Sunday Rundown: Valjas, Harvey Win 1st Team Sprint of Season in Toblach

FasterSkierJanuary 15, 2017
Canada's Alex Harvey (l) and Len Valjas celebrate their World Cup freestyle team sprint win on Sunday in Toblach, Italy. (Photo: ARD broadcast screenshot)
Canada’s Alex Harvey (l) and Len Valjas celebrate their World Cup freestyle team sprint win on Sunday in Toblach, Italy. (Photo: WDR/ARD broadcast screenshot)

FIS Cross-Country World Cup (Toblach, Italy): Freestyle team sprint

Race report

The Canadians pulled the upset on Sunday in the first team sprint of the season, coming from eighth place and 2.1 seconds back at the last exchange to take the win in the men’s 6 x 1.3-kilometer freestyle team sprint final in Toblach, Italy.

For Len Valjas, it was his first World Cup victory and first time back on the podium in four years. For Alex Harvey, the team’s anchor leg who secured the 0.5-second win over Sweden’s Oskar Svensson, it was a flashback to his team-sprint gold (with teammate Devon Kershaw) at 2011 World Championships. He hadn’t reached the podium in a team sprint since.

“This is unreal,” Valjas, a 28-year-old member of Canada’s World Cup A-team, told the International Ski Federation (FIS) in a televised interview. “Honestly, we were hoping for a good result today, but I had no idea it was going to be this good.”

Harvey did the unthinkable on Sunday, taking the lead on the last climb and into the downhill before the finish. In the preceding women’s team-sprint final and throughout the semifinals earlier in the day, no one had won the race by leading into that downhill. Harvey changed that, surging from third at the base to first by the top, ahead of Sweden’s Svensson and Italy’s Federico Pellegrino.

As he rounded the final lefthand corner into the finishing straight in first, Harvey unleashed one last push to distance himself from his competitors, crossing the line in 16:02.1. Svensson (who teamed up with Karl-Johan Westberg for Sweden I) followed him in second (+0.5), just ahead of Pellegrino (who teamed up with Dietmar Nöckler for Italy I) in third (+0.6).

“I’m feeling good, but I had a really good teammate,” Harvey told FIS. “We said we needed to stay near the front and try to have a good exchange. … People say, ‘Oh, you can’t win the race in the exchange, you can only mess up,’ but today we were moving really well in the exchange and that put me in a great position for the last lap.”

Despite leading for much of the six-leg, 12-lap race, Norway missed the podium with Norway II (Håvard Solås Taugbøl/Pål Golberg) in fourth (+1.1) and Norway I (Sindre Bjørnestad Skar/Johannes Høsflot Klæbo) in fifth (+1.9).

The U.S. men, Andy Newell and Simi Hamilton, placed sixth (+2.6), after Hamilton came on strong on his final lap to overtake both Russian teams and France, among others, after starting the last leg in 11th and 4.5 seconds out of first.

In the women’s 6 x 1.3 k freestyle-sprint final, Russia’s Natalia Matveeva notched her second-straight victory, beating Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla and Sweden’s Hanna Falk down the finishing stretch after Falla led up and over the final climb. Matveeva finished in 18:00.9 for Russia I, teaming up with Yulia Belorukova for the win after a three-way photo finish for first. Sweden I’s Falk (who teamed up with Ida Ingemarsdotter) edged Falla by seven-hundreths of a second for second place (+0.04), and Norway I (Falla and Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen) placed third (+0.11).

The U.S. women’s team, Sophie Caldwell and Kikkan Randall, reached the final and ended up 10th (+20.6), with Randall moving up from 14th at the final exchange.

Final results: Men | Women

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