FALUN, Sweden — Lenny Valjas’ best results of the 2015 season, whether in Davos or Östersund, have been just outside the semifinals. It was a trend that continued Thursday in the 1.4 k classic sprint at the 2015 FIS World Ski Championships where he placed 14th overall, adding to a successful day for Canada that saw teammate Alex Harvey claim second place behind Norwegian Petter Northug.
Qualifying in 21st position, Valjas entered his quarterfinal with two other North Americans – Andy Newell and Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess of the U.S. Ski Team – in addition to Russian Nikita Kriukov, Teodor Peterson of Sweden, and German Sebastian Eisenlauer.
Valjas trailed the five skiers as they left the stadium, but held contact over the first hill. By the time he reached the second climb, the Canadian was rearing to go and charged to the lead. “You just have to run like a camel up the hill, with big, long steps,” Valjas said of his advancement from last to first. “When you have good skis it is actually not that hard.”
Valjas entered the downhill in the lead, which he described as a disadvantage due to drafting. Regardless, the 26-year-old explained that he was able to hold his position through the downhill due to fast skis. As he and the other leaders entered the stadium’s U-turn, Valjas allowed Kriukov to inch past him on the inside, thus losing a valuable position as he, the Russian, and the Swede entered the final straightaway into the finish.
“I messed up when I didn’t try to block Nikita [Kriukov] in the last stadium hill. I should have gone right and I had the room,” Valjas explained. “I knew he was coming fast and I should have taken the inside line, and instead I look the outside around the whole way. I got out-gunned in the double pole. I had no chance.”
Unable to hold pace with Kriukov or Peterson, Valjas finished his heat in third position. Because the quarterfinal was the slowest of the day, he did not advance as lucky loser.
Valjas said that he was disappointed not to advance because the conditions were favorable and similar to those in Drammen, Norway, where the Canadian won his first World Cup silver medal in 2012. According to Valjas, the result was also frustrating because he has been just outside the semifinals all season. Last weekend in Östersund, Sweden he finished 13th in the same event.
“Last week I missed just by a tenth and this week just under a second. I had good shape for this course today too,” Valjas explained. “I feel like I just came up short.”
Teammate Jesse Cockney joined Harvey and Valjas in Thursday’s race, ultimately finishing 49th.
In the women’s classic sprint, Perianne Jones was the lone starter for the Canadian team. She qualified in 28th position and ended her day in 24th after finishing fifth in her quarterfinal. After a slow start in the heat, Jones trailed the five women for much of the winding course. While she was able to make up some ground on the downhills, it was only enough to get her past Switzerland’s Laurien van der Graaff.
“I actually felt pretty good when I was climbing the top of the first hill and the second hill but I was just too far back at that point,” Jones explained in a post-race interview. “I did have really fast skis, so when I came into the stadium I was able to close a little of the gap but it wasn’t enough.”
Jones, who took time off from World Cup racing during the holiday season, said she was feeling in better racing shape since her return to Europe.
“I stayed at home for a month and did some racing in Canada. I think that helped me a lot. I got kind of stale on the World Cup,” she said. “I think the quality of work I was able to do at home, and the racing I did helped a lot to get me in shape.”
Jones explained that her goal for Thursday’s sprint was to crack the top-12, but that considering her previous fall of racing she was pleased to be in the heats.
While two other Canadian women, Emily Nishikawa and Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt, are in attendance at Worlds, both sat out Thursday’s race due to illness. According to Canadian National Team Head Coach Justin Wadsworth, Devon Kershaw and Graeme Killick are also sick, but will look to race later in the championships.
“Olivia is the most sick, which is really too bad because she might miss the whole championships,” Wadsworth said.
Cross country competition at the 2015 Nordic World Ski Championships continues Saturday with the 15/30 k skiathlons.
Lander Karath is FasterSkier's Associate Editor from Bozeman, Montana and a Bridger Ski Foundation alumnus. Between his studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, he is an outdoor enthusiast and a political junkie.