January 2, 2013, VAL MUSTAIR, Sui. (ISN) – Canada’s Len Valjas skied into the New Year with a bang winning the bronze medal at the third stage – a skate-sprint race – of the grueling Tour de Ski in Val Mustair, Switzerland on Tuesday evening.
The towering 6’6” Torontonian led three Canadians into the head-to-head heats with the fastest 30 atheltes after qualifying 13th on the 1.4-kilometre highly technical Swiss track.
Competing in his first Tour de Ski, the 24-year-old Valjas took advantage of a little luck while hammering his way to the first podium of the season for the Canadians, and his first-ever World Cup podium in the skate-ski format.
“This is totally unexpected for me with a skate-ski and the race being on this hard of a course, but it turned out to be a great course for me,” said Valjas. “I just had a good feeling today and I’m super pumped.”
Valjas won a bronze and a silver medal in classic-sprint races during a breakout season last year where he also shocked the world by claiming the bronze-medal in a 15-kilometre classic-ski race at the World Cup Finals.
On Tuesday, Valjas was matched alongside World Cup teammate, Alex Harvey St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., in his quarter-final heat. Tactically racing at the back of the six-man pack, the soft-spoken Canuck turned on the jets down the finishing stretch to advance into the semifinals. Harvey also punched his ticket into the next round as one of two lucky losers. The fastest two athletes in each heat move on to the next round along with the next two fastest times in the field.
While Harvey’s day came to an end in the second round after crossing the line sixth, Valjas perfectly executed the same tactics from the opening heat in the semifinals where he secured one of two lucky loser spots for a shot in the medal round after finishing third in a photo finish at the line.
“I kept telling the wax techs between heats that I was cutting it too close,” said Valjas. “I was just tired of making comebacks so I punched it to the front right away in the final.”
Darting out of the start gate, Valjas led some of the world’s best sprinters around the first of two loops on the highly-technical course loaded with twists, turns, a punishing climb and steep downhill to the finish stretch. The lanky Canuck dropped into the middle of the pack for his final trip around the track lined by more than 5,000 screamingfans in the Swiss valley to set up another charge to the finish line.
Racing in fourth spot behind Dario Cologna, who grew up 500 metres from the venue, Valjas darted into third position and cruised to third place when the hometown hero Colgna crashed going up the final climb.
“There is always a bit of luck in sprint racing, but felt like I had third if I kept drafting Cologna,” added Valjas. “The downhill finish here was perfect for me. It was a lot of fun racing here beside Cologna. There were so many cowbells, flags and people screaming that it made the atmosphere awesome. This is beyond my expectations and I’m just really happy with how things turned out.”
Norway’s Finn Haagen Krogh won the men’s sprint. Italy’s Federico Pellegrino captured the silver medal.
Canada’s 24-year-old Alex Harvey jumped to fourth place in the overall Tour de Ski standings after finishing 12th at the third stage. Devon Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., also got the New Year off to a bright start. After qualifying for the heats in 21st spot, the 30-year-old two-time Olympian narrowly missed advancing to the semifinals after crossing the line third in his opening heat to finish 15th.
Ivan Babikov of Canmore, Alta., was the only other Canadian in the field. The distance specialist, who is enjoying a strong start to this year’s Tour, did not qualify with the top-30 and finished 67th.
American Kikkan Randall destroyed the field to win the women’s race. No Canadian women are entered in this year’s Tour, which consists of seven races in nine days at five venues in three countries.
With stops in Germany and Switzerland now behind them, the Tour will take another day off on January 2 as the world’s best cross-country skiers travel to Cortina-Toblach, Italy for a pursuit race on Thurday.
Complete Results: http://www.fiscrosscountry.com
Top-5 Men and Canadian Results:
1. Finn Haagen Krogh, NOR
2. Federico Pellegrino, ITA
3. Len Valjas, Toronto, CAN
4. Dario Cologna, SUI
5. Calle Halfvarsson, SWE.
12. Alex Harvey, St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que.
15. Devon Kershaw, Sudbury, Ont.
67. Ivan Babikov, Canmore, Alta.
Cross Country Canada is the governing body of cross-country skiing in Canada, which is the nation’s optimal winter sport and recreational activity with more than one million Canadians participating annually. Its 55,000 members include athletes, coaches, officials and skiers of all ages and abilities, including those on Canada’s National Ski Teams and Para-Nordic Ski Teams. With the support of its valued corporate partners – Haywood Securities, AltaGas, Statoil and Canadian Pacific – along with the Government of Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Own the Podium and B2ten, Cross Country Canada develops Olympic, Paralympic and world champions. For more information on Cross Country Canada, please visit us at www.cccski.com.