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Skinny skiers on pace in Finland

Harvey, Kershaw, Valjas in top 10



The Canadian cross-country team got off to a slow start in Norway, but was back in the mix this past weekend at Kuusamo, Finland.

The best event was the men's 15km classic pursuit race, where standout Alex Harvey kept the top skiers in the world in his sights to take seventh overall, a result that bumped him up to 11th overall on the three-day mini-tour.

"It was nice to bounce back today after not doing so great in the (first) two races," said Harvey, 23. "Usually with the individual starts I start out very conservative, but today I chased really hard right from the beginning. I was hurting on the fourth lap but the final two laps were really good. The whole strategy is to always catch the group in front of you and pass as many guys as you can."

Devon Kershaw, who was Canada's top skier last season with five podiums — including a gold medal win in the team sprint that he shared with Harvey — has struggled at the start of this season, but capped his time in Finland with an eighth place finish.

"For me, I needed that race really badly," he said. "It was super important for me. I was pretty down and it is hard not to freak out when things aren't going right, but I knew I had done good training and you have to maintain perspective and stay positive. It is nice to have a decent result in the top 10 and it is good confirmation for sure."

The top three were Alexey Poltoranin of Kazakhstan, followed by Eldar Roenning of Norway and Daniel Ricardsson of Sweden.

Canadians were in the mix all weekend. In the women's classic sprint, Daria Gaiazova was 14th overall, while Chandra Crawford placed 22nd out of 90 racers.

Marit Bjoergen of Norway, Charlotte Kalla of Sweden and Vibeke Skofterud of Norway were first through third on the day.

In the men's sprint, Len Valjas of Canada came close to the podium in fifth place, while Alex Harvey was 24th.

"I wasn't expecting this at all so I am very excited," said Valjas, who turned 23 the previous week. "I felt strong all day and this gives me so much confidence. Now, more than ever, I believe I can reach the podium. That is my goal."

Valjas is one of the taller skiers on the tour at six feet, six inches and said he plans to use that to his advantage this season.

He also gave teammates Harvey and Kershaw some of the credit for his own success. "That is definitely huge for me, to be training with these guys," he said. "It is the easiest way to get fast by training with the best in the world. I get to train with the best all summer, and I know that if I want to win I have to beat my teammates. They definitely push me to get better."

Teodor Peterson of Sweden was first, followed by Nikita Kruikov of Russia and Oeystein Pettersen of Norway.

In the women's 5km freestyle race the only Canadian to place anywhere near the front was Daria Gaiazova in 39th. Marit Bjoergen and Vibeke Skofterud of Norway were first and second, followed by Charlotte Kalla of Sweden.

In the men's 10km freestyle race, Valjas was the top Canadian once again in 17th with Ivan Babikov placing 20th and Harvey 24th. The top three were Petter Northug Jr. of Norway, followed by Dario Cologna of Switzerland and Alexander Legkov of Russia.

In the women's 10km classic pursuit event Chandra Crawford was 54th. The top three were all Norwegian skiers, with Therese Johaug up front, followed by Marit Bjoergen and Vibeke Skofterud.

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