Canada’s Len Valjas Bounces into 11th at Tour de Ski in Italy

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January 4, 2013, TOBLACH, Ita. (ISN) – Len Valjas continued to shine during his debut run on the Tour de Ski by finishing as the top Canadian in 11th spot at Friday’s five-kilometreclassic-ski race in Toblach, Italy.

Toronto’s Valjas, who sprinted to the Canadian squad’s first podium of the season earlier this week in Switzerland, carried his fine form into the unique short distance race after clocking an 11th place time of 13 minutes, 02.9 on the picturesque track located in the mountain town of Toblach.

“It was another great day and again a bit unexpected for me,” said the 24-year-old Valjas, who competed in his second-ever 30-kilometre distance race on Thursday. “I was pretty destroyed after yesterday’s race, but woke up this morning and felt great. I’m in great shape right now and recovering quick.”

Taking advantage of a course and race distance perfectly suited for the six-foot-six Canuck, Valjas started conservatively through the long gradual climb and hammered the pace on the flatter, downhill section where he made up considerable time on the field.

“I likely shouldn’t be so surprised anymore at my results,” said Valjas, who added it was a warm day for racing. “We knew a few weeks ago this was a race that I could do well in. It is a fun course and I’m happy with how things went.”

Alexey Poltoranin, of Kazakhstan, won the fifth stage of the seven-race ultimate grind in high-performance sport, which now heads into its final weekend. Poltoranin posted a time of 12:37.9. Norway’s Petter Northug skied his way back onto the podium in second spot at 12:45.9, while Switzerland’s steady Dario Cologna found his way into the bronze-medal position on the podium after stopping the clock at 12:46.1.

It was a difficult day for the remaining trio of Canadians. Devon Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., placed 20th (13:12.3), Ivan Babikov, of Canmore, Alta., was 31st at 13:22.0, whileAlex Harvey, of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., dropped out of the top-20 in the overall Tour standings after finishing 42nd (13:37.5).

Kershaw, who finished fourth overall on the Tour one year ago, leads the Canadians in the standings in 16th. Valjas’ strong result bolted him into 18th spot, while Harvey is in 21st and Babikov skied into 23rd place as the Tour de Ski now heads to Val di Fiemme, Italy – site of the 2013 World Championships – for the final two stages to determine the king of cross-country skiing. The men will compete in a 15-kilomtre mass start race on Saturday.

While no Canadian women are competing in this year’s Tour, the queens of Canada’s skinny skis were also back in action on Friday for the first time after the holiday break. A trio of Canadian women suited up for an Opa Continental Cup classic-sprint race in Oberwiesentahl, Germany.

Racing on borrowed equipment after their gear did not arrive with them in Germany last night, Daria Gaiazova, of Banff, Alta., battled through brutal conditions and jet leg, to win the bronze medal on the 1.2-kilometre track.

“Our goal this weekend is really to get over the jet leg and have some hard efforts before gettingback on the World Cup,” said Eric de Nys, coach of the women’s team. “It was a brutal day for a ski race with heavy winds, fog and rain. Considering the scramble for the equipment and that we just got in last night, it was a good day.”

Switzerland’s Doris Trachsel finished on top of the strong field, while Slovakia’s Alena Prochazkova sprinted to the silver medal position on the podium.

Perianne Jones, of Almonte, Ont., and Chandra Crawford, of Canmore, Alta., also both qualified for the head-to-head heats, but did not advance past the quarter-final round. Jones placed 14th, while Crawford finished 21st.

The Canadian women will be back on the start line Sunday for a five-kilometre skate-ski race.

Complete Tour de Ski Results:

Complete OPA Continental Cup Results:

Top-5 Men and Canadian Results:

1. Alexey Poltoranin, KAZ, 12:37.9; 2. Petter Northug, NOR, 12:45.9; 3. Dario Cologna, SUI, 12:46.1; 4. Dmitriy Japarov, RUS, 12:51.6; 5. Alexander Legkov, RUS, 12:53.6

Canadian Results:

11. Len Valjas, Toronto, 13:02.9; 20. Devon Kershaw, Sudbury, Ont., 13:12.3; 31. Ivan Babikov, Canmore, Alta., 13:22.0; 42. Alex Harvey, St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., 13:37.5

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