Lillehammer, NOR—Canada’s Alex Harvey and Len Valjas stormed into the top-15 to open a three-day mini-tour in Lillehammer, Norway on Friday. Harvey was rock solid, finishing 10th, while Valjas had one of his best results in the last two years, placing 13th in the men’s classic-ski sprint race.
Qualifying for the head-to-head heats with the top-30 athletes in 23rd spot, Harvey kicked it into high gear for his quarter-final round where he crossed the line first on the punishing Nordic course loaded with rolling hills, with no rest to be found.
The 28-year-old skied a tactical race in the semifinals. Skiing strong in fourth spot up the fourth and final climb, Harvey was cut off by eventual race winner, Calle Halfvarsson of Sweden, killing his momentum and knocking him to the back of the pack. Despite digging deep for one last fight to the finish, Harvey was not able to rebound, and ended his day in 10th spot.
“Top-10 is always the goal and a great way to start a mini-tour where there is extra points given for everyone in the top-12 so I’m very satisfied with the day,” said Harvey, who added that Halfvarsson was given a yellow card for the obstruction on the course. If an athlete accumulates two yellow cards they are disqualified.
“It is too bad I got taken out of the race on the final hill. I was carrying a lot of speed and he just cut in front of me, but that is sprinting. Halfvarsson got his yellow card, but was the strongest athlete on the day.”
Halfvarsson also went on to take the gold medal. Norway’s Emil Iversen was second, while Sweden’s Teodor Peterson captured the bronze medal.
“I personally felt a bit better this week than last. Sometimes that first weekend on the World Cup you are trying to tune things up a little bit and I was missing a little speed in the sprint,” said Harvey. “I knew I had a better chance in the rounds today. I was in good position the whole way. I had good finishing kick on the home stretch and feel really strong.”
Toronto’s Len Valjas may not have finished on the podium, but he certainly felt like gold for the first time after battling a sore knee following surgery nearly three years ago. Valjas, 28, posted one of his best results in two years, finishing 13th.
“My body felt as good, or better, today than I have ever felt and that is a great feeling. Sometimes even I was doubting if I would ever feel the same again, and I am now, so I’m very excited,” said Valjas, who racked up five World Cup podiums before his surgery in 2013.
Leading the Canadians into the heats after qualifying 19th, Valjas led for much of his quarter-final round which was stacked with Norway’s top guns on the World Cup. After a number of surges and lead changes over the relatively long 1.6-kilometre track, Valjas faded to fourth. He hammered the pace down the finishing stretch to move into third spot in a tight finish, but did not advance to the next round with the top-two along with the two next fastest times overall.
“I knew I had the body today to make it to the finals. Our wax techs just crushed our skis today. They were some of the best skis I have ever had. I was able to drop people on the downhills and had more kick going up the hills. I just got boxed in coming into that finishing straight. I tried to jump tracks but just needed a little more real estate.
“I know I can be back to where I was. I changed a lot today. Mostly, I came into the sprint day a lot more rested. Last week I woke up on race day and felt like it was the day after the race feeling tired with heavy legs. This week, I made sure I didn’t do too much the day before, and felt great today so that is a good sign.”
Other Canadian results included: Devon Kershaw, of Sudbury, Ont., in 42nd; Knute Johnsgaard, of Whitehorse, placing 51st; Bob Thompson, of Thunder Bay, Ont., in 52nd; Graeme Killick, of Fort McMurray, Alta., in 71st; and Andy Shields, of Thunder Bay, Ont., in 90th.
None of the Canadian women made it into the round of 30. Emily Nishikawa, of Whitehorse, was the top Canuck qualifying 62nd. Dahria Beatty, also of Whitehorse, was 66th, while Cendrine Brown of St-Jérôme, Que., crossed the finish line in 67th.
The Norwegian women grabbed the gold and silver medals. Heidi Weng finished on top, while Maiken Falla Caspersen was second. Sweden’s Hanna Falk skied to the bronze medal.
The World Cup mini-tour continues Saturday at the birth country of the sport in Lillehammer, Norway with a 5- and 10-kilometre skate-skiing race