To prepare for the upcoming World Cup season, the Canadian cross-country team headed to Bruksvallarna, Sweden last week to take part in a FIS-level race. It might as well have been a World Cup with many of the top European racers in the field, also tuning up for this weekend's World Cup opener in Norway.
Alex Harvey started deep in the pack of 150 athletes taking part in the mass-start 15-kilometre skate race. He managed to work his way back towards the lead group, but ran out of course.
"It was an okay start, but I was looking for a little more today," said Harvey. "I started sixth last, and that many guys racing around the same 2.5km loop for 15km beats it down pretty good and some of the hills were quite icy. I started picking it up on the last four laps so it was okay today. It was good to have this race to test your body and dial in your technique before the World Cup."
Harvey's time was 33 minutes and 23 seconds, less than a minute back of the winner. The top three were Maurice Manificat of France in 32:35, Johan Olsson of Sweden in 32:42 and Petter Northug of Norway in 32:53.
Len Valjas, who is better known as a sprinter, cracked the top 20 as well. He placed 18th overall in 33:40.
Devon Kershaw was in the top 15 until the midway point, when he started to feel his high training volume from the previous week and dropped off the pace. He placed 28th in 33:58. Also racing were Graham Nishikawa, who placed 45th, Kevin Sandau in 52nd and Drew Goldsack in 82nd.
Sweden's Charlotte Kalla topped the women's 10km race in 24:22, a full 18 seconds ahead of Irina Khazova of Russia. Hanna Brodin of Sweden placed third.
The top Canadian, in 20 th , was Perianne Jones in 25:37, with Chandra Crawford placing 36th in 26:03 and Alysson Marshall in 51st in 26:36 out of 94 starters.
"It was a good start for me and tells me that my training in the summer and fall has been good," said Jones, who posted a career-best 12th in the World Cup finals last season. "My confidence is a lot higher than last year. I'm looking forward to the season."
Jones is also known as more of a sprinter, as is Crawford.
"My focus this year for sure is on the sprint races, but it is super important to get these distance races in," she said. "Many of the best sprinters in the world are all strong distance skiers too, so you've got to do them."
The events continue in Sweden this weekend, but the World Cup athletes in the field will be heading to Sjusjoen, Norway for more freestyle events as well as the first relay of the season.