VAL DI FIEMME, Italy -- Canadian Alex Harvey finished fifth Saturday in the Tour de Ski and then pulled out of the seven-race event before the gruelling final stage.
Harvey decided he would not start Sunday's nine-kilometre pursuit race because the punishing climb up Alpe de Cermis could have a negative effect on an artery in his leg. The motion of lifting the leg up the steep alpine ski hill can force his hip flexor to bulge, impeding blood flow and circulation.
"For me it was pretty clear before the Tour started that I wasn't going to climb that hill," said Harvey, who also pulled out of the final stage last year. "Being in the lead and the top three for the Tour opened the door to thinking about it, but there is just so much to lose for me physically when the blood flow shuts down completely when I'm working so hard.
"We don't know exactly how long it takes to recover, and I just don't want to risk anything especially with the Olympics coming up."
It was still a very successful Tour for Harvey, who opened the event last month with a victory and later added silver and bronze. Petter Northug revved up his preparations for next month's Sochi Games by winning Saturday, cutting into the overall lead of fellow Norwegian Martin Johnsrud Sundby.
Northug fought through snow and rain for the win in 24 minutes 45.6 seconds over the 10-kilometre classical stage. Sundby crossed second, 9.7 seconds behind, and Chris Jespersen was third to complete a Norwegian sweep.
The 25-year-old Harvey, from St-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., was fifth in 25:21.1.
"It was pretty messy weather today but overall my skis were good and I felt good the whole way," said Harvey. "I started aggressive and fought for the podium the whole way. I think I paced things well and attacked where I needed too which is key to an individual start."
The final stage ends with a four-kilometre climb with pitches that come close to a 30 per cent grade.
"With his leg condition, it takes at least one week for Alex to recover from something like that," said head coach Justin Wadsworth. "Alex knows he will not be able to fight for the top three tomorrow with his leg. So looking at what is really to gain, he made the smart decision not to race."
Ivan Babikov of Canmore, Alta., was 27th and Devon Kershaw of Sudbury, Ont., was 52nd.
Entering Sunday's final stage, Sundby leads Northug by 48.5 seconds. Jespersen is 1:26.8 back in third place.
Norwegians are also commanding the women's race, with two-time runner-up Therese Johaug winning a 5K classical stage Saturday to cut into the lead of countrywoman Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen.
Johaug had a time of 13:58.4 to finish 14.9 seconds ahead of Jacobsen, with Anne Kyllonen of Finland third, 19.2 back. In the overall, Jacobsen's lead over Johaug was sliced to 23.8 seconds, with Kyllonen 1:31.5 back.
Northug won the 15K classical title at last year's world championships in Val di Fiemme and also took gold in the 50K at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He has also finished on the podium four times in the Tour de Ski but has never won the competition.
"I am getting stronger with each competition," Northug said. "This time I am not as tired going to the final stage."
Sundby has never come close to winning the Tour de Ski.
"I felt quite tired after yesterday's competition," said Sundby, who won Friday's stage. "I felt better in the second lap. I have to recover well today and get ready for the final climb. It will be pure pain."
Johaug was runner-up in 2011 and 2013 and finished third in 2012, while Jacobsen has never reached the podium.
"I feel I am in a very good shape and I can compete with almost everybody," Jacobsen said. "I do not think much about the overall result. It's already a great achievement for me to be in the leading position before the final stage. I am happy that there is a high chance that a Norwegian lady crosses the finish on Alpe Cermis in first place."