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Canadians Harvey and Valjas win cross-country skiing team sprint gold

Canada wins cross-country team sprint gold

TOBLACH, Italy — Canadians Alex Harvey and Lenny Valjas, won gold in the team sprint on Sunday at a cross-country skiing World Cup.

Harvey, from Saint Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., and Toronto's Valjas both played air guitar on their skis in the finish area after winning in 16 minutes 2.11 seconds.

"This feels absolutely great. Team wins are always special. To share this with Lenny and all of the wax staff is awesome," said Harvey, who has regularly been in the top 10 this year, and captured the bronze-medal position on the podium two weeks ago in the fourth stage of the seven-race Tour de Ski.

It was the first time Canada has won a team sprint event since Harvey and Devon Kershaw won the gold medal in the classic team sprint at the 2011 World Championships in Norway.

The 28-year-old Canadian duo advanced to the finals after finishing fourth in the semifinals of the 6x1.3 kilometre relay. The top four teams in each of the two heats advance to the final along with the next seven fastest times. Athletes each ski three laps each, handing off to their teammate after each loop.

Led by Valjas, the Canadians stayed out of trouble near the middle of the pack where they put their focus on the exchanges on a tight and winding course in Toblach. Grinding out each leg, Valjas began to make the initial move for the Canadians on the third leg, which forced the pack to stretch out.

"There is always lots of crashes in the team sprint, and on this course, it is so hard to pass so it was important to stay near front half of the group. We had a strategy to make our moves in the exchange area," said Harvey. "We positioned ourselves well on the outside away from the group. We had to ski longer distances, but could gain speed. We made up positions in every exchange which was the difference today."

With all of the top nations elbowing for position on the tight corners, Harvey handed off to Valjas in fifth spot for his final trek around the Toblach Nordic Arena where he held his own to set up Harvey up for the charge to the finish line.

Starting the anchor leg two seconds off the leaders in eighth, Harvey quickly darted into third place before taking over the lead at the top of the final downhill into the stadium and never looked back to secure the title for the Canadians.

Sweden's Karl-Johan Westberg and Oskar Svensson were second at 16:02.64, while Italy's Federico Pellegrino and Dietmar Noeckler won the bronze with a time of 16:02.76.

It was the 19th World Cup medal, and fifth victory for Harvey to go along with his four World Championship podiums including his 2011 team sprint title.

The Canadian Press