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Canadians close at Tour de Ski

Kershaw, Harvey lead Canadian efforts, but no podiums so far at nine stage race

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It's been a mixed bag for the Canadian cross-country ski team at the Tour de Ski, with some solid results from Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey, but less than they expected after last season's success. As well, a hard crash injured teammate Ivan Babikov and spoiled his shot at a top 10 finish in Stage 4.

The 2011-2012 Tour de Ski packs nine World Cup level competitions into 11 days, taking place at five different venues in Germany and Italy. The last race is this weekend, Jan. 8, and complete results and standings won't be available until next week.

The tour kicked off at Oberhof, Germany on Dec. 29 with a prologue and an individual pursuit race. In the freestyle prologue race, Petter Northug Jr. of Norway was the racer to beat, followed by Dario Cologna of Switzerland and Maurice Manificat of France. Alex Harvey was sixth for Canada, just under three seconds back of the podium, while Devon Kershaw was 12th and Ivan Babikov 38th out of 99 racers.

The women's prologue went to Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland, followed by Marit Bjoergen of Norway and Hanna Brodin of Sweden.

No Canadian women were in the tour this year.

In the men's classic 15km individual pursuit race, Alex Teichmann of Germany took the win, followed by Petter Northug Jr. and Dario Cologna. Kershaw was the top Canadian in 15th, followed by Harvey in 27th and Babikov in 52nd.

In the women's classic 10km individual pursuit it was Kowalczyk up front once again, a ski tip and 0.2 seconds ahead of Therese Johaug of Norway. Marit Bjoergen was third.

The tour moved to Oberstdorf, Germany for the classic sprints on Dec. 31 and the "skiathlon" race.

In the men's sprint the Russians controlled the heats and the finals to take the top four spots and five spots in the top eight. Nikita Kruikov won the gold, followed by Alexey Petukhov and Nikolay Morilov.

For Canada, Kershaw was relegated to the small final and placed 11th overall, while Harvey was 17th. Babikov didn't qualify for the heats in 81st place.

Kowalcyzk made it a hattrick with a win in the women's classic sprint, while Bjoergen picked up her third consecutive medal in second place. Astrid Uhrenholdt of Norway was third.

In the skiathlon, men raced 10km on classic skis and then another 10km on skate skis, while the female racers did 5km on classics and 5km on skate skis.

Northug Jr. took the win, a fraction of a second ahead of Cologna. Maxim Vylegzhanin of Russia placed third.

Kershaw and Harvey were sixth and seventh, while Babikov placed 31st.

"Today was a great day to have both Alex and I in the top eighth and Ivan (Babikov) was right there with us until he unfortunately crashed in the final lap," said Kershaw, who ranked fifth in the tour standings after the event. "It is really tight racing out here. The top eight is not what we are looking for, but things are getting better and better and we are in the game and psyched right now."

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