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Harvey on podium, Kershaw fourth overall in Tour de Ski



The Canadians didn't win as many medals in the Tour de Ski as last year, but thanks to a strong push by Alex Harvey in the 20km classic at Val Di Fiemme, Italy the team won't be coming home empty handed.

The 23-year-old finished second on the course after a long battle with a group of fast skiers, just over a second back of Norway's Eldar Roenning and less than a ski length ahead of Switzerland's Dario Cologna.

"I knew the shape was good all along the Tour (de Ski), but there was always a little part of the equation lacking," said Harvey, picking up his fourth career World Cup medal. "But today everything finally connected together. My skis were so fast today and I'm really happy to be on the podium."

Harvey didn't do it alone. Teammate Devon Kershaw was also with the lead group and the two skiers worked together to match the pace of the strong European racers.

"My skis were just so good and I knew coming in the final downhill when I started double poling that I had a chance at the podium," said Harvey.

"This is a really hard course. Oslo was the benchmark for difficulty last year, but I think Val di Fiemme raised the bar further with the most climbing you do on the World Cup. These are really steep hills and high speed in the downhills. There is lots of double poling, so you need to be an all-around skier here."

Another benefit was a last-minute decision to fly the team's physiotherapist from Calgary to Italy to work on the skiers, who were showing signs of wear and tear after seven gruelling stages.

Kershaw finished his day in sixth, just two seconds back of the podium. Ian Babikov, injured earlier in the week in a fairly serious crash, was 32nd.

The Tour de Ski is a nine-race series, taking place over 11 days, with races in Germany and Italy. Each of the events is a World Cup, and athletes have to race in everything — classic and skate races, sprints and marathons, mass starts and pursuits — to have a shot at the overall title. The cumulative time at the end of the Tour de Ski determines the final ranking.

The final event was the uphill pursuit, with a three-kilometre course and a grade of close to 30 per cent. Kershaw led the Canadians in 18th place.

"It is nothing short of hell," said Kershaw.

"You've got to find a rhythm but it is hard to find a rhythm when there are pitches close to 30 per cent and you are essentially just walking up a hill. Your legs are screaming for a rest and there is no rest to be found.

"When Hellner gets away from (me), and then Northug is coming back to me, and I just want to bury myself and catch Northug, but then I'm so terrified the guys behind are going to catch up to me — to be honest it is a horrible sensation. It is horrible."

Kershaw was disappointed that he didn't return to the podium this year after being on the podium four times in the 2010-2011 Tour de Ski, but he did improve in the overall standings and skied more consistently.

"Today was a little disappointing," he said after the final stage. "It's been a really good tour — a little bit of bad luck here and there — but it is a best finish ever on the Tour.

"Fourth place is not something to be super disappointed about but, I'm not going to lie, I really wanted the podium today. But 500 metres into the hill it was just too much. It was a real battle today."

Kershaw never finished below 18th in the standings and he was fourth in the men's freestyle pursuit, and sixth in the skiathlon and 20km classic race.

The top three overall were Dario Cologna, Marcus Hellner of Sweden and Petter Northug Jr. of Norway. Alex Harvey finished his tour in 12th while Ivan Babikov placed 27th out of the 55 racers that made it through to the end (out of close to 100 starters at the beginning of the Tour).

None of the Canadian women took part. Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland was the top racer overall on the women's side, followed by Marit Bjoergen and Therese Johaug of Norway. American Kikkan Randall started off strong, and although she slipped off the pace a little at the end she was 10th overall after nine stages.