February 18, 2013, Davos, Sui (ISN) – Len Valjas proved he is in top shape heading into the World Championships next week after a stellar sixth-place finish in a classic cross-country ski sprint race in Davos, Switzerland on Saturday.
The 24-year-old Torontonian qualified for the head-to-head heats with the top-30 in 12th spot where he put on one of the gutsiest efforts of the Nordic season despite not finishing on the podium.
Skiing at the back of his quarter-final heat, the lanky Canuck came to a three-second standstill on the 1.5-kilometre challenging track as three skiers untangled themselves on the long uphill that begins at the start – allowing the two leaders to open a lead of nearly 100 metres on the pack scrambling to get back on their feet. The six-foot-six Valjas shocked coaches and spectators as he dug deep to hammer the pace, and closed the gap where he finished second to move onto the semifinals.
“Len was at a complete standstill and I thought he was done,” said Justin Wadsworth, head coach, Canadian Cross Country Ski Team. “What he did is something I have never seen before in World Cup cross-country skiing. I had coaches from around the world amazed. It shows he is in phenomenal shape.”
The impressive burst of energy may have cost the young Canuck a spot on the podium for the third time this year. After securing his ticket for the finals when he finished as one of two lucky losers in the second round while crossing the line third, Valjas had nothing left in the tank for the highly technical sprint course.
“I knew on the start line in the final it was not going to be pretty,” said Valjas, who won one silver and a bronze medal on the Tour de Ski in January. “I am happy with today though. I’m feeling really good and exactly where I want to be heading into the finals.”
Two-time Olympian, Devon Kershaw of Sudbury, Ont., also seems to be rounding into top form after matching his best individual finish of the season when he sprinted to eighth for the second-straight week. Kershaw’s day came to an end when he was matched in the same semifinal heat with teammate, Valjas, where he crossed the line in fourth spot.
Kazakhstan’s Alexey Poltoranin won the men’s sprint. Switzerland’s Dario Cologna was second, while Italy’s Federico Pellegrino skied to the bronze medal.
Alex Harvey, of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., hit the start line for his first test after a sustaining a shoulder injury in Russia two weeks ago. Harvey struggled to find his form following a big training block at altitude and qualified 39th. Phil Widmer, of Banff, Alta., was 46th.
Meanwhile Daria Gaiazova was the lone Canadian woman to qualify for the head-to-head heats where she finished 12th.
The 29-year-old Gaiazova faced a tough semifinal round where she was not able to respond to the quick pace. Her day came to an end when she crossed the line sixth in her heat.
Poland’s Jusyna Kowalczyk won the women’s race. Norway’s Marit Bjoergen skied to the silver medal, while Finland’s Anne Kylloenen locked up the bronze.
Gaiazova’s bronze-medal winning comrade in the team sprint earlier this month, Perianne Jones of Almonte, Ont., did not advance to the heats after falling on the downhill in qualifying. Jones finished 41st. Andrea Dupont, of Canmore, Alta., was 53rd.
The final World Cup race before the World Championships is set for Sunday. The men will ski a 15-kilometre skate race. The Canadian women will welcome one of the nation’s top biathletes, Zina Kocher, to the start line for their 10-kilometre skate race.
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. Complete Results: http://www.fis-ski.com/uk/604/1228.html?cal_suchsector=CC&event_id=31858
Top-5 Men and Canadian Results:
1. Alexey Poltoranin, KAZ; 2. Dario Cologna, SUI; 3. Frederico Pellegrino, ITA; 4. Andrew Newell, USA; 5. Nikolay Chebotko, KAZ.
6. Len Valjas, Toronto; 8. Devon Kershaw, Sudbury, Ont.; 39. Alex Harvey, St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que.; 41. Phil Widmer, Banff, Alta.
Top-5 Women and Canadian Results:
1. Justyna Kowalczyk, POL; 2. Marit Bjoergen, NOR; 3. Anne Kylloenen, FIN; 4. Aurore Jean, FRA; 5. Katerina Smutna, AUT
12. Daria Gaiazova, Banff, Alta.; 41. Perianne Jones, Almonte, Ont.; 53. Andrea Dupont, Canmore, Alta.