If they were aching to win here on their home course, in front of family and friends, they wouldn’t have gone to nearby Elk Lake on Tuesday and cross-country skied for more than two hours at high altitude. They would have sat back, rested their legs, maybe hit the spa.
Don’t misunderstand: making it to the podium at this week’s fourth stop on the World Cup cross-country ski tour would be a welcome relief, a payoff for all the hard work the Canadian team has put in to this point. But it is not a necessity.
What matters most is peaking for February and the 2013 world Nordic championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy. And on that count, Canada’s cross-country skiers have sizable expectations: a minimum of two medals, perhaps as many as six. That’s why the men, along with head coach Justin Wadsworth, drove to Kananaskis Provincial Park two days before the opening races here and had a lengthy bit of training – before hitting the weight room, too.
“I think they can ski fast, but it’s not a priority here,” Wadsworth said after Wednesday’s training loops on the Canmore Nordic Centre course. “I’d be happy if everyone executed the game plan and raced well. If the results are we’re tenth, I’m good with that.”
The Canadian team has had modest individual results so far on the World Cup circuit, and some success in the men’s team sprint with Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw. Together, they are the defending world champions, a Canadian first. They placed fifth last weekend in Quebec City in front of more than 10,000 spectators, but will be racing individually here beginning with Thursday’s 15-kilometre mass start.
Kershaw, who lives and trains in Canmore, did all he could to warn people he may not be ready to stride to the podium.
“I just have to be patient and have some perspective at this time of year, even though we are at home and want to race as best we can in front of the hometown crowd,” said Kershaw, a notorious slow starter.
“It seems to take me a little bit to get into things. Last year at this time, I wasn’t in the top 30 overall. Every race I do feel like [it’s] the end of the world and you want to do the best you can, but I race about 40 times this season. And come Monday, when these races are all over, I will have raced 11 times so I just can’t lose sight of that.”
So what are the odds on him winning here?
“Maybe like a 100 to one,” Kershaw offered. “I’m not in the game here, but you never know.”
Like Kershaw, Harvey doesn’t believe he is in the hunt, even though two of the sports’ top skiers, Petter Northug of Norway and Daria Cologna of Switzerland, chose not to make the trip to Western Canada.
“We are competitive by nature,” Harvey explained. “Every time I put a bib on I want to win that race. On the start line, I forget all the fatigue that I have and all the things that are holding me back. … I think we can expect to be good out there. But at the same time, I know I’m not 100 per cent physically.”
Among the Canadian skiers, 2006 Olympic champion Chandra Crawford has enjoyed the greatest success here, winning a World Cup gold medal in 2008. Unfortunately, the course on which she won has been changed significantly and Crawford is still coming to terms with its challenges.
“There’s way more climbing and that means way more descending, which is my forte,” said Crawford, a beacon of eternal optimism. “We’d love to see a nice result, but the season is so long. The next trip in January lasts 3 1/2 months. We’ll get [a podium finish] when it counts.”
Until then, save your money, Kerhsaw added. Don’t bet on him until it really counts.