Canada's Harvey takes silver in 15-kilometre pursuit at World Cup in Quebec City
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QUEBEC — He lost by the tiniest of margins, but local favourite Alex Harvey felt like a champion.
Canada's best cross-country skier capped a dream weekend by coming second in a photo finish to rising Norwegian star Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo in the 15-kilometre pursuit race before a huge crowd on the plains of Abraham for the final World Cup event of the season on Sunday.
His father, Canadian cross country and cycling legend Pierre Harvey, estimated the margin of Klaebo's victory at two centimetres.
"I lunged with everything I had," said Alex Harvey. "I knew I was going to be second or first.
"Klaebo is the best sprinter in the world. He's got the crystal globe at home. He's got a medal from the world championships in the sprint, so there's nothing to be ashamed of."
The World Cup finals were supposed to be in Russia, but organizers dropped it when six Russian cross country skiers were suspended for doping violations. Quebec City won hosting rights and Harvey, a native of St. Ferreol Les Neiges, just north of the city, made the most of it.
He began with a victory in the 1.5 kilometre sprint race on Friday and followed with a fourth-place finish in the 15-kilometre classical style event on Saturday, which was also won by Klaebo.
He started the pursuit 23 seconds behind Klaebo and one second behind another Norwegian, Niklas Dyrhaug. Despite getting no help from Dyrhaug, Harvey caught up to Klaebo midway through the second of four 3.75-kilometre laps. It was a tactical battle the rest of the way for the three-man lead group.
It helped that another Norwegian who started in fourth position, Finn Haagen Krogh, was unable to keep up the pace.
"It's happened maybe once in my career that midway through the race I knew that the worst I could do was land on the podium," said Harvey. "It was really fun to have that feeling that it was in the bank.
"The home crowd was good. It was a good feeling to close on Klaebo so fast and have Finn Haagen trying to chase behind me and then just blow up. When you can make one of the best skiers in the world blow up it's a good feeling."
Near the end of the third lap, a dog got loose and ran onto the track. It chased the leaders for about 100 metres before giving up.
"It happens in cycling races, but I've never seen it in skiing," Harvey said of the dog. "It just makes the story even better because luckily no one crashed or got hurt."
The Canadian was in a tough spot battling Norwegian teammates. At one point, they slowed to a crawl while jockeying for position. Harvey was glad to avoid being forced to the front going into the final sprint and having the Norwegians slingshot past him.
His results for the weekend allowed Harvey to maintain third place in overall World Cup standings behind Norway's Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Russia's Sergey Ostiugov, who both skipped the meet. He also finished second for the season in distance races behind Sundby, with Matti Hakkinen of Finland third.
It matched his previous best season in 2014, but Harvey also picked up his first world championship gold medal in the 30-kilometre event on March 5.
The next step is to shoot for an Olympic medal next winter in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"I'm really confident," he said. "The gold medal at the worlds was the last race at the championships.
"That gives me confidence for the team. Nobody panicked. The team believed in me and I believed in the team and we were able to deliver on the last day. That in itself gives me a lot of confidence for Pyeongchang."
The 20-year-old Klaebo took the trophy as the top under-23 skier of the season.
Racing in sunny, springlike conditions, the women's 10-kilometre pursuit saw Norwegian star Marit Bjoergen win for a second day in a row ahead of compatriot Heidi Weng and Stina Nilsson of Sweden. Top Canadian Emily Nishikawa of Whitehorse was 38th.
"We were so lucky to get this here in instead of Russia," said Nishikawa. "The team's in great spirits.
"We got to start 30 athletes. Lots of people were in their first World Cups. It's great for development in the country and Alex, it's his home town and he's skiing amazing now and that's as a big boost for our team."
Pierre Harvey wore a beaming smile.
"For Alex, it's his best season overall so there's nothing more we can ask," he said. "We need to see more Alexes in Canada, and women Alexes too.
"If we had a bit more support we could produce more athletes but we don't put much money into supporting athletes in Canada. It's a bit sad to se that because we have to potential to have great athletes."
Weng was handed the crystal globe as overall women's World Cup champion ahead of Krista Parmakoski of Finland and Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg of Norway. Anamarija Lampic of Slovenia was the top under-23 skier.