With Devon Kershaw returning to Italy to join Alex Harvey, the defending World Champions in the Team Sprint turned to Drew Goldsack and Len Valjas to represent the nation of Canada.
And represent they did. The pair may not have reprised Harvey and Kershaw’s gold medal performance, but they certainly surpassed expectations, advancing to the finals in Dusseldorf and remaining in contention for the podium in the final before settling for fifth place.
“Most would probably consider Len and I to be the second string for the sprint relay after Devon and Alex, so to be able to finish 5th feels really good,” Goldsack wrote to FasterSkier in an email after the race.
“The depth on the men’s side is incredible,” Goldsack said of the Canadian National Team. “Add Devon and Alex to the mix and there’s some serious podium potential.”
Goldsack and Valjas served notice that they should not be overlooked when they posted the second fastest time in the semifinals.
Neither man was pleased with the individual sprint on Saturday, where both finished well outside the top-30. But they did more than just survive a semifinal that Goldsack described as “crazy.”
With 14 teams packed onto the narrow and twisting Dusseldorf course, contact was the norm, and even a minor mistake could mean the endof the day.
“Coming into today’s race, my goal was for us to make it to the final,” Vlajas told FasterSkier. “It’s not that easy of a task with a field of pure sprinters.”
Early results had the pair finishing third in the first semifinal behind Switzerland and Norway II, but the official version released later has the Canadians in second.
“After we heard the news that we had the third fastest semi out of all the teams, our plans changed,” Valjas said, unaware of the upgrade on the results sheet. “We now were thinking podium.”
In both the men’s and women’s races, athletes described the final as relatively more calm. Only ten teams advanced, so the field was smaller. But relative is the operative word here—there was still plenty commotion on course.
The Canadians opted for a conservative start, looking to “take it slow and not get caught up in all the carnage for the first two laps,” according to Valjas.
Despite the rough performance on Saturday, Valjas has proven he has World Class speed. He broke through with a ninth place finish on relatively flat skate course in Drammen last year.
The pace in the men’s final started low. Valjas said he felt like he was “level 1” for his first loop.
On his second lap, he picked things up, working to gain position before handing off to Goldsack.
“The key for us today was staying relaxed and saving energy for the final laps,” Goldsack said.
He attacked over the top of the bridges and was able to move the team into good position for Valjas’ anchor leg despite his legs feeling “a little dead.”
Valjas took over, able to shift into high gear.
“On my final lap I started feeling good out there,” he said.
The pair had to fight through the chaos that is the tag zone in a Team Sprint.
“Our exchanges were awful in the final,” Valjas said. “The exchange zone was pure chaos. I almost broke Drew’s pole in one exchange and then I had to slam on the brakes in another exchange so we didn’t miss the tag.”
They weathered the hand-off storm however, and Valjas was ready for the last lap.
He pointed to some poor planning that led to no intensity in the week leading up to the event as a reason for his rough outing in the individual, but was back on track today. “I think that qualifier yesterday was exactly what I needed to get some speed back in the old legs,” he explained.
Russian Alexei Petukhov attacked hard halfway through the final leg, pulling Teodor Peterson (SWE) with him and opening a gap.
Valjas was not able to respond as he was stuck behind Austrian Bernhard Tritscher.
He followed Tritscher down into the finish lanes, where he was finally able to open up.
He passed the Austrian, moving the team into fifth, four seconds off the win. Due to Petukhov’s storng attack, there was open snow between Valjas and Finland’s Martii Jylhae in fourth.
Petukhov couldn’t seal the deal, and Peterson came by to claim the win for Sweden.
Norwegian Ola Vigen Hattestad, unable to initially respond to Petukhov’s attack closed back up at the end and brought his team home in third.
“It was a great feeling at the finish, after some rough weeks of racing for me it was good to have a great result and some confirmation that the ability to mix it up with the best is still there,” Goldsack said.
“Drew and I are so happy with this result!” Valjas added. “Drew skied amazing all day and really fought hard to keep us in contention. I had so much fun skiing with him today.”
It might have been a good day, but the Canadians are not going to settle.
“Our team is really happy to have all these great results, but we are ready to step it up and start getting on the podium,” Valjas concluded.
The US team of Andy Newell and rookie Skyler Davis placed last in the 26 man field.
With Davis just getting his feet wet at the World Cup level, the result is neither surprising nor concerning.
“We skied a pretty smooth race and did a good job of staying out of trouble and making good tags,” Newell said. “You’re always just banging off of other peoples equipment out there so it’s definitely a unique race but it’s always really fun.”
The veteran sprinter was impressed with his young teammate and feels Davis gained valuable experience.
“Today was a good learning experience for Skyler and he did his best to hang in there as long as he could. It really is one of the toughest sprint relay courses for guys because it’s long and flat with no rest,” Newell said.
Alex Matthews contributed reporting
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.