A big game player throughout his illustrious career, Alex Harvey delivered one of his best performances yet, winning the silver medal in his second-last race before skiing off into retirement.
Overcome with emotion at the finish line, Canada’s most accomplished men’s cross-country skier emptied the tank for the second-place finish in the 15-kilometre classic-ski mass start on Saturday in Quebec City. Harvey clocked a time of 36:11.7.
“This is incredible. It makes for a great swan song. I can’t believe it,” said Harvey breaking into tears. “It is pretty special to be able to give back to everyone who has supported me, and the wax techs today.”
After officially announcing he will retire after this weekend’s World Cup Finals in Quebec City, the three-time Olympian had declared his sprint victory at the 2017 World Cup in Quebec City as his most emotional victory ever.
With tens of thousands of passionate nordic fans from across Canada flocking to Quebec City’s historic battle field to chant his name, that all changed on Saturday.
“I don’t remember being this emotional about a podium. The scenario is different than in 2017. I had won then, but I was World Champion and was finishing third overall for the season,” said Harvey.
A five-time World Championship medallist, it was the 31st World Cup medal of Harvey’s career, but only his second podium finish in a challenging 2018-19. His only other podium came in just the second week of the season when he won the bronze in Lillehammer, Norway.
“This year has been a bit more complicated. To get back on the podium I wouldn’t say is unexpected, because I always believe in my chances, but I had to do a lot of mental work this week before the sprint to get rid of bad thoughts, and focus on the task ahead to have the best chance to get on the podium.”
The hometown hero stayed at the front of the pack with all of the top names in the sport for each of the four loops on the Plains of Abraham where he grew up racing as a child. Conserving his energy in a large pack that was strung out along the rolling slick terrain, the St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que. native put out a warning shot to field at the midway point of the race that he was ready to scrap for a podium after responding to a surge by two Norwegians, and Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov.
“Watching the girls’ race on television, I knew there were lots of falls and I needed to stay at the front of the pack,” added Harvey. “In the middle of the race Pellegrino almost pushed me into a tree and Klaebo fell in front of me. I was lucky enough to stay on my feet, avoid the carnage and not break any equipment. I stayed aggressive, even if the 15 kilometres is a shorter distance for the guys.”
Spurred on by the boisterous Canadian crowd while skiing in a pack of five around the final loop, it became a battle between four athletes when Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov broke a pole hammering up a hill with two kilometres to go.
Drafting behind the leaders who were taking on the headwind in the final descent into the stadium, Harvey made his move circling back down the finish stretch where he double-poled to a stellar second-place finish.
“The crowd allowed me to reach the podium today. It was insane how loud they were. This is their medal today not mine,” said Harvey. “I knew I needed my best race of the year to be on the podium and I did that today. It is unreal and pretty special.”
Johannes Klaebo skied to his 11th World Cup individual victory this season, edging out Harvey at the line with a time of 36:10.9. Norway’s Didrik Toenseth claimed the bronze at 36:12.2.
The two Norwegians moved Harvey into the gold medal spot on the podium for pictures, a sign of respect to the Canadian hero who was the clear story of the day.
Toronto’s Len Valjas, who is also retiring after Sunday’s race finished just outside the top-30. The seven-time World Cup medallist clocked-in at 37:54.5 for 32nd place.
Harvey will be back on the start line for one final time in his career on Sunday for the 15-kilometre pursuit race where he will start second behind Klaebo based on the results of the first two races of the mini-tour.
“I want to do the same tomorrow,” said Harvey. “Klaebo will have a good start on me, but I am going to go for the podium.”
Earlier in the day, Emily Nishikawa finished as the top Canadian in the women’s 10-kilometre classic-ski mass start race.
The two-time Olympian stopped the clock at 27:47.7 in a crash-filled race to place 38th.
“It was a good day. The conditions were really fast, icy and tricky, but I had a lot of fun racing out there,” said Nishikawa. “I was happy with the way I skied. It is a big challenge to work your way up the pack from the back of the mass start, but I skied as well as I could have today.”
Sweden’s Stina Nilsson held off a charge by the Norwegians to win the gold medal in a photo finish. Nilsson lunged at the finish to secure the top spot on the podium with a time of 25:51. Therese Johaug was second at 25:51.8, while her teammate, Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg, claimed the bronze at 25:53.1.
The women will also have a 10-kilometre pursuit race on Sunday.
Complete Results: https://bit.ly/2FtRs0v