the hill. Surgery to cure the issue resulted in him continuing to chase history.
“It means so much to me to perform on this climb because of my legs in the past. The hill is so important if you want to be on the podium. I have never been good here. I kept working at getting better and today it finally clicked,” said Harvey, who added that the final hill also helps improves his overall skiing.
“It is relentless and there is nowhere to stop. Whenever you feel the burn in your legs it only gets worse. You have to pace it well in the first one-third and ski within yourself. You hit that first pitch and it is game on and you fall into whatever day you are having. There is nowhere to recover, and being tough mentally is not enough to be on podium. You have to have the legs.”
Harvey found his legs on Sunday.
Starting eight seconds back of Alexey Poltoranin, of Kazakhstan, and 83 seconds behind Tour leader Dario Cologna, he wasted no time hunting down Poltoranin on the flats, catching him at the four kilometre mark before the world’s best threw tactics out the window – forcing man against hill.
With four skiers battling for second spot at the eight kilometre mark, the hard-nosed Canuck from Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., hammered his way up the punishing ascent that has turned some of the fittest men in the world into boys.
“Getting to the top is total relief at first. You are in so much pain, and then when you start to catch your breath and the burn goes away you are feeling so accomplished regardless if you are third or 19th. You’ve climbed a mountain you are not supposed to be cross-country skiing on,” said Harvey. “But to have gone through the whole Tour and you get to the top – it means a lot,” said Harvey.
With Switzerland’s Dario Cologna cruising to victory, it was Norway’s Martin Sundby and Harvey battling it out over the final 500 metres for second spot. Cologna was crowned the King of cross-country skiing, winning his fourth overall Tour title after taking the final stage with a time of 28:52.1. Sundby topped Canada’s two-time Olympian, finishing 86.5 seconds behind in the overall, after crossing the line in second place on Sunday with a time of 30:18.6.
“I was following Sundby and it was really, really hard. I tried to go with him. We were beside each other for a bit, he looked at me and then he went again. That was a good sign. Normally I’m so dead over the top I can’t think of accelerating, but I was able to try it today,” said Harvey. “It was my best day ever on the hill. Previous years I was slower and it felt harder, but today I felt I had a little more to give.”
Emptying the tank and sprawled out on the ground at the finish line, Harvey celebrated the historic finish on the Tour, and the 26th World Cup podium of his unprecedented career. Nine of them have come on the prestigious Tour de Ski.
The 12th annual Tour de Ski consisted of six races over the last nine days. One race was cancelled in Oberstdorf, Germany due to a winter storm. The ultimate test of physical and mental fitness, the world’s best Nordic athletes hit the start line for races in Switzerland, Germany and Italy.