Harvey thrills Quebec fans with World Cup X-country gold

Alex Harvey is the new king of the Plains of Abraham.

Canada's cross-country skiing star drew a huge ovation from his home fans as he passed Norway's Finn Haagen Krogh on the final turn to win the free sprint event at the World Cup finals on the hilly battlefield memorial park on Friday.

"It's hard to imagine a better day than today," Harvey said after using his skis to play some air guitar, the Canadian team's signature victory routine.

Harvey finished the 1.5 kilometre race in two minutes 44.91 seconds, just more than half a second ahead of Krogh, the 2015 World Cup sprint champion. Richard Jouve of France was third.

The win came with the 28-year-old Harvey enjoying a career season that saw him take the 50-kilometre event at the world championships on March 5. He had won gold in a team pursuit race with Len Valjas of Toronto on Jan. 15 in Italy and took a 15-km race a week later in Sweden.

He solidified his hold on third place in overall World Cup standings behind runaway leader Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway and second-place Sergey Ostiugov of Russia, who both skipped the last meet of the season. Even better for Harvey, fourth-place Matti Hakkinen of Finland was eliminated in the qualification round.

"I wanted to clinch third place," said Harvey, of Saint-Ferreol-les-Neiges north of Quebec City. "It's another podium, another win this year.

"When you come out of the world championships with a gold medal around your neck, there's not much that will make you feel disappointed. The rest is bonus, but this is a really big bonus."

His father, Canadian cross-country skiing and cycling legend Pierre Harvey, agreed.

"I was impressed, but the 50-km at the world championships is still his biggest race win," he said. "The only thing bigger than that would be at the Olympics and he'll have another chance for that next year."

Winning a medal at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea is Alex Harvey's goal as well, but he's not done with this season yet. There is a mass start race Saturday and a pursuit event on Sunday in which he also has a shot at a podium.

"I saw him in Sweden when he won his first World Cup, but to win in Canada in front of his friends and people from this country, it's one of the greatest feelings you could have," Pierre Harvey said of his son's accomplishment.

Good day for Canadians

It was a big day for the men's team in general as for the first time, five Canadian skiers advanced out of the qualifying round by finishing in the top 30.

Valjas, Bob Thompson and Julien Locke were eliminated in the quarter-finals while Jesse Cockney made it to the semifinals, his second top-12 placing in a World Cup event.

"It's really encouraging," said Cockney. "We train together and, in the summertime, to know that we can all ski well against the world, is really motivating.

"There are Olympic criteria that says two top 12s makes the Olympics, but it's up to the selection committee to decide if those are worthy top 12s. We'll see what happens."

No Canadian woman got past the qualification round. Dahria Beatty of Whitehorse was best-placed at 41st with Emily Nashikawa of Whitehorse 45th and Cendrine Browne of St. Jerome, Que. 47th.

"I'm really disappointed that I didn't make it into the heats but I'm really happy with the effort," said Beatty, who is now focused on the pursuit race on Sunday. "The first half of the race went well and I was in position to qualify but maybe I hit that line a little too early and completely blew up on the last hill, giving up a bunch of time and positions."

Stina Nilsson of Sweden won the women's race ahead of Maiken Casperson Falla of Norway and Sweden's Hanna Falk. It was Nilsson's fourth consecutive win in a sprint race and the fifth in her last six.

But while Nilsson won the race, the 22 points Falla earned for second spot was enough to give her the crystal globe as the season sprints champion for a second straight year.

Heidi Weng of Norway was sixth in the final, but secured the overall women's title.

On the men's side, 20-year-old Johannes Klaebo of Norway became the youngest skier ever to win the sprint crystal globe.