FALUN, Swe.—Building on last week’s historic bronze-medal finish in the men’s relay, Len Valjas put down his best sprint result of the World Cup season in Falun, Sweden where he was 10th on Saturday.
Posting the 20th fastest qualifying to secure a spot in the round of the 30 for the head-to-head heats, the 28-year-old Torontonian was able to advance to the semifinals, where he finished 10th in the skate-ski sprint.
“I’m definitely happy with the personal best today,” said Valjas. “I had great skis and I know the fitness is there. Being in the fifth heat in the quarters, I likely could have used about five more minutes of rest time before the next heat, but I can’t complain and have to be happy with a top-10.”
After advancing to the semifinal round after a hard-fought effort in the quarters that saw him charge down the finishing stretch into second place on a demanding course that makes you work on the first half and puts an emphasis on tactics heading home. Valjas’ day came to an end after crossing the line fifth in his semifinal.
“I definitely felt like I had a little more. I was able to close in the finish, but I just lost a little too much contact with the pack,” said Valjas. “I had the speed at the finish and felt great. I was really comfortable staying at the back. I thought I could bring it back on the second hill, but I just stayed a little too far back. I needed to work on my tactics a bit better.”
Italy’s Federico Pellegrino finished on top of the pack Saturday in Falun. Two Norwegians grabbed the final two spots on the podium. Emil Iversen was second while Sindre Bjoernestad Skar was third.
It was the third top-15 finish in sprint racing for Valjas in a breakthrough season which has witnessed him round back into elite form that has witnessed him capture six World Cup medals. Two of those podium finishes came during the 2012 World Cup Finals in Falun where he reached the podium in the classic-sprint and the 15-kilometre race.
“It is a tough course that beats you up. I am really feeling as good, or even better, than I did during that 2012 season,” said Valjas. “Anytime I’m heading down that finishing stretch I do have the confidence that I can be right there with the world’s best and even drop them.
“I know I don’t have all the podiums this year, but I do feel like I am having my best season of my career. I have consistently been third or fourth in every sprint heat that I have done this year. Sometimes you need the luck too and I’m just waiting for the lucky breaks and I know with my fitness and the confidence I have they are going to come.”
With Falun boasting a challenging pure sprinters course, Alex Harvey of Saint Ferreol les Neiges, Que., finished 46th and did not qualify for the heats.
Cendrine Browne, of Saint-Jérôme, Que., was the only Canadian woman in the field and finished 46th.
The women’s race was won by Sweden’s Stina Nilsson.