Lenny Valjas continued a run of strong races, placing 11th in the men’s 5k classic prologue in Toblach, Italy.
Valjas was 25 seconds behind winner Alexey Poltaranin (KAZ) and moved into 18th overall.
Teammate Alex Harvey, meanwhile, struggled to 42nd and slipped well out of the top-10, where he has sat for the entire Tour. Regardless of his performance today, Harvey told FasterSkier that his plan all along has been to withdraw from the Tour following Saturday’s mass start event.
Harvey has a problem with the iliac artery in his legs. Uphill skiing and running cause impingement and decreased blood flow.
“That steep uphill is dead hopeless for me,” Harvey said. “After last year I went through a bunch of examinations with some cardiologists and other doctors, and came up with the conclusion that it is hopeless.”
After a strong Tour through the final stage, Harvey was reduced to nearly walking on the top of the Alpe Cermis in 2012.
Instead of suffering such on ordeal again, he will focus on a strong race in the mass start, an event he finished second in last year.
His performance in the prologue was not influenced by his leg issues, but was more a factor of fatigue.
Harvey said he “didn’t recover at all” from a hard effort in the 35k pursuit.
He was taken immediately to doping control after that race and a delay getting a change of clothes left him “shivering…for 20 minutes.”
“I didn’t recover at all,” he said. “So it was pretty shitty today.”
Valjas on the hand just keeps rolling.
After placing third in the freestyle sprint, and hanging tough in the pursuit, he posted another strong result.
After being “completely wrecked” at the conclusion of the 35k yesterday, Valjas was surprised to feel in good form.
“I had a good warmup and the race, I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” he said.
He said he paced well, building throughout the race, coming back on skiers who put time on him in the early kilometers.
The result was just one off a personal best in distance racing for Valjas, and he is looking ahead to the mass start, a 15k classic.
“I feel pretty good right now so I’m hoping for a good day tomorrow,” he said. “I’m not going to be going for any primes, just going to lay low, going to hide in the group and see if I can have a good last lap, pass some people if they get tired.”
With just two stages left in his first Tour de Ski, Valjas is not overly concerned about his overall position, instead focusing on the whole season.
“I really don’t want to bury myself completely up that hill [the Final Climb], so I’m not hunting goals on that last day. I am just going to ski it, enjoy it, and tomorrow [stage 6] I’ll go full out,” Valjas said.
He added that he is happy with how his first foray into the Tour has gone. The results have been an added bonus to one of the prime reasons he is racing the seven-stage event — World Championships.
The final two days of racing are held at the World Championship venue in Val di Fiemme, and Valjas will have the opportunity to get familiar with the courses.
While Valjas climbed back up in the overall, with Harvey slipping in the standings, it is Devon Kershaw holding position as the top Canadian man.
His 16th overall is certainly not shabby, but a far cry from 4th, where he placed last year.
The prologue was another unspectacular day for the Canadian, a race he described as “so-so.”
“I started really conservatively and then when I went to try and change the gears at about 2k into the race, there was just nothing there,” Kershaw explained. “I really just stuck with the technique and tried to ski as smooth and as efficiently as I could and that was kind of the deal.”
With two stages left Kershaw said described his Tour as a “huge disappointment.”
But he is optimistic about the mass start, an event that he has skied well in historically.
“The race tomorrow is something I have been looking forward to,” he said. “I want to stay with the pack and be there for the finish, but yeah, we will have to see what body shows up.”
Ivan Babikov rounded out the Canadian quartet in 31st. He is 23rd overall and has won the Final Climb in the past.
“I’m not a speedy guy so my goal was not to lose a lot of time to the leaders,” Babikov said of his prologue. “I am pretty satisfied with it.”
He will be looking to minimize damage in the mass start, a race he thinks will be “really really hard,” in part due to the anticipated warm weather and potentially soft conditions.
And on the Final Climb?
“Just go for it…it’s a wild day,” Babikov said.
– Gerry Furseth contributed reporting.