Haywood RACE Report: Historic Relay Podium for Canada, 3rd in Ulricehamn

    January 22, 2017

     
     
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    The weather was foggy, with temperatures just above zero as the Canadian men prepared for the World Cup distance relay at Ulricehamn, Sweden. An estimated 30,000 spectators were on site to watch Saturday's World Cup win by Alex Harvey. The race was 4 X 7.5 k, 2 classic legs and 2 skate.

    Distance relays are an important part of Own the Podium's funding assessment of CCC's program, with performance in the relays, giving an indication of the depth of the program. On many days Graeme Killick, would be considered the 4th member of the team, but with Graeme still recovering from the Tour de Ski and preparing for the World Champs, it was up to young Yukon skier Knute Johnsgaard, to represent Canada.

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    Support for Canada on the trails

    Canadian men have had 2 podiums in sprint relays, 1st at the Worlds in Oslo in 2011, with Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey and 3rd in Whistler in 2009, with George Grey and Alex Harvey. The best previous distance result was 5th in 2012, up north in Sweden in Gallivare with the same crew, but coach Ivan Babikov was the 4th skier! There was also a 5th in 2009 at the World Championships in Liberec, but the best other World Cup performance was 9th last year in Nova Mesto, also in January. With Alex in great form, the ski prep outstanding, expectations of a strong performance were in the air.

    Leading off for Canada was Devon Kershaw, a veteran of many Canadian relay efforts. Devon skied strongly staying in close contact with the front of the pack as Norway, Russia, the 2 Swedish teams took turns at the front. The Swedish teams tried a few times to step up the pace, and the main pack shrunk a little to 12 as the leg progressed.

    Alexey Poltoranin of Kazakhstan had a strong race, bringing the Kazak's through the exchange in first. Interestingly Poltoranin has been conspicuously absent from the World Cup circuit, so far this season, tending to join the circuit and peak for the most important events.

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    Devon leading at 4k

    At the exchange Devon handed off to Alex in 3rd as Alex had Norway's Martin Johnsrud Sundby to contend with on the leg. Alex took the lead for a while and looked to have fast skis on the downhills, on some of the major steep climbs, the pack was herringboning, with the exception of Finland's Iivo Niskanen, who seemed to be able to stride up most grades and spent a good deal of time at the front.



    Russia's Alexander Bessmertnykh, and Sundby were pushing the pace towards the end of the leg, with the 2 Swedish teams making occasional surges. With a bit over a km. to go in the leg, the pace picked up again and Alex started to fade slightly coming through the exchange in 5th, with a 2 second gap to the leaders.



    It was Knute Johnsgaard's turn for Canada and he quickly bridged the gap to the front 4, and the pack once again compressed to a group of 9. Norway's Anders Gloeersen led the way as Knute tucked comfortably in the pack, conserving his energy.

    With the race 2/3rds done, The 2 Swedish teams made another break at the front, with Norway close behind. Knute was leading the chase group looking with the gap stretching to a few seconds.

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    Knute in red, mid pack in the fog

    At the exchange the group had closed up again to a pack of 7 and Knute handed off to Lenny Valjas in 7th, 5 seconds from the front.

    At the start of the final leg, no one was keen on pushing the pace, and the pack grew to 9, with Lenny biding his time mid pack, comfortable in knowing he was one of the best sprinters in the group.

    Switzerland's Curdin Perl was pushing the pace for awhile with Italy and Sweden also making a few moves. Throughout Lenny remained in contact with the front, without taking the lead.

    In the final kilometre, Sweden's Calle Halfvarsson, made a break at the front, with Gloeersen and Lenny responding. 

    As they came to the finishing stretch Krogh of Norway moved around the Swede for the win and Lenny ran out of room to pass as well, grabbing the 3rd podium for Canada, in 3 World Cup races.



    It was a historic 3rd podium performance for the Canadians and the celebrations were extensive!
    Results

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    22.01.2017, Ulricehamn, Sweden (SWE): Len Valjas (CAN), Alex Harvey (CAN), Knute Johnsgaard (CAN), Devon Kershaw (CAN), (l-r) - FIS world cup cross-country, 4x7.5km men, Ulricehamn (SWE). www.nordicfocus.com. © Modica/NordicFocus. 

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    22.01.2017, Ulricehamn, Sweden (SWE): Len Valjas (CAN), Alex Harvey (CAN), Knute Johnsgaard (CAN), Devon Kershaw (CAN), (l-r) - FIS world cup cross-country, 4x7.5km men, Ulricehamn (SWE). www.nordicfocus.com. © Modica/NordicFocus. 

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    2.01.2017, Ulricehamn, Sweden (SWE): Canada team with Len Valjas (CAN), Alex Harvey (CAN), Knute Johnsgaard (CAN), Devon Kershaw (CAN), (l-r), - FIS world cup cross-country, 4x7.5km men, Ulricehamn (SWE). www.nordicfocus.com. © Modica/NordicFocus. 


    The World Cup now moves north to Falun, Sweden for skate sprints and classic mass start distance races next weekend.

    Back in North America the  Haywood Western Canadian Championships continue at Callaghan Valley (Whistler) B.C. with the Team sprint reay competitions.

     Follow the race circuits and National Ski Teams on the CCC website, TwitterFacebookInstagram.

       
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