DAVOS, Sui—Len Valjas appears to be rounding into medal-contention form after posting his second-straight top-15 finish on Sunday in Davos, Switzerland.
The 28-year-old Valjas was the lone Canadian male to book a ticket into the heats with the top-30 qualifiers in the men’s skate-ski sprint race, but was edged out at the line in the quarter-final round, and did not advance into the semis. The lanky Torontonian placed 14th.
“I was really happy with today’s race. Reaching the top-15 two weekends in a row shows that my shape is back so this excites me to keep racing,” said Valjas who had the 12th fastest qualifying time.
Skiing in his heat of six athletes, which included the top qualifier, Valjas did his work at the back of the pack for much of the 1.6-kilometre trek around the narrow sprint course. Valjas made his charge up the final hill into the the finishing straight way, and catapulted into third place. Only the top-two athletes in each heat, along with the next two fastest times advance to the next round.
“Davos is one of the toughest courses on the circuit,” added Valjas. “The altitude and the short, flat course really makes you work for your results. I’m anxious to keep going and hungry for the semis and finals.”
Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov finished on top of the pack followed by two Norwegian athletes. Finn Haagen Krogh was second, while Sindre Bjoernestad Skar jumped onto the bronze-medal step of the podium.
Valjas has been enjoying a good run in the early World Cup season, a refreshing sign after battling a nagging knee injury for must of the last three years.
Canada’s Dahria Beatty also enjoyed a solid outing, finishing in the points with the top-30 for the first time this year.
A key piece of Cross Country Ski de Fond Canada’s NextGen program, the 22-year-old Whitehorse native held her own in a lightening quick heat where she was fifth to cross the line, finishing 25th overall.
“It feels great to be back in the points and to make it to the heats. I felt good warming up and I was finally able to race a sprint without any major mistakes,” said Beatty, who turned heads with a 15th-place classic-ski sprint finish last spring on the World Cup.
“I am definitely more confident in my skate-skiing right now so I went into today excited and determined to leave everything on the course. I did that and it was enough to put me through to the heats. The quarter was lots of fun and I tried to hang on to the leader as long as possible. My goal was to have one top-30 in these pre-Christmas sprints. I knew the first couple weekends would be really hard, adjusting to the competition level, the extremely difficult course and finding my race rhythm after the training season. The races this weekend confirm that I do belong at this level and I am really excited for the rest of the season.”
The Norwegian women grabbed the top-two spots on the podium. Maiken Caspersen Falla won the gold, while Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg skied to the silver medal. Sweden’s Hanna Falk placed third.
None of the other Canadian athletes qualified for the heats. Fatigued after Saturday’s 30-kilometre effort, Alex Harvey of Saint Ferreol les Neiges, Que., narrowly missed a spot in heats qualifying 33rd; Devon Kershaw, of Subury, Ont., was 49th; Knute Johnsgaard, of Whitehorse, placed 60th; Bob Thompson, of Thunder Bay, Ont., was 67th; and Andy Shields, of Thunder Bay, Ont., was 73rd.
On the women’s side of the draw, Cendrine Brown of St-Jérôme, Que., qualified in 53rd, while newcomer to the World Cup circuit – Sophie Carrier-Laforte – placed 59th.
The World Cup now travels to La Clusaz, France.