Julien Locke cranked out a career-best 15th-place finish at a World Cup cross-country skiing city sprint race in Dresden, Germany on Saturday.
The second-year member of the National Ski Team from Nelson, B.C. broke through with a solid performance in the unique sprint course laid out through the downtown streets of Dresden.
“I’m so happy to have my best World Cup finish here. I felt great today. I had lots of energy and good power in the body,” said Locke, who had little time to get to Europe following last week’s series of races in Mont Sainte-Anne, Que.
“I had fantastic support from the small team with us here today. We had excellent skis and everything we needed to perform.”
The lone Canadian of the four to earn a spot into the round of 30 in the head-to-head heats for the skate-ski sprint race after qualifying in 16th place, the 24-year-old Locke didn’t shy away from lining up against many World Cup heavyweights in the round of 30.
Following a slow start, Locke turned on the jets on a long straight away where he climbed his way into the front of the pack and took control of the heat on the firm snow that was trucked in to cover the relatively flat course that winds along the Elbe River.
“The course was the fastest I’ve done in years. The snow was rock solid and icy in the qualifier and softened up for the heats,” said Locke. “It was a great atmosphere on the course today. It’s a neat venue with the blackened architecture across the Elbe River from the race. There was huge turnout of boisterous spectators spurring us on.”
Locke lost some steam going up the final hill that was created just before the finish and ended up lunging across the line in third place.
The top-two finishers in each heat advance to the next round, with the next two fastest times overall. Locke’s day came to an end, just missing out on one of the two lucky loser positions.
“I was disappointed not to make it through to the semis. I felt great, lots of energy and had good power in the body. I was ready to keep racing hard,” said Locke. “After cooling down, the satisfaction of having my career best finish started to grow on me. It was certainly a good day of racing.
Locke has two top-20 finishes under his belt in his young career on the World Cup, with his best individual sprint finish being 20th in Quebec last year.
“(Early in the season) I was in good form and skiing well, but finishing just out of the heats. I knew that I was fast enough, however, I needed to dial in my pacing and start more aggressively. I went home, trained well and feel that I’m at a good level now to keep the momentum up through the next part of the season,” added Locke.
Italy’s Federico Pellegrino won the men’s race. Norway’s Johannes Klaebo was second, while Lucas Chanavat, of France, skied to the bronze medal.
Other Canadian results included: Bob Thompson (Thunder Bay, Ont.) in 50th; Dominique Moncion-Groulx (Gatineau, Que.) in 59th; and Quebec’s Antoine Briand placed 60th.
A World Cup team sprint race is slated for Dresden, Germany on Sunday.