Big finish for Canadians at FIS Tour de Ski 

XC team finishes nine-day tour with four medals

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The Canadian Cross Country Ski Team, also called the Nordic Knights by fans, wrapped up the seven-race and three-nation Tour de Ski with three more podiums, bringing the total to four — including the bronze medal Len Valjas picked up in the third stage, a skate ski race at Val Mustair, Switzerland.

In the sixth stage, Canada earned a double podium at the 15km classic race in Val Di Fiemme, Italy, with Valjas surging to a silver medal, followed by teammate Alex Harvey in third place. It was only the second time in Canadian history that two men have shared a podium, after Devon Kershaw and Harvey accomplished the feat with gold and silver in the finals last season.

Valjas, who's learned a thing or two about tactics in the last few years, stuck with the middle of the pack for most of the race before breaking away on the final sprint into the stadium.

"I ignored (the bonus times in the overall)," he said. "I was in 20th most of the way, until the third lap where I slowly started picking up spots. I made a real effort when I was in about 10th coming up that final hill. I just stuck to the skis in front of me and was able to slingshot down into the finish.

"I knew the finish stretch would be important today so I actually grabbed longer poles than I normally would have," added the six-foot-six racer.

Valjas came into this season with a hand injury, but is fully recovered — something that his double pole to the finish made spectacularly clear. He now has three World Cup medals to his credit, including a medal at the World Cup finals last season.

"This is all pretty surreal for me," he said. "I do feel comfortable in all classic races, but have some work to do still with my skate skiing. These races are all my favourite races and they set up pretty well for me. This whole tour has been amazing."

The finish was close, and for a while Valjas thought Harvey might have come up with the win. However, Alexey Poltoranin took the win by a tenth of a second. Just three-tenths separated Valjas and Harvey. Ivan Babikov was also close to the lead group, finishing eighth. Devon Kershaw was 21st.

It was Harvey's seventh career podium and his first podium of the season — although he had a few close calls with a fifth place finish and two sixth place finishes on the tour. "I just love this course, and to finish the Tour off with a podium feels great," said Harvey. "I was a bit rusty in the first lap, but felt good the last two laps. I was second coming up that last hill and glided down into the stadium for the finish.

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